The New Face of Tutoring

By now, you’re probably familiar with the details of the bribery scandal that broke on March 12: prominent Americans paid upwards of $6.5 million to get their kids into college. It was shocking in its brazenness, but it also served as an extreme example of an uncomfortable reality that has long existed in our country: wealthier people have more access to education.

They live in more expensive neighborhoods and so pay higher property taxes which lead to better-funded schools. They fund extracurricular activities that look good on a college application – and their children can afford to participate in those activities instead of working. And, of course, the wealthiest Americans can pay for educational support in the form of tutors to boost their kids’ performance on admission tests.

While the first two of those items are as true as they’ve ever been, that take on tutoring is out of date. Today, thanks in large part to technology, tutoring is actually democratizing access to educational attainment. Here’s how.

A Changing Workforce

A generation ago, it was reasonable to expect that your employer would offer you full benefits, that you could work one full-time job to pay your bills, and that you’d receive on-the-job mentoring and training to advance in your career – as long as you kept coming into the office, nine to five, forever.

Today, the gig economy has transformed the workforce. People have more control, autonomy, and flexibility in when they work and what they do – but there are also drawbacks. Gig economy jobs often come without benefits like health insurance and employer-sponsored training.

At the same time, we’re facing an urgent skills gap that could reach a shortfall of 85.2 million workers by 2030.

Business leaders have noticed: in a global survey, CEOs noted that their largest concern for 2019 is attracting and retaining talent.

In other words, we’re approaching a world in which we have lots of available work but insufficiently trained workers – who aren’t likely to receive training through their employers.

One solution, naturally, is for these untrained workers to take matters into their own hands and obtain the training and education necessary for the many available high-skilled roles. But the cost of a college degree is skyrocketing, putting that option out of reach of many people. Luckily, an alternative has sprung up: online learning platforms.

The Power of Digital Education Platforms

As the founder of Udemy pointed out in a recent opinion piece for Wired, online education platforms make it possible for people around the world to learn any subject they want. Enrollment numbers for massive online open courses (moocs) back this up: a typical mooc might enroll tens of thousands of students.

But enrollment doesn’t equal achievement: some studies put the completion rate of moocs at anywhere from 15 percent to as low as three to five percent.

Tutors may be the solution. A 1984 study noted that there is no teaching method more effective than one-on-one instruction. Thanks to platforms like Wyzant, eager learners around the world can access this kind of instruction as long as they have an internet connection.

The implications are significant. When tutoring happens online, a one-hour session costs exactly that for both tutor and learner: no commuting, no gathering books and materials, no packing and resettling at home. This is likely why online lessons tend to be more affordable – about 15 percent less than those that happen face to face, according to our data.

Of course, tutoring fees vary based on many factors (from $15 to more than $200 per hour on our platform). When tutors and learners are connecting online, though, learners can find those whose rates match their budgets rather than settling for whoever happens to be nearby.

The ability to connect online also means it’s easier for learners to find tutors in highly specialized subjects such as nursing exams or specific coding languages.

Tutoring for All

In 2016, we decided to retool our platform to shift away from connecting tutors and students in the physical world (though this is still possible) toward making it possible for learners of all ages to connect with tutors online.

Our efforts paid off – and illustrated the demand for one-on-one instruction among adult populations: today, 61 percent of our new learners are adults and 70 percent choose online sessions.

We’re proud of that. Those numbers show that, when you make affordable learning resources available, people will use them to make their lives better.

As a nation, we’re far from solving the economic inequalities that plague our education system – and the flagrantly illegal behavior those inequalities inspire. But there is hope: as innovators leverage technology to make online learning more accessible to more people – and as the skills gap grows in the workplace – traditional gatekeepers will have less sway over who succeeds in the long term.

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