Top Online Tutoring Websites

I thought that it would be useful to provide a list of the top online tutoring websites.

This list has been produced after hours of internet research, and is produced for information on a best endeavours basis. I have included both online tutoring websites and online homework / assignment help websites.

In alphabetical order the list of 29 websites is as follows:

  • Transtutors.com

I think it likely that I may have missed off a few websites, if so apologies. Please feel free to add them via blog comments below. Inclusion on the list has been subjective, and dependent on Google rankings and how active the websites appear.

The most popular online tutoring websites are: Tutorvista, Tutor.com, Smarthinking, Growingstars and e-Tutor. It would be interesting to hear if there were any market statistics that backed this up though.

It’s interesting that these websites are based in India and the US. I should declare that I am a co-founder of Tutorhub.com (a UK based website) which is also included in the above list.

UK Online Tutoring websites

Okay, so there are Indian and US based online tutoring websites that have achieved some level of scale and popularity. In the US, Tutor.com leads the field and in India Tutorvista is probably the best known of a clutch of businesses. Neither have taken off in the UK, possibly due I think to a reluctance to use overseas based tutoring services.

In what is a slightly different market we have homework help businesses. At one end of the market we see Cramster, based in the US, who address specific learning needs rather than long-term tutoring needs. This type of service addresses what I regard as micro-tutoring. At the other end of the homework help market, we see just about every educational publisher’s revision and study guides.

I have been looking at the world of online tutoring in the UK, and found surprisingly few businesses in this market.

A simple ‘UK online tutoring’ website search shows the top 3 as:

  • Whizz.com (MathsWhizz) delivering animated lessons via an ‘intelligent tutoring system designed to simulate the behaviour of a human tutor’ for 5 to 13 year olds for £19.99 per month. So not person to person tutoring in the traditional sense.
  • Hometutoringonline which offers ‘world class 1-to-1 private online tutoring’ via a ‘virtual classroom consisting of an award winning interactive whiteboard, chat and VoIP’.
  • Hometutors which delivers pre-arranged online tutoring by an interactive whiteboard.

So what’s happening – are there any online tutoring start-ups worth looking at?

With a legal entity based in the UK, Brightsparkeducation has recently re-launched an offshored online tutoring model using tutors residing in India (a la Tutorvista) and seems to be making progress in selling services direct to Schools. The costs of selling anything into the public sector are significant and the effects of the UK budget cuts are yet to be understood, but there is a market there, I believe.

Whilst I am talking about new businesses Dizeo.com is worth a mention, as it offers unlimited online homework assistance as part of social networking for kids. It’s not free of course, although cheap enough with questions costing 50p each. I can only assume that the monthly subscriptions enable them to cover the tutor costs. The UK national minimum wage is £5.93 per hour, so a 50p credit is worth 5 minutes, not that long for hands-on help.

Other businesses offering online tutoring are: Examfox (which also provides a limited set of online resources and videos), Livetutor and Meteoronlinelearning.

There are a number of traditional tutoring businesses offering online tutoring as an add-on service. The Mathsdoctor has a formal technology platform, whereas many other agencies connect tutors to students, leaving them to make their own arrangements – most commonly via Skype.

Our Tutorhub.com is a different offering, we are focusing on the kid and parent mass market. Unlike these other websites, we are a homework help Q&A website, where kids can ask questions for free to other kids or pay from tuition from online tutors. Customers get to choose from tutors who offer to help with their question. The choice is theirs.

Tutorhub is using instant messaging technology , for one reason only – because kids told us that they preferred it to whiteboards and skype. Another key differentiator is that Tutorhub uses only UK based and CRB checked tutors – and its our experience that there is a large supply of teachers and under / post graduates willing to work from home and tutor kids.

I would love to hear from anyone who knows of other online tutoring start-ups. Feel free to comment here.

Micro-tutoring: Chewing the fat

“Micro-tutoring? Whassat then?”

Good question.

Some debate in the office today over how to pigeonhole a brand new concept. Born out of our frustration with the shortcomings of private tuition, micro-tutoring takes a deliberate step to the side and a huge stride forward, leaving traditional forms of tutoring lagging in its wake. Why? because there’s so much wrong with the system as it stands.

Up until now, parents have had scant few choices when it comes to getting their children the extra help they need; they can employ a private tutor, they could try an online tutoring service or they could ship their kids out to the library and spend hours trawling through websites looking for the answers they need.

These things don’t come cheap; private tutoring and online sessions are usually planned out in hour-long blocks over several months to make it worthwhile for both tutor and pupil. That’s the monetary cost, but consider the amount of time and energy invested into making those sessions possible. Parents have to find the tutor, work out if they’re up to the job and be prepared to welcome them into the family home each week. The whole process can prove a real drain.

Micro-tutoring cuts out all the hassle. It delivers tasty morsels of expert advice to hungry brains at the teachable moment in real time, online. It’s a please-all solution; students just get the help they need without the unwanted extras, tutors are opened up to a vast new market and parents save time and money.

Add to this the convenience of the whole thing being played out over the internet and everyone goes home happy. Or is it stays home happy?

