Online tutoring versus online courses: Which is best for you?

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Our approach to learning has shifted dramatically over the past year, as more people begin to rely on digital solutions for work and education. 

We've seen hundreds of online tutoring services and online learning platforms sprout up to meet rising demand. But what’s better for you: an online tutor or a learning platform? Personalized sessions or a complete course? We asks the experts to outline the benefits of each method, so you can pick the perfect tool for your learning needs.

What are the benefits of online tutoring? 

Online tutoring not only lets students catch up with lost hours in the classroom, but also offers a tailored learning experience. “With one-to-one online tutoring, a student benefits from the individual attention of a tutor, which builds a strong bond of trust and understanding. The tutor is able to identify the learner’s needs and provide personalized feedback and support,” says Leon Hady, a former head teacher and founder of Guide Education, a platform for creating online learning products. 

In addition, tutoring means there are set times when the student needs to show up and learn, and they don’t have to schedule it themselves like they would an online course. 

Johnathan Reynolds, founder of interactive online-learning platform Learned.Live says: “This means they have an opportunity in a live setting to clarify what they're being taught.” 

Online tutoring can also be particularly good for those who are introverts or who have special educational needs. “It makes the student more motivated, engaged and allows them to become more confident in discussing problems and trying to figure out the answers for themselves (as opposed to class reaction and distraction),” according to Leon.

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Benefits of online tutoring

  • Build trust and understanding
  • Receive personalized feedback and support
  • Opportunity to discuss and clarify complicated problems

What are the benefits of online learning courses? 

There are many benefits to choosing a distance learning course, as it allows learners to enjoy a self-paced learning schedule, around work and home life. 

Kirsty Warnock, an online on-to-one tutor with The Skills Network, says: “This style of learning provides opportunities to advance or change careers by gaining recognized qualifications and learning new knowledge. It suits a variety of learning styles and offers a range of options and resources. Completing a distance learning course can refine and improve essential life skills such as self-discipline, self-motivation, and time management skills.”

Distance learning is often competitively priced (and cheaper than one-to-one tutoring), meaning that students can shop around to find the right course, at the right price for them. Furthermore, online courses are flexible and can often be completed in a shorter time frame than doing the course in a school or college setting. 

Former head teacher Leon says: “The courses can cater for all ages, and are accessible anywhere in the world. They work particularly well for students who cannot attend in-person classes due to personal illness reasons.”

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Benefits of online courses

  • Self-paced learning schedule
  • Gain recognized qualifications
  • Competitively priced

So which is better – online tutoring or online courses? 

Both online tutoring and online courses offer exciting opportunities to learn a wide and varied number of subjects due to the ease at which students can access teachers and courses across the globe. 

But when it comes to deciding which is better, it really depends on personal preference as people have different learning styles, and it could be that you need to combine the two.

Jonathan suggests asking yourself these questions: “Do you find it easy to motivate yourself to make the time for learning? Do you like to discover things at your own pace and read around a subject in your own time? If yes, then online courses might work for you. If you need a little push to get things done or need the opportunity to clarify and ask questions in real time then one to one tutoring might be the better option.

“In my opinion, one-to-one online live tutoring has a greater impact on the learner, simply because it's more motivating and students are engaged with it,” adds Jonathan, who has been shortlisted for Disruptor Of The Year at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards 2021 and number 14 in TechRound UK's Top 30 EdTech Companies to watch in 2021. 

But some learners may come across the hurdle where they find it difficult to build a connection with their tutor online, due to the absence of non-verbal cues, according to the Private Tutor Society. 

“On the other hand, one-to-one tutoring can lead to learners becoming overly reliant on their tutor,” argues Kirsty. This can lead to issues when there is a change in tutor or if the tutor is absent for a period of time, placing additional pressure on the learner and delaying their progress.

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  • Distance learning is better for time-poor, self-disciplined learners
  • Online tutoring might suit those who need additional support

Another factor to consider is that not all distance learning courses allow learners to interact online with their peers and tutors. Kirsty says: “While this solo approach may suit some learners, others with interactive learning styles may find the lack of communication and isolation particularly difficult. What’s more, the quality of the course contents and teaching can be mixed.

“Although distance learning courses are self-directed – providing learners with freedom to study at their own times and at their own pace – they require a disciplined approach that some learners may struggle with. Some online learners might find themselves easily distracted by the demands of their daily lives and may procrastinate, leading to a lack of motivation to complete assignments by set deadlines.”

She adds that online courses will suit some subjects better than others, so it really depends on what you want to learn. “For example, [high school] Chemistry would be difficult as a solely online course because the learner would need tutor support to learn the themes, especially if these are completely new to them. The volume of information the learner would need to grasp this subject would likely be difficult to achieve from resources alone. On the other hand, if an individual is employed but wants to raise their awareness of a subject, for example, dementia care, having regular one-to-one sessions with a tutor may not suit them. An online course may therefore be better as they can read and absorb the themes and resources at their own pace.”

Whichever method of online learning you choose, check out our round up of the best tutoring online services and best online learning platforms to help you make your next move.

Kavi Shah

Kavi Shah is an experienced freelance writer and editor who covers various topics for Top Ten Reviews, including photography, education and languages.