Which is Better – Online or Live Tutoring?

Online tutoring is relatively new, and many people fear new things. I have tutored several students online for Scorebusters, and I am also tutoring online for The E Tutor, a wonderful new company.

The first time I taught online, my student and I each downloaded a whiteboard program, and I called him from my landline phone (which has a headphones jack) for the audio. Now there are dedicated teaching solutions, which include not only whiteboard and audio, but webcam and media upload (documents, pictures, video clips) functionality.

Simply put, there are pros and cons to both methods of teaching.

Presence of a live tutor

For the most part, this is the greatest factor in favor of live teaching. Many students are reassured by the tutor’s presence, and they may tend to work harder and take the teacher more seriously. It’s also easier for the tutor and student to read each other’s facial expressions and hand gestures. I suppose there are some students who become anxious in the presence of a tutor, but they are the exceptions.

Aristotle tutoring Alexander


Clearly, this factor favors online teaching. There is no commuting time, and either party can connect from multiple locations (anywhere with internet access). If you live in a remote area, without access to quality tutoring, the choice is a no-brainer.

Kids today have grown up with computers. Many students actually concentrate better when viewing a screen. You can use noise-cancelling headphones and microphones to enhance the online experience.

In an online group setting, social distractions are minimized. However, I strongly believe that one-on-one tutoring is the way to go for SAT prep, and I all but refuse to teach even small groups. Groups are better for both teacher and student financially, but given the unusual nature of SAT prep, you get vastly inferior results.


Online tutoring is usually cheaper than live teaching. Neither party has travel costs.

Technical issues

Computers can freeze or crash, internet connection can be lost, and other hardware problems (such as loss of audio) can ensue. However, the technology has been around for awhile, and I’ve found these problems to be infrequent and generally easy to deal with.

Unless homework is scanned and uploaded, the tutor loses access to some information (e.g. how students solve math problems on practice tests).


Some virtual classrooms allow the sessions to be recorded. This can benefit the serious student.

I’ll also point out that online tutors and students don’t share each other’s germs.

My conclusion is that there’s no automatic choice. Each student has to weigh the pros and cons, given her particular needs. In general, my online teaching experience has been very positive with motivated students. But if a student’s work ethic is shaky, or he has special needs, I favor live tutoring.


2 comments on “Which is Better – Online or Live Tutoring?

  1. Mark says:

    Great post. So much technology how to use it? We prefer face to face tutoring, just to be able to read the body language and see the student work through his / her challenges.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Mark says:

    It’s a great question, and something I’ve been talking to students and parents a lot about lately. I think a key factor left out here (probably because of your focus on SAT prep) is age. Even tech savvy youngsters so better when there’s a live tutor to help keep them focused and attentive.

    Another factor is practice. When a live tutor assigns a quick practice, it can flow naturally with what they’ve been doing, but it feels awkward when working with someone online to just sit and wait for them to work through a problem or question.

    I think ideally online tutoring is best for lectures or question answering, but live tutoring is best for academic support or younger students.

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