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Online Peer Tutoring Comes of Age

On June 28, 2011, in online learning, tips, Tutoring, by Scott Cronenweth
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Peer tutoring in one form or another is probably as old as human collaboration itself. So what’s new and different all of a sudden? As with so many other modes of learning and knowledge transmission, it’s how the application of web technology has expanded the possibilities.

Peer tutoring has long been used in schools, benefitting not only the students involved but also the teachers:

  • Tutees get individualized instruction on specific curriculum at low (or no) financial cost.
  • Tutors increase their own subject understanding and confidence.
  • Teachers get help with one-on-one instruction, so they have more time for other tasks.

The most common peer tutoring models are very similar to traditional teacher/student interactions, but with more emphasis on support and collaboration versus knowledge transmission. They pair a learner with a slightly older student who has good subject mastery and hopefully also some basic guidance in tutoring.  Because they’re studying the same things or have only recently completed the curriculum the learner needs help with, peer tutors are often able to engage other kids effectively and offer useful tips and tricks.

Peer-tutoring interactions work best in a structured environment with a set program in place, so the online format is ideal. Another reason online peer tutoring works is that it’s easy for learners and helpers to connect anytime, beyond the confines of the classroom or an after-school program. Kids can get just the amount of help they need online, without committing to a fixed course format. An online venue also can facilitate any financial transactions that might need to take place.

Here’s a great article in on how and why online peer tutoring works. The basic premise is that “… interactions in online spaces share many of the characteristics of face-to-face interactions.”

More and more colleges, as well as high schools, offer some form of online peer tutoring and even online tutor training and similar “learner-centered” online models. It could be as simple as an online service to pair learners and helpers. UMass Lowell is one of many universities offering online tutoring in addition to one-on-one peer tutoring in a range of settings.

At least one pair of schools has even employed “reciprocal peer learning” to .

One of the best-known online peer tutoring venues is Brainfuse.com, which offers e-learning services to schools, libraries and individuals that include a “collaboration suite” with online study groups and knowledge sharing. Brainfuse invites colleges and universities to “”

What might the trend in online peer tutoring mean for professional tutors? For some, it could mean a business opportunity with an academic institution or school district “training the trainers” or helping to set up and/or guide a program. Such a program could also be a good source of referrals of learners who need more help than peer tutors can provide. The peer tutors in your area might also be a great source of insight and expertise on how to teach certain subjects! Ready to turn the tables?

Featured image courtesy of edenpictures.

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