5 Ways Tutoring Can Support Distance Learning


In March, schools scrambled to make their classes digital. On March 12, Governor Kate Brown announced all schools in Oregon would close until the end of the month. As we know, they’re yet to re-open.

During that time, teachers who have taught in person for years suddenly had to produce online content for distance learning. Some did better than others. Some schools kept class meetings and discussions. Some created online platforms that facilitated learning. But many turned to PowerPoints and lectures that offer little interest and no direct connection.

Even if you saw your teacher throughout the week, chances are it was harder to learn the material. Besides everything else, a pandemic is going on; that’s a lot of stress. Not to mention staying home with your family 24/7.

Science also shows us that, no matter how well executed, distance learning is less effective. A 2015 study on 1,224 Chicago high school students re-taking algebra found that students in the online course were less likely to receive credit than students in the face-to-face courses. Even though the online students scored lower on the final test, they reported the class was more difficult than their in-person peers.

Another study on 1.7 million students in Ohio found that students in online charter schools consistently scored worse on standardized tests than their peers in traditional charter and public schools. Whether this loss is inherent to online learning or a factor of the so-called “e-schools,” the results remain applicable to online learning during the pandemic. 

Now that none of our schools can meet in person, all of our schools have become like the Ohio e-schools. Teachers who have never taught online suddenly had to create completely remote material. The difficulty students in the online algebra course felt has become the norm for students nationwide. You can no longer meet with teachers or talk with friends between classes. School has definitively changed.

Now, with a month and a half until September, no one knows what will happen in the fall. Portland Public Schools just released a statement saying they will use a combination of distance learning and in-person classes. However, they also state in bold, “we will only reopen school buildings if the public health experts say it is safe to do so.” If not, all classes will remain online. 

That could mean months more of online classes like we had last spring. You could be sitting in your bedroom or living room or kitchen studying algebra independently. And, as the Chicago study found—and you probably already know—distant learning feels harder even as it results in less understanding of the material.

That’s where tutoring comes in. 

Tutoring can keep distance learning from feeling so difficult—and close the gap in understanding and success. It can provide you with the connection so essential for effective learning. And, in supplementing online courses, it can help in 5 distinct ways.

1. Catching Up

With coronavirus, certain things just didn’t happen this spring. Sports practices stopped and there were no in-person graduations. You couldn’t volunteer at the library or go to a friend’s party. Most of the time, you couldn’t leave the house.

And, of course, school didn’t happen either. Even with online learning, some of the material slipped through the cracks. With the stress of the pandemic, you might’ve missed some homework. Even doing everything, virtual material’s hard to master. Everyone has fallen behind in their work.

A lot of what was missed can never be made up—track season is done and there will be no replacement graduations—but learning can always happen.

The material you missed you can learn now. Or, the material you learned and do not completely understand you can master before fall. Even if it feels irrelevant—people are marching in the streets and coronavirus cases continue to rise—this learning is the foundation for your future.

I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s true. Classes in fall will be even harder without the learning you missed, and holes in understanding now can result in even worse understanding later. Ultimately, they can affect how you experience the rest of high school and where you can go to college.

But taking the time to learn the material—and finding a tutor to support that learning—will give you the tools you need to succeed in fall and through the rest of your learning.

2. Laying the Foundation

Beyond solidifying your mastery of last spring’s material, tutors can help you get ready for the fall. Regardless of what Portland Public Schools decide, distance learning will remain a significant part of next year’s education.

With holes from spring and new material coming in this sub-optimal digital format, knowledge independent from school will be invaluable. Tutoring can give you the foundation to better understand digital learning next year. 

You can master the format of an essay for English or solidify essential concepts in math. Working one-on-one with a tutor will give you the space to master the material on your own time, so the specific assignments next year will feel more manageable. You will already understand how to write the lit essay your teacher assigned or approach the problem set in your algebra II class.

Instead of having to teach yourself all the material from scratch online, you’ll be able to slot new learning into prior knowledge. You will be able not only to complete the work but to excel, finessing your learning in that new format.

Working from this base understanding, class will be less stressful, and you’ll be able to achieve success. You will have avoided the difficulties of distance learning before the school year’s even begun.

3. Personalizing the Material

When you’re taking online classes, tutoring can also help you master the material more deeply. Most online learning happens independently. On the one hand, this allows you to learn at your own speed. On the other hand, online material is hard to process, as seen in the studies.

Tutoring can let you keep the independence of online learning while making the material more accessible. Tutors can personalize lessons so that you not only have the time you need to learn, but also get the support to build a deeper understanding and mastery.

Where online platforms require stock material, tutoring invites an individualized approach. Tutors can teach you the material in a way that makes sense to you and your unique style of learning, using creative approaches and accessing past knowledge. We can tailor every lesson and make sure all learning goals are reached.

Even more importantly, tutoring provides the connection that’s at the heart of effective learning. One-on-one sessions give you the time to build a relationship with your tutor, the kind of relationship that is even more valuable in these socially distanced times. These personalized sessions also invite personal connections with the material, so that new knowledge is mapped onto past knowledge, resulting in deeper understanding.

By its nature, online learning does not invite this kind of deep engagement and connection, so tutoring can supplement schoolwork with a personalized approach.

4. Answering Questions

Even if you have online learning down, digital platforms make it harder to get your questions answered. When processing material independently, there are often leftover questions or points of uncertainty that arise through the process of homework. No matter how well you know the content, one lingering question can make complete understanding—and the completion of homework—all but impossible.

Tutoring can provide you with a space to reliably get those questions answered. We can open the material into a discourse, personalizing the details and filling any gaps. We can give each question the time and attention it deserves, recognizing questions as the beginning of understanding.

We can also support you through the process of homework and addressing any uncertainties that arise. With a deeper understanding of the subject, tutors can guide you through the process of applying the new material you’ve learned online. We can help you find the places you need more understanding—and fill in the understanding for you.

5. Empowering Independent Learning

Online learning is all about independent learning. However, learning is hard. Most teachers won’t say this, but it’s true; our brains will do anything to avoid grappling with an unknown word or math problem. As Daniel Willingham explains, learning presents exactly the kind of uncertainty our ancestors were hardwired to avoid. All the same, we have to learn. It’s essential to our growth and survival—and helps a lot with school.

Independent learning, then, is a lifelong skill. There are specific strategies that can help you get past your initial resistance and tap into your innate ability to learn. You can master not only how to learn more efficiently, but also to enjoy the process of learning itself.

Beyond any material, tutoring can teach you how to learn. Whether through the growth mindset or effective note-taking, we can give you the tools you need to master new material on your own. We can teach you the art of time management and goal-setting, study strategies and self-reflection. We can help you determine what you know and what you still need to learn. And, using these tools, you can learn whatever you want to learn independently.

That’s where we come in.

So, online schooling is less than ideal. Even without the studies, we know mastering material virtually is hard. But that doesn’t mean distance learning has to be difficult. Tutoring can give you the tools you need not only to master the material, but also to master learning itself.

No matter what happens in fall, at least part of schooling will remain online. Getting the support you need to master distance learning will be essential for next year’s success. We can offer that support. We want to see you succeed.


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