Here are 8 core characteristics of quality online tutoring

In high-quality sessions, tutors engage with learners in multiple ways using various tools.

Increased access to high-speed internet, rising demand for equitable learning opportunities, the need to accelerate student learning, and the fact that most of us now carry mobile devices are all driving high demand for online tutoring. In response to this demand, a number of online tutoring providers have sprung up—and schools are faced with the challenge of identifying one to provide a high-quality, engaging experience for students.

To help schools identify quality providers equipped to meet their students’ needs, recently conducted a research study. Harvesting the data from archived tutoring session transcripts, my colleague and I curated a list of eight hallmarks of high-quality tutoring to look for when selecting a tutoring provider:

1. Tutor familiarity with platform capabilities. In high-quality sessions, tutors demonstrate familiarity with the platform, procedures, and tools. There are no misunderstandings or delays in tutors’ use of tools, and explanations are provided to learners who may have questions about using a particular tool. Any difficulty is resolved as a result.

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2. Use of multiple modalities. In high-quality sessions, tutors engage with learners in multiple ways using various tools. This includes use of a whiteboard, graph paper and graphing calculator, text or coding screens, image or file sharing—or some combination of these—and the marking up of images or files with annotations.

3. Establishment and augmentation of a student’s prior knowledge. Tutors begin by reviewing a posted statement or problem and greeting the student. In high-quality sessions, tutors ask the learner about established or associated information to reveal the student’s understanding and categorization processes. This is in contrast to a tutor who might instead review the problem and then lead the learner, via lecturing, through the process of solving the problem.

4. Inquiries with open-ended questions. In high-quality sessions, effective tutors use inquiry to guide learning for the student. Socratic questioning is used to scaffold the building of connections and “realizations.” In some cases, tutors may provide information, such as short statements, to facilitate student-led problem-solving. Answer-giving and lecturing by tutors are more commonly found in low-quality sessions.

5. Clarification to ensure understanding. Highly effective tutors ask questions to reveal what the student knows or is learning through the instructional process. By clarifying students’ understanding, the tutor may then continue with a particular instructional approach or change their approach as needed. Without this information, the tutor might be oblivious to learner frustration, confusion, or disappointment.

6. Ongoing connection and engagement with learners. In high-quality sessions, tutors establish rapport with students. This can be done by relating to students (“I used to struggle with this concept in high school, too!”) and showing empathy (“I know you are struggling with this; we will work through this together.”). It is also critical for tutors to demonstrate that they are content experts whom students can trust. In high-quality sessions, tutors put students first, show interest in what they are doing, and genuinely express enthusiasm for students’ learning and successes. Tutors who regularly “check in” with learners build learning momentum from active engagement.

7. Multiple, appropriately paced interactions. In high-quality sessions, tutors create an interactive environment of give and take, prompts and responses, with a natural flow of timely responses. In low-quality sessions, tutors may be working with too many students at once to be able to provide timely responses that enhance overall session engagement.

8. Responsiveness to learner efforts and feedback. Often in high-quality sessions, tutors express positive responses or smiling emojis; and they are empathetic, where appropriate. Tutors use supportive encouragement during the developing learning process or when learners display realization of concepts. In a multi-step problem, effective tutors provide encouragement as a student grasps each concept needed to solve the problem.

By ensuring high-tutor quality for each and every session, online tutoring experiences can accelerate learning, enhance confidence and facilitate the understanding and success that students and schools expect from the experience.

Danielle Kearns-Sixsmith and Jennifer Boller
Danielle Kearns-Sixsmith and Jennifer Boller
Dr. Danielle Kearns-Sixsmith is director of field experiences and assistant professor at DeSales University, and former learning services manager at Princeton Review. Jennifer Boller is learning services director of quality assurance at Princeton Review. The Princeton Review is not affiliated with Princeton University.

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