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Can You Trust a Computer to Tutor Your Child?

Maria Adcock
July 17, 2017

Exploring the ups and downs of online tutoring.



Whether you're considering online tutoring to help your child catch up, get ahead or simply maintain skills throughout the year, you want to know that it's effective. While online tutoring cannot replace good teachers, it can enhance your child's educational experience, so you won't have to stress yourself out all year trying to help your kiddo keep up.

In addition to daily log-in and tracking programs, online tutoring options include live chatting with online tutors. Some services offer one-on-one interfacing, while others use telecasts or webcasts with a group of students. Both are meant to simulate the traditional face-to-face interaction between a tutor and student.

The Pros of Online Tutoring

  • Convenience. Online tutoring programs can provide convenience in the comfort of your home. Your child can log-in anytime and does not have to worry about setting up tutoring appointments around someone else's schedule.
  • Pacing and control. Every child learns differently and online tutoring programs allow for flexibility. Your child can go through a lesson as fast or as slow as he or she wants, and repeat lessons as needed. "Online tutoring programs can encourage self-motivation," says Stephanie Mulder, a third-grade public school teacher in Chicago. "Kids control what they do, and go at their own pace."
  • Reinforcement. Lessons taught by the teacher in school and through the online tutoring program can reinforce one another. "It doesn't hurt to see a lesson in two different ways," says Mulder. "It would make more of an impact in terms of the child remembering and understanding the information."
  • Parental tracking. Many online tutoring programs allow you to track the progress of your child. You can see if your child completed the daily lesson, how long it took, how many questions were answered correctly and more. You may check progress reports any time of the day -- something not easily done if you have to call a teacher. "There are a lot of great educational tutoring websites out there," says Angela Jones, owner and director of Paradigm Care & Enrichment Center, a preschool, daycare and enrichment program in Waterford, Michigan. "Some are skill and drill [repetitive exercises of specific skills], others are a meaningful tool for parents that provide them with detailed reports ... and these allow them to target study focuses."
  • Costs. Though some online tutoring programs can cost more than a weekly tutor, there are plenty out there that do not. You don't have to pay for someone's time or gas money to come to your house. You typically just pay a monthly service charge, no matter how often your child uses it.

The Considerations of Online Tutoring

  • Focus and self-discipline. If your child can't go onto the computer without switching over to a video game or checking Facebook every thirty seconds, then online tutoring isn't a good choice. Because there is no one hovering over them to ensure the lessons get done, your child needs to self-regulate. "When my son was in elementary school, we signed up for an online tutoring program," said Terry Winn from Gillette, New Jersey. "It didn't work for us because he was at the age where he didn't want to listen to mom and dad telling him what to do -- but he would listen to his teacher."
  • A preference for online learning. Online tutoring programs are meant to be engaging, but what if this becomes your child's preferred way to learn? Many online programs are filled with cartoon characters, games, sounds and flashing lights. For some kids, being tuned into a computer screen may prove more stimulating than listening to a teacher at school, and they may zone out when they get back to their everyday lessons.
  • Personal interaction. On the other hand, some kids may not be able to learn without an authority figure physically present next to them. Children learn in many ways: facial expressions, body language and verbal encouragement. Some children also do better when around other children who are eager to learn. If your child is the type that thrives on human engagement or competition, then online tutoring may not be the best option.
  • Limited scope. Online tutoring programs typically provide set lesson offerings. Though many offer an impressive range of topics, they can't tell a personal story like a teacher may use in a lesson or go on a field trip for a hands-on learning experience.
  • Special needs. When it comes to children with special needs and online tutoring, teachers don't always agree about the benefits or restrictions. The effectiveness of an online tutoring program for special needs children ultimately depends on the individual child. "Children with [ADD] can often produce inaccurate scores with online tutoring programs because they tend to jump the gun and click without reading through the material," says Jones. Mulder disagrees. "One of my students with ADHD loves the online tutoring program we have at school," she says. "It captures his attention better than a person could. He was the first one in class to complete the program and he did well. He felt a lot of pride and gave him a confidence boost in his abilities."
  • Access to programs. A basic requirement to run online tutoring programs is a computer, and not every household owns one. Libraries and schools offer Internet access, but for limited times and only during building hours. Even if a household has a computer, parents may not be able to afford the program costs.

Maria Adcock, proud first-time mom, is a marketer and freelance writer in Long Island, NY. Maria has worked for publications such as InStyle, Real Simple, Entertainment Weekly, Southern Living, Cooking Light and Health. Her work can be found here.

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