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Unexpected benefits of online tutoring

Video conferencing allows tutors and students to connect anywhere
Video conferencing allows tutors and students to connect anywhere
Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

Many students show resistance to the prospect of meeting with a tutor through an online forum. Some regard all online education, from the University of Phoenix to simple SAT tutoring, as either a scam or a waste of money. Others have had bad experiences taking online classes. To be sure, an online class does not make the best use of communications technology. Students of such classes often find themselves numbly watching a teacher hold forth with the ability to type messages into an instant message application as their only means of interaction. Such a set up gives a student little opportunity to get his or her questions answered and no control over the pacing of lessons. Online instructors, in their turn, have a hard time picking up on the frustration and discouragement of struggling students.

Online tutoring, however, is a different beast. By now just about everyone with a computer has experienced the Jetsonian magnificence of video calling. Skype has revolutionized telecommunications by providing a simple and cheap platform on which to connect with anyone in the world. While a class via video conference can feel like the remotest of lectures, tutoring through Skype is much more intimate and responsive. Tutors can see their students' faces, hear their voices and read their body language. They can tell when their students have done their homework or when they are not paying attention. At the same time, the physical separation of educator from pupil can help alleviate social anxiety on the student's part. The advent of online whiteboards like Scribblar and Awwapp also provide teachers and students with interactive white boards. To take full advantage of this technology, writing tablets, which replace the mouse with a stylus, are cheap and readily available.

This article details other advantages to online tutoring that a reader might not have considered.

If you live in a city like New York or Boston, you can find effective private tutors on any block just by searching Craigslist. However, for those living in suburban or rural locations, pickings can be pretty slim. While bigger companies like Kaplan may be able to get a tutor to your door in central New Jersey, good luck trying to find the same thing in rural Montana. Even if you do, there's no guarantee that your tutor will be qualified or experienced. Online tutoring, on the other hand, can bring the best tutors into your home no matter where you live.

For those living in New York and Boston, there is still one drawback to in-person tutoring: the going rate for such services is significantly higher than the cost of tutoring outside your city. Just as online tutoring can bring the best tutors to your home, so it can also allow you to pay less for those sessions.

Simply put, not meeting with a stranger is decidedly safer than meeting with one. While most reputable tutors choose to hold lessons in public places like libraries and cafes, parents of high school students often insist on in-home tutoring. Online tutoring provides the best of both worlds.

Not having to commute to lessons, particularly if you have a busy schedule or live in a remote area, is no small thing. If you are a working professional taking GRE, GMAT or LSAT classes, you'll probably find yourself taking lessons after work and on weekends. Well saving that commute can make the lessons logistically feasible and cheaper. If you are a business traveler, so much the better. Just bring your laptop and textbook along and you can have your lesson from any hotel or conference room you see fit. Finally, if your tutor is in a westerly time zone, you can have lessons later at night than you would with a local tutor. After all, 9 PM in New York is dinnertime in LA.

The ambient environment of most live lessons will never fail to create some distraction, from the comings and goings of other patrons to the crying of babies. An online lesson in your home or office, however, allows you to work in the peace and quiet of a private room. As long as you can close the door and have a solid internet connection (even if you have Wi-Fi, plugging in a LAN cable works best) you should have no reason not to focus on your tutor's words. If you want to further screen out background distraction, a Logitech USB headset with microphone costs less than $30.

Rich Carriero has worked in the standardized test prep industry since 1999. He is currently the Director for GRE and GMAT tutoring at Next Step Test Preparation.

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