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Online vs In-Person Tutoring: A Comparison

Online vs In-Person Tutoring: A Comparison

8 min Read|February 07 2024
|Written by:

Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa


When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was as if the world changed in a blink of an eye. The virtual world has always been growing in our peripheral view, but now in 2023, it’s a world that all of us are a part of. One thing that the pandemic proved to us fairly early on is that there’s a lot you can accomplish without even leaving your living room. For better or worse, this is our current state of affairs.

As such, online tutoring is on the rise. The pandemic significantly impacted the rise of virtual education, when most schools and universities were forced to shift to remote learning; with remote learning proving to be a relative success, many students are still opting for remote learning even if their schools are fully back to in-person operations. Online tutoring has also become increasingly popular in recent years due to advancements in technology, making it more accessible to every type of student. A report from the Oxford Learning College states that online learning has experienced a 900% growth rate since the year 2000. With the widespread availability of high-speed internet, more and more online education platforms are emerging, offering students the ability to connect with tutors from anywhere in the world.

However, traditional in-person tutoring still remains a viable option, and deciding between online and in-person tutoring can be challenging. This article aims to help you make an informed choice by exploring their respective advantages and disadvantages, effectiveness, and cost.

What is the difference between online and in-person tutoring?

Online tutoring and in-person tutoring differ primarily in their mode of communication and scheduling flexibility. Online tutoring involves using digital platforms, such as video conferencing or messaging apps, to connect students with tutors remotely. In-person tutoring involves face-to-face interaction between the student and tutor, typically in a physical setting such as a library or classroom. While both methods aim to achieve the same goal of improving academic performance, they have distinct differences that may make one more suitable than the other depending on the student's needs and preferences.

Pros and cons of online tutoring

The most obvious advantages of online tutoring are convenience and flexibility. As previously mentioned, online tutoring allows students to connect with tutors from anywhere in the world, making it a great option for students who may not have access to in-person tutoring. Additionally, online tutoring platforms typically offer scheduling flexibility, allowing students to book sessions at whatever times work best for them; with a long catalogue of tutors to choose from, students are bound to find a match to fit their schedule. This flexibility can be especially helpful for students who have busy lives, have moved to different time zones, or have a non-traditional academic approach.

Online tutoring also tends to be more cost-effective than in-person tutoring since it eliminates the need for travel expenses. Additionally, tutoring companies that provide exclusively online services have significantly reduced overheads, i.e., they don’t need to pay rent for their tutoring spaces, and these savings are passed on to the customer. Online tutoring also allows for a wider selection of tutors to choose from, since physical proximity isn’t a factor; with a wider selection of tutors available, families can more easily find a candidate that can work with their budget.

Online tutoring does have its drawbacks, however. One disadvantage is the lack of face-to-face interaction, which may make it harder for some students to establish a rapport with their tutors. Students who benefit from physical aids, such as hands-on activities, may also find online tutoring less effective. Some students may struggle with self-motivation and may require more hands-on guidance and encouragement, which may be difficult to provide remotely. When it comes down to it, online tutoring just may not be suitable for students who thrive in a structured, in-person learning environment.

An additional drawback worth mentioning is the possibility of technical issues. Weak internet connection, computer issues, and complicated learning platforms can make the process frustrating if not working smoothly.

Pros and cons of in-person tutoring

One major advantage of in-person tutoring is the ability to establish a personal connection with the tutor. Face-to-face interaction allows for nonverbal cues and communication, which can help students feel more engaged and comfortable during the learning process. As mentioned, in-person tutoring can also be more effective for students who require physical aids, as tutors can provide hands-on guidance and use materials such as whiteboards or manipulatives.

Regularly going to a designated learning environment can help students focus and establish a routine for their learning. It also provides a break from distractions and interruptions that may occur in the home. Being in a structured learning environment with a tutor present can also provide an added level of accountability and encouragement to stay on track. Finally, for students who may be feeling isolated or disconnected from others, in-person tutoring provides an opportunity for social interaction and connection with a tutor who can serve as a mentor or role model. Oxford Learning College’s report also stated that according to their poll, the top two things that online learners disliked about the online method were “lack of in-person support” and “missing out on social interaction.”

