Online tutoring is an increasingly popular option for test prep, but parents remain divided on its benefits. Some families embrace it for the accessibility and innovations it offers, while others remain hesitant due to concerns about quality and unfamiliarity.
The popularity of online education has exploded since the turn of the century. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over five million students took part in some form of online education at the college level in the fall of 2014.
As use of the medium continues to grow, online education has expanded to include a lot more than just virtual classes. The online tutoring market has experienced a similar surge in popularity: a survey by Coach found that 75% of tutors either offered online services or had plans to do so.
For families with children getting ready to sit for the ACT, SAT, AP, IB, or any other standardized test, the idea of online tutoring is an intriguing opportunity, to say the least. Quality services like Study.com offer ACT and SAT prep programs, but how do parents really feel about online tutoring?
The Case For
Online tutoring may be a new development, but plenty of parents have already jumped onboard and found it to be an excellent resource for their children, primarily because of the convenience and accessibility of the platform.
As with distance education, the immediate benefit of online tutoring is its unparalleled flexibility. While tutoring itself is by nature a flexible field whereby students and mentors are free to agree on their own meeting times, high school upperclassmen are frequently busy and rarely have time to spare. Online tutoring eliminates the need for long commutes and overly full schedules.
Cori DeLitto's son Mark took several AP exams in 2016 and reports on her experience: ''We looked at a couple of nearby options, but most required a 20-30- minute drive and there was not enough time in the day to make it work, unless we were willing to stay out until 10 PM or later.''
Ironically, Mark ended up with a weekly meeting at 10:30 PM, but the arrangement was far more convenient. ''It was a little late, yes, but the fact that we could do it from home meant he had time to get home, have dinner, take care of homework, and then sign on for his lessons,'' says Cori. Once finished, Mark simply needed to close his laptop and walk down the hall to get ready for bed, as opposed to making the drive home late at night.
As with any recent technological advancement, there's going to be a concern about cost. Yes, parents are always happy to help their children, but not if it means shelling out hundreds of dollars for new equipment when in-person tutoring can accomplish the same goal without the extra cost.
Online tutoring, however, requires very little in the way of software or hardware. When Tim Hahn signed his daughter up for several series of online instruction, he admits he had some reservations about how they would work. However, the only application needed was Skype, a video-chatting app that most teens already have, or at least know about. More importantly, the application is free to download and use.
In this age of digital natives, students preparing for tests are born with knowledge of the Internet, mobile devices, and online communication to the extent that they may feel more comfortable using technology to meet with their instructors.
The Case Against
Despite the advantages and benefits of finding a tutor through the Internet, this is not a perfect system. Some parents still continue to show resistance for a number of entirely valid reasons.
Lack of Familiarity
Many families, especially those with older children who took their tests before the advent of online tutoring, tend to favor an ''if it ain't broke, don't fix it'' approach. They don't necessarily feel hostile towards online education, they merely like to stick with testing traditions that they know were successful in the past.
''I've seen nothing to raise any serious red flags (about online tutoring), but I very much prefer the use of face-to-face instruction,'' says Ed Ryland, whose son and daughter took the SAT in 2011 and 2015 respectively. The Ryland family used local tutors to help their son prepare and chose the same route when it came time for their daughter to prep for the exam.
Suspicions About Quality
A primary selling point about digital test prep is the virtually endless array of choice. Students and their families are no longer bound by geographic restrictions and can seek out help from instructors anywhere on the planet. While this is a huge boon for students in rural areas with limited access to help, it also raises questions about the credentials of the person you're hiring.
When choosing a local tutor, families have the benefit of meeting face-to-face with the person and getting a sense of his or her teaching strategy. There's also the ability to check up on references and ask neighbors for recommendations, but online tutoring offers no such opportunities for verification.
When considering online education for their daughter, the Ryland family found one or two viable options online but were hesitant because they could not confirm the reliability and experience of these tutors, whereas their local tutors instilled a much greater sense of confidence.
A Case-by-Case Choice
The jury is still out when it comes to online tutoring as a means of preparing for standardized tests like the SAT or ACT. The medium offers plenty of advantages and strong selling points, but it is not without its weaknesses. For the time being, choosing online or in-person tutoring tends to come down to a case-by-case basis, as parents pick the option that best works for their individual child.