I just saw a fantastic close-up performance of magic by a world-class magician named Steffan Soule. I’ve seen Steffan perform on stage to hundreds of people with large illusions, but seeing him perform magic for 5 of us around a table was an amazingly intimate experience. After his performance, I asked him whether this close-up show was easier for him than a large stage show. Soule replied that a close-up show requires just as much preparation as a stage show. Since the shows are performed in different environments, with different levels of interactions, they require very different approaches, he explained. One venue is definitely not easier than the other; further, being good at one venue doesn’t mean you’re going to be good in another.
Soule’s message made me think about the differences between teaching in a physical class and tutoring an online student. Teaching to a class requires preparation backed up by years of study and experience. Lessons should have meaning to all the students in the class while adhering to an overarching curriculum. A skilled teacher strategically engages the students in the class, using a whole bag of verbal and non-verbal “tricks.” Each classroom has its own unique environment and requires teachers to develop specific skills, knowledge and materials to deliver a quality lesson.
Online tutoring, however, requires a different skill set. Understanding the one-to-one, online environment and creating a personal learning experience for each student is essential for every tutor. A tutor needs to utilize a highly individualized, Socratic method to pinpoint where the student needs help. Further, utilizing online modalities, a tutor must be able to communicate with each student at his or her level of understanding and ability. To be sure, the focus of the online tutor is on one student at a time, unlike a teacher whose attention is on the entire class.
Just as being a great stage magician doesn’t make someone a great close-up magician, being a great teacher doesn’t make one a great tutor—. Each environment requires its own hard work and experience. At Smarthinking, we take great teachers and help them become great online tutors through an intensive, research-based training process. Developed and refined over the past decade by our Education Team, it’s this understanding of contextual and instructional strategies that makes the difference.
Chuck Kleiner, Ed.D., Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Smarthinking