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Can Online Tutoring Be As Effective As In-Person?

March 9, 2020 The Ohio State University announced an "extended spring break" through the end of the month while we all held our breath on what Covid would mean for our lives. 

As a business owner of a 100% in-person service business, my alarm bells went off and if I'm honest, fear gripped me. What would happen to the business I'd spent 21 years building? It proved recession proof, but pandemic proof? Even though my great grandfather had died in the Spanish Flu Pandemic, I'd never imagined it was something I'd be dealing with in my lifetime.

I cleared my calendar for the week and furiously began my research and implementation of a pivot to an all online business. We closed down on Friday March 13th (felt fitting it was a Friday the 13th) and opened as a 100% online business on Saturday, March 14th. We didn't miss a beat. 

Group classes and 1:1 tutoring took on a whole new look. Clients, tutors, and staff all heaped on an extra dose of grace and patience as we navigated the unknown. 

By September 2020 any student who wanted to take the ACT or SAT was able to find a seat in my home state of Ohio and the surrounding region. We fared better than other parts of the country. As we waited for scores to come in, we held our breath. Does online tutoring work? Can it be as effective?

For 21 years we have kept data on student improvements that auto-calculates as we add new student results. Our average improvement has consistently hovered between +4.2 and 4.6 points on an ACT. 

Last I looked at our data before writing this, the average after the February and March Ohio state testing cycle was still a +4.5. Phew! 

A year in and the country is slowly opening up again. In the fall, LEAP began offering a few sections of our group prep courses in-person. We slowly increased this. Why did we return to some in-person GROUP, but not 1:1 yet?

  • Group classes can easily be socially distanced as we moved to larger rooms
  • When doing group instruction the instructor is at the front of the room at a whiteboard to demonstrate, instead of sitting across from the student at a table for 1:1 tutoring
  • If one student is absent, the show goes on, but the student can still get the content through our online class options

A Return to In-Person 1:1?

Our team has revisited this question at least monthly. It's not an easy one and we wrestle with it. With Covid protocols, in-person instruction is more costly. But is the cost worth it? Will it increase effectiveness?

Our data, based on parents reporting, student improvements has remained stable after more than a year of online instruction. Perhaps though in-person would still be better even though it's as effective. 

Parent Feedback

Of our 59 Google reviews, 22% have been submitted since Covid. All are 5-stars and demonstrate that online works. When a parent has concerns about online tutoring not being effective, Sheri, our Relationship Manager, encourages families to at least try it. LEAP doesn't require contracts of our clients, so they can always quit. 

Over the last year, only one client who tried online tutoring found that it didn't work well for their child. They cited too much screen time. I get it. 

Our hope as schools move back to in-person and we have all learned how to Zoom better is too much screen time will no longer be an issue. Why is this our hope? 

In addition to our data of improvements, our tutors actually prefer Zoom tutoring for 1:1.

Tutor Feedback

Logistically, we've identified benefits such as:

  • If either tutor or student is quarantined or mildly sick, tutoring can still happen!
  • No travel time for tutor or student, so they have more free time for other priorities
  • Online tutoring allows us to keep our rates down

John Wells (LEAP English Tutor) cited,

"Full integration of digital resources! Tutors and students are always on the same page because we can screen share and even create digital resources for students on the fly! It lets tutors replicate valuable notes, examples, and other items without the clunkiness of printed documents or confusing distribution of student tools mixed across different mediums. We can also easily scan and print mentor examples that stay easy to access and blend seamlessly with online instruction!"

Heather Born (LEAP's Veteran Tutor of Decades) shares,

"I agree with John AND the greatest benefit to students is that they are already familiar with zoom and adept at navigating all of his beneficial tools. Students can also record their sessions, so they can go back and review what they learned. This is impossible with in-person tutoring." 

Jennifer Boughton (Lead Math and Science Instructor) adds,

"Rather than awkwardly trying to show a student how to do a math problem from "side writing" at a table, online sessions allow them see it large and in charge on their screen. There is no need for them to attempt to take notes, because you can save and share resources easily, even on the whiteboards in zoom. I also have endless resources at my finger tips to drop into the chat."

We actually featured Jennifer's awesome Zoom writing skills in a recent video which also provides a valuable math lesson students won't soon forget! 



Finally a word as LEAP's founder, owner, and Chief Inspiration Officer!

As Covid hit, I engaged with my college counseling client from the farthest location I've had to date....Hong Kong. Ankita and I hit the ground running in March 2020 and in our first conversation I inquired whether those in Hong Kong went as crazy as Americans were going for TOILET PAPER! They were about 6 weeks ahead of us with Covid, so I knew they'd have some answers for me.

As it turns out, humans across the globe of all nationalities go crazy for toilet paper during a pandemic! Over the last year, I came to know Ankita and her parents as deeply and well as my in-person Cincinnati clients. Rapport was easy to establish across a 13-hour time difference and many laughs were shared. Ankita's parents have gone on to refer me to friends and she heads off to the University of California Berkeley this fall. 

Does distance matter? Not in a digital age. 

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