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HOW TO: find a trustworthy online tutor

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

Now that technology allows kids to work online with tutors anywhere on earth, parents and kids face a whole new set of questions. How can you find a reputable online tutor if you might never meet face-to-face? Is online tutoring safe? Will it actually help?

When you evaluate potential tutors, you’ll want to assess the tutor’s personal qualities—their trustworthiness and their capacity to mentor your kid. You’ll also want to choose someone who uses technology that puts the human connection center stage. Here’s how.

Look for an individual. Even if you choose to go through a large tutoring company, look for online tutors who provide a photo of themselves and a bio. This information about their personality, experience, and approach can give you a sense of whether they’ll work well with your kid before you actually book a session. If possible, see if they have testimonials or case studies on their website. Check for recommendations on their LinkedIn profile or other review sites.

Talk to the tutor. Look for tutors you can talk to before you hire them. Give the tutor a call to discuss your situation, ask questions, and see if they’d be a good fit before making a decision. A trustworthy online tutor will be happy to have this discussion with you free of charge. In fact, they’ll probably want to have a “get to know you” conversation to evaluate whether you’re a good client for them before they decide to work with a new student.

Look for a setup where the same tutor works with your kid every time.
Working with a company that gives you 24/7 access to a randomized pool of online tutors means your kid will be able to get help around the clock, and you won’t need to book appointments in advance. These unlimited access plans are also usually less expensive than working with an individual.

However, though the tutors in this setup will probably be able to help with the issue du jour, there’s no way they’ll be able to see how today’s work fits into your kid’s bigger academic picture. It’s like going to a walk-in emergency clinic. The tutors may be qualified, but they just won’t have the perspective that comes from a long-term mentoring relationship.

A good tutor will keep track of your kid’s long-range academic goals and challenges, and keep them in mind as they manage each session. They’ll help your kid plan ahead to minimize academic emergencies, and address gaps in knowledge before they become major issues. So even if you go with a big tutoring company, seek out a situation where you can ask for the same tutor every time and book that specific tutor in advance.

Look for live voice communication.
It’s essential that your kid be able to ask their tutor questions out loud and hear their tutor’s voice. Instant messaging-style tutoring lacks the nanosecond-to-nanosecond communication that is the foundation of all great teaching.

Voice communication allows a tutor to hear if the student’s tone of voice is confident or bewildered and whether or not they’re “getting” the material. The immediacy of talking either on the phone or over VoIP allows a student and tutor to synchronize in a way that just can’t happen over IM. Plus, many students feel more comfortable talking out loud about what’s stumping them instead of having to type it out.

Look for handwriting. Seek out a tutor who uses technology where both the student and the tutor can write their work out by hand instead of typing. If a student is already confused enough to need a tutor, the interface should be as intuitive as possible. Having to worry about how to type your math problem, for example, doesn’t help you learn how to solve that problem. There are several innovative ways to integrate handwriting and online tutoring, and different tutoring companies use different methods.

In conclusion… At its best, great tutoring isn’t just about helping a kid learn a skill or pass a class—it teaches your kid to learn independently and rely on themselves to find answers. To maximize the positive impact of online tutoring, seek out an individual who you’ll work with consistently and who uses technology that puts the human connection front and center.

Related posts:
How to find a good math tutor
How to incorporate a tutor into your homeschooling or unschooling environment
How handwriting helps us learn (or why I use handwriting instead of typing)
My Tutoring Technology (4): Why I use handwriting instead of typing