Live online tutoring

Live online tutoring is the process of tutoring in an online environment, with teacher and student interacting in real-time without necessarily being in the same place. This real-time element, whilst presenting a significant technical challenge, sets live online tutoring apart from traditional online tutoring as it attempts to mimic in-person interaction as closely as possible rather than simply facilitating knowledge transfer.


Live online tutoring is a relatively recent concept, originally pioneered by NetTutor in 1996 and popularized by the live online tutoring platform from 1998 in the US. It has developed alongside far more widespread asynchronous online tutoring and learning experiences, in turn popularized by organizations such as Khan Academy, universities and other educational institutions with the introduction of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS). These efforts were aimed primarily at people without local access to appropriate teachers and tutors, in an attempt to remove geographical barriers from education.[1]

However, lack of certain key technology such as reliable remote video and audio communication, and a lack of widespread stable high-bandwidth Internet access, prevented these early efforts from including a significant live component in their offering.[2] Early innovations came from remote language learning services such as italki, where a stable audio connection was sufficient to deliver a reasonable service. In most contexts, online tutoring was thus fundamentally different from face-to-face tutoring, more closely resembling correspondence teaching than sitting in a classroom. Today, there are hundreds of companies and academic institutions based around the world offering live remote learning in a huge range of subjects, both in the context of academic learning and industrial training. With current technology and increasing Internet penetration in the developing world, there is a renewed interest in live offerings as exemplified by Chegg's recent acquisition of InstaEDU for $30 million.[3]

Common functionalityEdit

Existing live online tutoring services frequently include the following features to connect students and tutors:

  • Video link
  • Audio link
  • Text chat
  • Interactive whiteboard
  • Feedback

Some services also provide

  • Document sharing, upload and download
  • Synchronized document editing
  • Screen sharing and recording
  • Mathematics tools (equation editors, graph plotters, etc.)

The overall environment aims to reproduce the level of interaction present in a face-to-face session, and is fundamentally different from software packages and services for screen-casting and videoconferencing such as WebEx, where the focus is on one-way transmission of information.

Comparison with in-person tutoringEdit

Live online tutoring has several advantages over face-to-face tutoring, although suffers from shortcomings in ease of non-verbal communication.

Attribute Live online tutoring Face-to-face tutoring
Verbal communication Audio link Conversation
Visual non-written communication Video link Body language
Written communication Text chat, whiteboards, synchronized document sharing and editing Reading and writing together
Lesson quality control and accountability Lessons can be recorded or monitored unobtrusively Lessons must be recorded or observed in person by an external party
Lesson asymmetry Experience of tutor and student during lesson can differ significantly Experience of tutor and student during lesson is largely shared
Ease of lesson scheduling, planning and execution No travelling required, resources available privately to tutor during lessons Travelling required, tutor has access to limited resources during lessons
Safety concerns No physical contact, lesson can be monitored unobtrusively and halted immediately Physical contact, monitoring with ability to halt lesson immediately requires close third party supervision

With the development of wearable technology, in particular smart headsets, richer interaction will become possible as companies work to mimic face-to-face interaction more closely. The language learning service Duolingo, for example, is already fully compatible with Google Glass.[4]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Berg, Gary (31 October 2009). Cases on Online Tutoring, Mentoring, and Educational Services: Practices and Applications. Hershey, New York: IGI Global. ISBN 9781605668772.
  2. ^ Chi Ng, Kwok (March 2007). "Replacing Face-to-Face Tutorials by Synchronous Online Technologies: Challenges and pedagogical implications". The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. 8 (1).
  3. ^ "TechCrunch article, June 2014".
  4. ^ "Article on, June 2014".