Consider this – we’re all familiar with the philosophy behind micro-breweries and farmers markets, right? No? Well, micro-breweries sprang up in the 1970′s in good old Blighty as a backlash to mass-marketed large-scale commercial brewing, offering quality and diversity over mass-production and standardisation. Hurrah!

Likeswise, farmers markets were set up to cut out out the middleman, supplying fresh local produce at its most flavoursome – juicy titbits delivered direct to the people that needed them, as they needed them.

It’s the progressive attitude and flexible approach of micro-industries that we have taken and applied to tutoring. Thus, when you choose micro-tutoring, you’re not making a long-term commitment to a private tutor, you’re not paying a monthly fee for regimented learning. You’re choosing convenience. You’re choosing instancy. You’re choosing digestible, targeted help.

Since the tutoring is delivered in fun-size portions, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be paid for as such. Micro-tutoring works on a pay-as-you-go basis, not in hour long blocks or monthly subscriptions: it works by the minute.

Micro-tutoring takes a huge bite out of the billion hour problem.

Micro-tutoring, yum.

Introducing micro-tutoring

Cast your mind back to that time when you’re sat there, struggling with a concept you just don’t get. It could have been percentages, or it could have been reflection/refraction. You’ve reached the point where your brain has started to fog and frustration is creeping in. Just at that moment, a teacher, a parent or a friend says, ‘are you ok?’.

You mumble a few words. It’s obvious what’s going on, so they sit down and quietly take you through it. One-to-one. Step by step. It doesn’t take long, but the fog clears and the magic words appear on your lips, ‘Ah-ha!’. You get it, the eureka moment, it ‘clicks’.

But how many times did the teacher, the parent or the friend not step in, leaving you with a legacy of frustration and reduced confidence? How many times did you refuse help so you didn’t look stupid in front of the class?

And think of the converse for a moment. Have you ever sat there whilst a teacher or a tutor continues to explain something when you’ve already ‘got it’, simply because the class isn’t finished yet or because the tutoring session lasts an hour and it’s only 20 minutes in? Not quite as frustrating, but almost.

In an ideal world, you’d get help only when you needed it. A cupboard at home, full of tutors who can step out, explain things and then disappear the moment it ‘clicks’.

OK, so tutors won’t live in a cupboard, and it would have to be a pretty large one to accommodate a tutor for every subject, but many parents naturally understand how quickly frustration can turn into low confidence and low achievement, so back in the real world, they find tutors to re-teach what’s already been covered in class and hope that it ‘clicks’.

It would take too long and cost too much to cover every subject, so the focus is on trickier subjects, like maths and science. The tutoring is generally delivered in multiple one-hour sessions, because otherwise it’s not worth it for either parent or tutor. No mention here of the person who gets the tutoring.

Why? In financial terms, it’s fairly obvious why the tutor might want longer, more frequent sessions but what about the parent? The answer lies in the effort associated with getting a new tutor; the time taken to find one, the time taken to evaluate whether they’re any good or not, the emotional cost of inviting someone new into your home. Think in these terms and it’s equally obvious why parents don’t want to repeatedly find tutors, just when their children need help. In economic terms, parents are satisficing.

But take away the effort of searching for a tutor, add in a simple way to evaluate them*, make it economic for tutors to deliver tuition in small bursts and you have a solution that works for everyone: students (who only get taught when they need it), parents (because it’s more cost effective and less time consuming) and tutors (because it creates a big new market).

We do this using a combination of real time web technology and a fundamentally different process. Call it micro-tutoring. Grameen Bank changed the way credit was evaluated to make it economic to lend in small amounts and thereby created micro-finance. Twitter created micro-blogging using real time web technology to make it effective to deliver a stream of relevant, personal, real-time information.

Tutorhub changes the way we search for tutors, evaluate tutors and deliver tutoring – making it efficient to deliver tutoring in small bursts, just when it’s needed.

Thus the micro-tutoring market is born.

* parents have no way of evaluating whether a tutor is any good or not. They rely on clues: is he/she in demand, are they recommended etc. In other words, they rely on a phenomenon known as social proof. Our recommendation algorithm delivers a superior form of evaluation.

Tutorhub featured by the BBC

Tutorhub, our new website designed to make finding homework help a darn sight easier, has just been featured on BBC Radio Bristol’s drive-time show, hosted by Ben Prator.

Spreading the word is always a challenge for new businesses, so I was very pleased when I received the call on Friday from the BBC in Bristol. They had heard about the website and asked me to come in and tell their radio listeners all about it.

The BBC were very interested in the issues of finding homework help and getting support from tutors. They were curious about the technology we were using and how quickly homework questions would be answered.

What was strange was entering the BBC West newsroom and seeing all of the journo’s and weathermen at work. Rather surreal, like something from a dream.

The interview went well though I think. If you want to listen to the interview, click Tutorhub Radio Bristol 13 Nov 2010.

About.Me

I came across the new about.me website the other day.

It’s interesting as it provides you with a neat custom splash page (with some cool images) and personal twitter analytics.

