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Why do we need tutors for online courses?

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"I work as a tutor for The Training Room and we are often asked, “what is the point of a tutor if they are working online?” Obviously, it is futile to imply that we are necessary for a student’s success in passing their exams, but I do believe we do play a valuable part in their success and satisfaction.

It has certainly been my experience that the greater the interaction with the tutor, the greater the chances the student will have a better experience with the course and, therefore, more likely to pass first time. Where an online course can often fail is in contextualising the content and making it relevant to the students experience and prior knowledge. By getting to know the student, even if it is through a few emails, we can really help them relate their learning to real world examples and contextualise the technologies they encounter, both in the course and in the real world.

It is also important to give assurances and confirmation of the students learning journey. Creating confidence in the student’s ability to learn is a crucial foundation in building trust between the student and the information they are learning form the course. The sterile environment of non-contextualised learning online can really be enhanced by human interaction and affirmation. Without it, the student can feel alone and unsure they are actually learning. Uncertainty and isolation can lead to failing to finish the course and create an adverse learning journey that will put them off future learning. It doesn’t have to be an isolated learning journey, it can be turned around by tutor support.

I could cite hundreds of articles that suggest we tend to learn in different ways and in different styles – visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social and solitary. Sure, online learning covers much of that and video tutorials can also cover many of those styles that text-based learning simply can't.

I would like to add an eighth style – contextualised. The majority of the exams for CompTIA, CIW, and Microsoft are based on the technologies they cover and how to implement them correctly as a solution to a problem. They are not about learning the meanings of acronyms and answering word-for-word what they have read.

If you are unfamiliar with the technologies you are learning, it is very difficult to contextualise why and when you would employ certain technologies with other technologies to solve the problem. In learning what an acronym can do and why we would use it, the meaning will become apparent in a multiple-choice question anyway. Let’s face it, how many “professionals” remember the exact meaning of all those acronyms they use daily? But, we all know how to use them and when to use them.

To “contextualize something [is] to consider something in relation to the situation in which it happens or exists (Oxford Learners Dictionary).

I have taught all age groups and abilities during my time as lecturer, teacher and now tutor. I can safely say the most challenging but rewarding part was contextualising the learning journey.

For me, code is a prime example. Every student wants to dive head first into code and get things going by building the next breakthrough app. Some students can just do this, but most can't and will falter because they don't understand the theory, structure and context.

Every program is based on an algorithm of some sort. Even if you don't take the time to build an algorithm, one can be applied to the code. I think it's essential that students at least understand the principals of algorithms and structure before they code. The program needs reason and it needs context or you just start building unstructured code. If you understand the basics of an algorithm, you understand the blocks and the separate functions/components needed to construct well-formed code. A tutor can help with that. A tutor can feedback best practice, context, and industry trends. A stand-alone e-learning platform cannot.

Contextualised learning is not just about placing the technologies to help the student better understand. It is also about how you relate the learning to the individual student, so they can better learn. The very nature of e-learning means we can have students from any background. A generic e-learning platform cannot by its  nature explain all things to all people. A tutor, however, can have a good try! Trying to break down the learning journey into a voyage the student can understand and follow is invaluable, and I would argue, only achievable by contextualised learning from a tutor."


About the Author – Dr Richard Haddlesey is the founder and Webmaster of English Medieval Architecture in which he gained a Ph.D. in 2010 and holds Qualified Teacher Status relating to I.C.T. and Computer Science. Richard is a professional Web Developer and Digital Archaeologist and holds several degrees relating to this. He is passionate about the dissemination of research and advancement of digital education and Continued Professional Development #CPD. Driven by a desire to better prepare students for industry, Richard left mainstream teaching to focus on a career in tutoring I.T. professionals with real industry-ready skills that matter at The Training Room.

The Training Room | 18/05/2018 12:00:00

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