As the name suggests, online tutors interact with learners using the Internet and computer technology.
The job of online tutor is similar to that of a private tutor or teacher, except that all the work is done through the Internet. Online tutors use email, virtual classrooms and audio/video conferencing to interact with their students. As a consequence, they can work from anywhere provided they have a computer, a webcam and a reliable Internet connection. Skype is a widely used tool to conduct lessons.
The role of an online tutor can vary from helping out students with homework or focusing on examination preparation to teaching full online courses. Tutoring can be provided on a one-to-one basis or to a group of students.
Although they are related, the jobs of online and “traditional” tutors require different skills. It may take a while even for an experienced traditional teacher to understand the complexities of online communications and get used to managing interactions between students. Online tutoring requires a lot of advance planning and preparation to ensure that all taught material, activities and assessments are made available for online access.
The main advantage of online tutoring is the flexibility it gives both to the tutor and the learner. It also makes it easier to access resources anywhere in the world and it facilitates interaction among students and with the tutor.
There are 2 types of online tutoring (tutors generally use a mixture of both):
- Live online (synchronous e-learning): the learner has a live connection with the tutor, for example during a question and answer session.
- Not-live online (asynchronous e-learning): the learner and the tutor are not online at the same time. For example the learner sends a completed assignment by email and the tutor responds with corrections at a later time.
There are two main types of employers:
- Agencies which act as a matching service between learners and tutors. They mostly provide services for children and teenagers. Some agencies focus on specific subjects like maths or languages.
- Further and higher education institutions which provide online courses and qualifications. These include e-learning providers for adult learners and universities.
Some online tutors work as freelancers without any intermediary, and usually set up their own professional website to advertise their services.
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Pay rates can vary from £8 to £30 per hour according to the tutor’s qualifications, experience and type of employer (see above).
- Assess, teach and support learners online
- Use email, discussion forums, audio and video conferencing to communicate with learners
- Develop an online relationship with learners
- Prepare and assess online assignments
- Provide feedback and answers to learners’ questions
- Build learners’ confidence and independence
- Design preparatory materials, course and activities
- Deliver and coordinate small group activities, for example online tutorials
Universities and e-learning providers will expect the tutor to have a Postgraduate Certificate in Education.
There is no required qualification to work with an agency. However tutors need to be CRB checked when teaching children.
In general, agencies and learners will prefer to hire a tutor with a tutoring or teaching background, or with expertise in their own subject. Preferred qualifications include:
- First degree university course
- Traditional teaching qualifications: Bachelor of Education (BEd), Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE)
- Vocational qualifications: Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC), City & Guilds, National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs)
Online tutors can supplement their training with various professional and postgraduate courses specialised in teaching in an online environment. Here are a few examples of available training:
- MA Learning and Teaching (e-Learning) at Anglia Ruskin University
- MSc Blended and Online Education at Edinburgh Napier University
- MSc e-Learning at Edinburgh University
- MA Online and Distance Education at the Open University
- MEd e-Learning at the University of Hull
- LeTTOL (Learning to Teach online) at Sheffield College
- Certified Online Learning Facilitator at the Institute for Learning & Development
- Certificate in Blended Learning at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)
- TAP Certificate in e-Learning Facilitation at the Training Foundation
- TAP Certificate in e-Learning Design at the Training Foundation
Some e-learning providers like Ufi/LearnDirect offer in-house training after recruiting new tutors.
- Excellent communication, listening and explanation skills
- Excellent organisational and time management skills
- A clear and enthusiastic voice
- Ability to prioritise workload effectively
- Excellent command of the English language
- Patience and motivation
- Genuine interest in your students
- Good IT skills
- Ability to make effective use of the Internet as an educational resource
Tutors can access all the resources they need from their own home and have no commuting constraints. Online tutoring has the great benefit of allowing for a flexible schedule to prepare and assess learners’ work. However tutors need to adapt to learners’ availability when it comes to online tutorials and chat sessions. These are more likely to happen during evenings and weekends.
Some online tutors work full-time for adult learning providers. Others prefer to keep tutoring as a part-time activity and combine it with other work or family commitments.
Experience is important for getting work as agencies usually require 3 years’ teaching experience before considering an application.
