With the massive increase in online learning - this has become a very hot topic! What do you think? As a self-employed or freelance tutor have you come across this issue while setting up your online education business? How about those of you who are working with established schools? We have encountered it ourselves, and - in our experience - many students, their parents and online educational companies favour private 1:1 classes.
However, is this kind of class really the best possible learning experience for the student? Which approach gets better results?
We've been researching the benefits of 1:1 teaching versus learning with a group, and the following is what we have found. We would love to hear your thoughts on this subject too - please comment and leave your feedback here on our blog page, or send us an email reply.
Why do some prefer private tutoring?
Many of us can probably remember from our school days that feeling of sitting at the back of the class and being completely disengaged, distracted, bored or actually sleeping! Confession time - yes this was me! I frequently felt like the teacher was taking WAY too long to explain what seemed like simple things. And then we never had time to finish the tasks that the teacher had assigned during the class and had to end up doing it our own time for homework! This used to drive me crazy.
Usually, an experienced teacher teaching a group of students will try to "pitch to the middle," so to speak. They will try to present the information in a way that is understandable and attainable to the largest majority of the group. If they have time, they will give a little extra attention to those who seem to be struggling, and they might have a little something prepared for those who finish early. What this means is that, there will always be one or two, or a small number in the class that are more advanced and just "get it" faster than the rest. These ones can end up feeling unchallenged and may even stop attending the classes. Then there will be one or two - or a small group in the class - who find the subject a bit TOO challenging and will need some extra help to learn and understand what has been taught. For both situations, private tuition/and being taught a "bespoke" class 1:1 can be an excellent way to help students keep progressing and performing well.
Therein lies the challenge for all teachers who teach any size of group. The aforementioned situations are also probably one of the largest reasons that many students - and their parents - have the opinion that "private tutoring is better." They feel that, somehow the quality of learning or student experience is better. Of course, a class for one person can be personally tailored and designed for that student - so the CURRICULUM may be better for him/her. But is it really the best way to LEARN and remember what has been taught?
What is most beneficial for the majority of students?
If you think about it - with a skilled, experienced teacher in a normal classroom group-learning situation, the MAJORITY of the group will be able to keep up with what is being taught and benefit from the classes, especially if they are taught in a way that is highly engaging and if the teacher uses a great variety of teaching styles and methods that cater to the majority of the group.
Also, let's talk about how much the students actually learn from the teacher, and how much do they learn when engaging with each other? How many times in school did you lean across to your buddy and ask them something, just to verify if you were understanding the lesson correctly? This happens all the time. And actually assigning the students to work together in pairs or small groups can really accelerate the learning - this is called "Community Learning."
Collectively, as a group, the students can really help each other learn the lessons that are being presented. Many times, this is actually a MORE DESIRABLE way to learn, especially when the teacher uses "Guided Discovery" and "Productive Struggle" teaching techniques. (In our five-day TESOL Certification/Language Instructor Course we demonstrate and teach these methods of teaching and 30 others - see our website for more information and course dates.) The students "discover" the lessons that are being taught as they perform certain tasks. Because they are personally involved in their own learning, they take more responsibility for their learning and the lessons sink in deeper and are retained much longer.
There is also a great advantage for the teachers to teach groups. Instead of burning out by teaching 1:1 for many hours, to many students all week long and having to prepare and tailor the class to each and every one of the students, if a Language Instructor can pull together a group of students that all have similar goals and are at a similar level - then the teacher can work LESS hours and INCREASE their income at the same time!! So, we could call this a WIN-WIN situation. In our experience, this is the "sweet spot" for most teachers AND students. We would recommend this as the optimal teaching/learning situation for all involved. Again, a lot depends on the teacher to be teaching in a way that achieves 100% participation, engagement and interaction from the students.
What is the short answer to the question posed above?
There will be many opinions on this subject, and we have probably opened a real can of worms with this one, but here is our opinion: IF a teacher can pull together a group of students whom are at a similar level in their grasp of the target language, IF all have a similar goal, and IF the teacher uses a wide variety of very engaging teaching methods that benefit the whole group - especially COMMUNITY LEARNING and GUIDED DISCOVERY - then group classes are definitely much better! The classes will be more exciting, more dynamic, more challenging, more engaging and the lessons taught will be retained much longer by the students. Also, the teacher will not burn out creating myriads of different lesson plans for a myriad of students. The teacher makes MORE money in LESS time. WIN-WIN!
Of course, the three "IFS" above are three large "IFS." But, we hope that taking a moment to think about this subject will help Language Instructors everywhere to rethink and reshape the direction that online tutoring is going in.
One last point: We all know how expensive a university education is. Here is a question that you can ask a parent or student who thinks that private classes are better. How would you feel if you paid the university tuition fees, arrived at the university campus and went to attend your first class and it was just you and the professor in a room? And then you went to your second class and it was the same again, just you and the professor in a room. All of your classes are conducted this way. How would you feel? How would the parents of the student whom are paying for the student's education feel? It would be really weird right? And what would the overall quality of the learning experience be? I think we can all agree that no university or "higher learning" education would be complete without the experience of getting to know the other students, studying with them, discussing the class with them, interacting with each other, sharing notes and experiences, etc.
Both as language instructors, and students - I think we would do well to think deeply on these points. Maybe we can brainstorm a little together to think about what exactly we can say to the students whom we tutor - and in some cases - parents, to help them understand these points and to help them make the best choice possible.
Thanks for reading and please do share your ideas below.
Follow us on Instagram @simplify.travel.teach for more tips on how to get started as a freelance Language Instructor or find work with an established school.
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Co-founder of Lexica Training Institute
CELTA and TESOL Certified
25 years Teaching Experience
Language Instructor Coach and Trainer