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Alys Brooks

9 Effective Online Tutoring Best Practices

With online tutoring, you can overcome barriers to your goals and continue learning at your own pace.

Social distancing means that many students are working online to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus. But social distancing doesn’t have to come at your education’s expense. Many tutors and educators are already experienced in online education, and make their expertise available by way of professional online tutoring. By following advice and preparing, you can get the most out of tutoring.

Tailor your environment

Humans take their cues from the environment, so it’s often ideal to have a designated for space for activities that require a particular mindset, like learning. A completely separate location probably isn’t feasible, particularly if you are in a large household and everyone’s trying to work or learn remotely. Still, you can optimize your environment.

  • Make sure any learning materials you need are at hand. This could be a physical textbook, a digital copy of course notes, or an online study guide.

  • Put away any materials you don’t need. Your workspace need not look like a stock photo for minimalism, but make sure there’s not too much clutter preventing you from finding the resources you need.

  • Consider referencing an ergonomics guide to ensure your setup is comfortable to use for the long term.

On a related note, a lot of people who work from home swear by dressing like they’re going into the office to ensure they’re in the right mindset. If you’re required to wear an outfit is uncomfortable or distracting by a dress code, you now likely have the flexibility to wear something else instead. You might have to experiment to find the right balance between something that tells your subconscious it’s time to learn and something that is comfortable enough to wear while learning from home.

Think about how you will manage your time

Online learning’s advantage is flexible hours. This is a good thing - you can reschedule lesson around the times you learn best, or to fit with your other responsibilities. On the other hand, if you don’t pay attention to how you’re using your time, you can easily get less done than you intend or allocate your time inefficiently.

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Some people block off entire workdays on their calendar so they have a guide for what they should be doing throughout the day. Other people like the Pomodoro method. Others use systems like Getting Things Done. And finally, others use a basic to-do list in a paper notebook.

While having a system that complements the way you think is important, it’s just as important that you stick with the system you decide works best for you. To do this, try to build habits around using your system, and make it as easy as possible to do so. For example: if you decide to use a notebook to plan out your days, don’t let the notebook get buried under your textbooks, and keep it organized and easy to reference.

Regardless of your means of organizing outstanding tasks and deadlines, it can be helpful to track where your time actually goes. Some tools, like Toggl or Clockify, require you to manually set timers, and others, like ManicTime, Rescue Time, or Qbserve attempt to automatically infer what you’re doing based on what windows are open on your computer. These tools are handy because they allow you to watch out for distractions that might be more costly than you expect, help you strike a balance between different tasks, and estimate how long future tasks will take.

Tweak a few settings to avoid hiccups

Technology has progressed so that virtually any computer from the past 10 years or so is capable of video chat, including Wyzant’s online tutoring platform. However, video chat still isn’t lightweight; it’s helpful to adjust a few things to ensure the smoothest experience:

  • If possible, connect to your router using a wired connection. Wireless connections have come a long way, but they’re still not quite as reliable as a wired connection when it comes to keeping your system reliably connected to the web.
  • Close or pause other programs that use the internet or do background processing, including virus scanners, backups, game updates, or downloading large files like movies or albums.
  • Finally, if it’s been a while, consider updating your computer.

For laptop users, there’s two additional things to do:

  • Try to set your laptop on a hard surface. These tend to have better airflow, meaning your computer doesn’t need to slow itself down or turn the fans on full-blast to avoid overheating.
  • Make sure you’re plugged in. You don’t want your lesson interrupted because your computer shut down, and you need to go searching for the power cord.

Know your tools

Getting to know the tools you’ll be using ensures you’ll make the most of your time with your tutor. For example, Wyzant’s online tutoring platform has several modes:

The whiteboard allows you to both do freehand drawings from scratch and mark up documents.

  • The text editor allows you to work with your tutor on written documents.

  • The code editor works similarly to the text editor, but is optimized for tutoring programming, and includes all the tools needed to write code.

  • Screen sharing allows you to share what’s on your screen with your tutor. This is particularly helpful when from programming lessons.

For more on Wyzant’s tool, refer to this page.

Invest in tools for online tutoring (if you can)

There are some useful tools you can use to make the most out of online tutoring. For example, getting a dedicated webcam or microphone to replace the ones built in to your computer can improve the quality of video conferencing and noise-canceling headphones can help you tune out distractions.

The Wirecutter has a good list of useful gear for video conferencing. They also have a longer list of other upgrades that are meant for working from home but also work for learning from home.

Between the uncertain economic situation and shipping delays, it may not be feasible for you to buy new products to enhance your online tutoring lessons. If you’re facing this situation, remember that while these things are genuinely helpful, the biggest factor in your success with online learning is the effort you put into it.

Take a break

If you are switching to entirely online learning, you’re probably forgoing at least a few built-in breaks in your day when you’d normally move between places. It’s super convenient to commute or even walk to buy lunch, but that doesn’t mean you should forgo breaks. Take a moment to play with your pet or children, chat with your partner or roommate, stretch, or exercise. As a reminder, outdoor activities like walking and biking are still okay during social distancing.

It can be tempting to skip breaks to try to catch up due to the delays caused by the transition to online learning, but this is actually counterproductive. Taking breaks makes you more productive, in part because even when outwardly resting, the brain appears to be working to establish memories, a subtler form of the way sleep cements memory.

Beyond the productivity benefits, eschewing breaks can lead to a dislike of your class or subject matter at best, or burn out at worst. Sometimes, you may have no choice but to cram, or put in marathon workdays, but a healthier work-life balance is better for your learning over the long term.

Set boundaries

It’s helpful to set (and reset) boundaries with family members and roommates so you can all learn, work, and rest without getting in anyone’s way. This is especially true if you’re sharing a small space. This might be the kind of conversation you’re tempted to blow off, but it will save you frustration down the road and make your learning more productive. If someone accidentally crosses a boundary, don’t blow up at them…but don’t let it slide, either. Communication now, like always, is key.

Find the right tutor

It’s important that you find a tutor who’s a good fit for your needs. Ask your tutor about their experience, teaching style and methods, schedule, and rates. Keep in mind that if your tutor turns out to not to be a good fit or your needs change, you can switch tutors at any time. For more advice on choosing the right tutor, read up on questions you can ask potential tutors to help you better understand their experience.

Be patient with yourself

If you haven’t used a video chat or tutoring platform before, it will probably take some time before you’re fully comfortable with how it works. Additionally, working remotely takes some getting used to. It may be a little bit of time before online tutoring is second nature the way in-person learning is.

Learning from home is a transition with a bit of a learning curve, but by putting into some work to get ready you can hit the ground running. There are even perks—you can’t pet your cat or take a nap if you’re learning from campus.