Not sure how they plan to monetise the website, or which direction they will take the business. Interesting none the less.

Check out my about.me profile!

Tutorhub – What’s the problem we are trying to solve?

It happens to the best of us.

We all get stuck once in a while and need that little extra help to see us over the high hurdles. For kids, struggling with homework can be a real source of worry and frustration, leading to feelings of inadequacy which can be highly damaging to their confidence and self esteem.

Many parents already look outside the education system and make use of home tuition to top-up learning, but this alone is not without its obstacles. It’s easy to see why so many of us take the decision to get help – perennial concerns over expanding class sizes, failing schools and general education standards are all factors.

Private tuition is a growing trend amongst parents wanting to help their kids keep up at school, compete for places at the best schools or revise for exams. Identifying the need for extra help is one thing but there are still hurdles to jump – not least finding a private tutor.

Though seemingly convenient, home tutoring requires a good deal of organisation and deep pockets; parents must first find the time to both locate good tutors and fit sessions into already busy family schedules – not to mention find a way to fund the whole operation.

Problems even finding home tutors mean that some kids simply never get the support they need. Those already benefiting from face to face tutoring agree there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to supporting kids outside of school.

What next for Tutorhub?

We have been working on Tutorhub for some months now. We expect the website to change dramatically over the coming months.

It’s fair to say that it has taken longer than we would have expected, but understandable considering our decision to focus on chat technology using XMPP – which is also used by Facebook chat.

We have a laser-like focus now on controlled growth in customer numbers and adapting the customer offer so that it fits what people really want. We will be holding more parent and tutor market research sessions – getting credible primary research on our web app. When we have ‘nailed it’ then will be time to ‘scale it’.

Measuring what happens on the website is really important – and I have started using Webtrends in preference to Google Analytics. Early signs are that this will be a really useful tool, and worth the investment – even though the dev team find it a pain. We are also completing a website scorecard, so that we can measure things such as feedback ratings. Getting the management information right at the outset is important.

To date, just about all of our resources have been focused on the development challenge – but from now the main challenge is commercial. We have recruited an intern to help with the communications and marketing, and this marks the start of building a commercial team. Our technology remains very important, and we have a series of planned developments in progress.

We have already received our first subscribing customer but are keeping the website low key until the week commencing 1st November when we start advertising on Google. We will also kick-off a wider PR and news campaign then.

Exciting times!

Pete Ferne

It was with enormous sadness that I learned that my friend and colleague passed away yesterday, after a brief struggle with a brain tumour.

For those of you who didn’t know him, he was super-intellligent, honest and generous, liberal-minded creative web geek. Even though we were complete opposites in many ways – him creative, me a bull in a china shop etc… we managed to hit it off. To be honest, I can’t recall anyone who didn’t take to him straight away.

In some ways our working class backgrounds meant that we had similar roots. Despite this he was excelling at School and off to Cambridge to read maths, whereas it was Bristol Polytechnic for me. My path was much more conventional after college, whereas Pete was living in a squat.

When we first met, we were looking for a Chief Technology Officer for our web start-up. Kevin had met Pete before and thought that Pete wasn’t that interested in the role – it was Pete being Pete though. Kevin called him again, and Pete said he was up for it. When I met Pete, I wondered who would turn up to an interview dressed like someone out of the band ‘Haircut 100’, but what struck me was his obvious mental capacity, desire to create something new and rock solid values. I knew then that he would be right for us.

We worked together for approaching three years, during which time I got to know him well. He enjoyed nothing more than a great coffee and a chat at Barristas, where we put the world to rights.

Pete had a great sense of humour and never took himself too seriously. I remember that one day he brought his dog Edith into work wearing this old well-worn coat, something that made me liken him to a Big Issue Seller – he was great at taking jokes at his expense.

He and I often played table football on the same team  as the two worst players in the office we were often forced together. Every now and again we even won a game. Kevin is right when he says that Pete is the only person in the world with a table football move named after him – the ‘Ferney special’, which involves keeping you player just in front of the opposition goalkeeper and waiting for them to pass you the ball before snatching a sneaky goal. Pete would grin widely every time he snatched a Ferney special.

As someone who regards family as the most important part of life, Pete’s own attitude to family was one I could empathise with. He was devoted to his partner Debs, and often spoke about his beautiful daughters Bella and Maisie. As Pete’s illness took hold of him, I got to understand what made them all special.

Pete’s funeral is on 18th October at the Memorial Woodlands at Alveston.

Rest in peace Pete. The world is a lesser place without you.

Tutorhub.com launched

Just a quick post to say that our new online tutoring website tutorhub.com has been launched into public beta. Getting the timing right is always a difficult decision. We have launched our minimum viable product, and before we take it onto the next level we need to ensure that we are on the right track.

Developing any new business idea relies on a series of assumptions, and the first priority for us is to talk again to parents, kids and tutors and find out whether it really meets their needs – also known as product:market fit. We also need to prove how best to market it and that it’s economically viable. Only when we have done this can we go for growth – simply put we have to ‘nail it before we scale it‘.

If you fancy helping us with this, please get in touch.