We previously touched on some of the drawbacks of in-person tutoring: less flexibility, fewer candidate options, higher costs due to travel and business overheads, and overall, less convenience. Some of these factors may not be a significant issue for students who live in major cities, but that’s only a fraction of the population. What it ultimately comes down to is with online tutoring, you have a very wide variety of options to choose from to fit even the most specific of needs.

How effective is online tutoring?

Research has shown that online tutoring can be just as effective as in-person tutoring, if not more so, when it comes to academic outcomes. Many comprehensive studies have shown that students who received online tutoring performed significantly better on assessments compared to students who did not receive any type of tutoring. For example, a 2022 study published in the Economics of Education Review found that online tutoring resulted in a 7.57% increase in math scores for students. The study also found that online tutoring was more effective for students who were struggling with math initially, as they showed the greatest improvement in scores. Many of these findings suggest that online tutoring can be an effective and accessible means of supporting student learning in the UK.

Online tutoring market size growth

Online tutoring market size growth

Is face-to-face tutoring better?

The question of whether face-to-face tutoring is better than online tutoring remains a subject of debate among educators and researchers. Some argue that face-to-face tutoring provides a more personal and engaging learning experience, allowing tutors to tailor their instruction to the individual needs of each student. However, others argue that online tutoring can be just as effective, if not more so, due to its flexibility, accessibility, and convenience. With the advancements in technology, online tutoring platforms now offer interactive tools such as video conferencing, screen sharing, and virtual whiteboards that can simulate the in-person learning experience. Ultimately, the effectiveness of tutoring depends on a variety of factors, including the needs and learning style of the student, the tutor's qualifications and experience, and the quality of the tutoring program.

How to choose the right tutoring method for you

Choosing the right tutoring method will depend on a consideration of all the factors we’ve discussed. There is a wide range of needs, circumstances, and obstacles for every student, so it would not be accurate to make a blanket statement saying one method is better than the other.

Ultimately, when selecting a tutoring method, whether online on in-person, it’s important to consider the tutor's qualifications and experience, as well as the quality of the tutoring program. Students should seek out reputable tutoring services with a track record of success and positive reviews from past clients.

Cost comparison: online vs in-person tutoring

When it comes to cost, online tutoring generally tends to be more affordable than in-person tutoring. However, the cost of tutoring can also vary depending on the subject matter and the tutor's qualifications and experience. For example, a highly specialised tutor with advanced degrees may charge more for their services, regardless of whether they are providing online or in-person tutoring.

The average cost of in-person private tutoring in the UK varies depending on the subject, location, and experience of the tutor, although the average hourly rate ranges from £30-£50 per hour. However, more experienced tutors or those specialising in subjects such as science and maths may charge up to £100 per hour.

In contrast, online tutoring can be a more cost-effective option with hourly rates for online tutoring in the UK starting as low as £15 per hour. However, it’s important for students to consider the quality of online tutoring services before choosing a provider based solely on cost. Some online tutoring services may offer lower rates but may not have qualified and experienced tutors, while others may charge higher rates but provide more personalised and effective instruction.

Both online and in-person tutoring have their pros and cons; the choice between the two ultimately depends on the student's individual needs, learning style, and budget. While online tutoring has seen a surge in popularity due to its many advantages, in-person tutoring still offers benefits worth considering, such as face-to-face interaction and the ability to learn in a designated environment. It’s important for students to consider the quality and experience of tutors, as well as their own preferences and requirements, before making a decision. In the end, the effectiveness of tutoring depends on the student's willingness to learn and the quality of instruction, regardless of the method used.

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Professional tutor and Cambridge University researcher

Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa

Written by: Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa

Oxford University - PhD Mathematics

Rahil spent ten years working as private tutor, teaching students for GCSEs, A-Levels, and university admissions. During his PhD he published papers on modelling infectious disease epidemics and was a tutor to undergraduate and masters students for mathematics courses.

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