Main e-learning providers for adult learners:
Online tutoring agencies:
- Home Tutoring Online offers tuition across subjects
- Maths Doctor is currently the UK’s largest providers of one-to-one live online maths tutoring
- Verbal Planet offers language learning programmes
Teachers used to working in traditional classroom settings may be interested in trying out a new and more flexible environment.
Also known as…
- Virtual professor
- Home tutor
What’s it really like?
Vanessa Alexander, 51, has been teaching Spanish online for 11 years. She has also worked as a PR Consultant, journalist and Voice Over artist.
What do you do in a working typical day?
I prepare written Spanish lessons, research relevant material, record listening exercises in Spanish for students, prepare and correct students’ homework.
What do you like about the job?
Seeing an improvement in a student’s language ability: real job satisfaction.
What do you dislike about the job?
Preparation is interesting but time consuming, as is correcting homework, particularly in my case as each lesson is tailor-made for the student.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
Know your subject well, and be able to communicate clearly both in writing and verbally.
What job(s) do you think you might do after this role?
I would like to continue what I am doing but also focus on my Voice Over talent business.
What advice would you give to people considering this career?
You need to be very organised if teaching at different levels; good note taking is essential to ensure you to stay focused on the needs of the student whatever age or level they may be at. You need to be patient as people learn at different speeds. You must also be a good communicator. Flexibility also helps as mature students have other issues to deal with such as work and family.
Can you give us an idea of your salary?
This is variable as it depends on the number of students you have at any given time. It doesn’t command a high income as in today’s economic climate people have cut back on what they may deem to be a luxury (private language lessons may fall into this category for some). However, becoming fluent in a language and being able to teach it online or otherwise requires many years of study by the tutor with regards to grammar, phonetics, verb tenses, phrases and expressions. Hairdressers probably earn more and yet they train for only a couple of years!
What kind of students do you have?
The youngest student is 14, the oldest student is 61. They are made up of school learners, business people and vacation users.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of teaching online?
Disadvantages: when you teach a language you must have both the facility to email back and forth and also a clear (telephone) line for speaking and listening in order to correct any mispronunciations. Also, payment can be an issue. I used to invoice straight after a lesson but some students didn’t pay and by then it is too late: they have had the lesson and the benefit. A way round this is to invoice before a lesson but this is not wholly comfortable for either party.
Advantages: eye contact via webcam is good. A key advantage is that you can be anywhere in the world and communicate with another person as though they were right in front of you. Skype, for instance, has been ideal for this.
How did you end up doing this job; was it a childhood dream or was it by accident?
By accident. A couple of ladies heard me speaking Spanish when I was on the phone and asked if I would teach them. At the time I was living in Spain and was surprised there were so many British people also living there who couldn’t speak any Spanish.
What kind of technology do you use for your online tutoring?
I have a Mac computer but any PC will do. You need Skype, or similar, because it is not only free to download but you can make free calls between Skype users. This keeps costs down. If your PC doesn’t have built-in two-way sound, you need a headset to speak and hear. A Mac has a built-in facility so there is no need for a headset.
How do you get people who contact you for the first time to ‘trust’ that you are a good tutor?
I am registered with an American company called Verbal Planet, which is specifically for online language tutors. Students can give feedback and a rating on the tutor’s ability. On my website there are also testimonials from students. I can also evidence my ability regarding languages because of where I studied, my age and my experience. Normally, after one lesson students know they are going to learn the language thoroughly and with a competent tutor. Only one student took a lesson and then decided not to book any further lessons because she had no understanding that grammar is required to speak a language. Generally, it is only very young children who can learn completely by ear without understanding any grammar. Perhaps even greater ‘trust’ is required the other way round for a) payment and b) hoping that students will not pass their bespoke written lessons to another person free of charge or for financial profit for themselves.
Do you find that you are up against a lot of competition?
I suspect there is a lot of competition from not only other qualified language teachers but those purporting to be, on the grounds that if they know a little more than a potential student they could be onto a good thing. Also, it is possible to learn languages free of charge online but this cannot be compared with a personal online tutor who targets a student’s abilities and interests.
Do you work through an agency as well as through your own website?
Other than VerbalPlanet, which is an agent, I obtain most students through word of mouth. Some come through local advertising and some via articles I publish about teaching Spanish and interesting issues relevant to Spain, Spanish history, etc.