The Joy of Online Tutoring


“What’s this topic doing on a yoga blog?” you may well ask yourself. Online tutoring is “the other thing” I do on top of writing and editing. It’s an interesting sideline; the explosion of digital resources for both teachers and students has enabled a revolution in the way people learn. I know there are yoga teachers and other educators in the YFL community; I offer these thoughts with them in mind.

Excellent online tutoring sessions rarely “just happen.” As with any other field of endeavor, the online tutor needs a well-defined strategy to succeed.
I was thinking today about strategies that have proven particularly useful to my own online tutoring. I came up with five; and here they are!

1) Determine immediately whether or not you’re an expert in the subject at hand.

If it turns out that the specific sub-specialty of the subject the student is studying lies outside your experience and training, don’t be afraid to say so. You’ll be saving both yourself and the client a frustrating experience if you readily admit that she might be better served by another tutor. You’ll also be building your personal and professional credibility.

2) Remember that you’re there to help the student do the assignment well, not to do it for her.

It’s all too easy to look at an assignment and say, “Oh, here’s how you do that.” Before you know it, you’ve quite nearly completed the paper for the student, and that’s not your job. Your tasks are to provide tools, ask questions, suggest resources and otherwise stimulate creative thinking in your student.

3) Use the Socratic Method.

This is my method of choice in any tutoring session, for child or adult, online or offline. With this approach, you pose leading questions to the student in the hopes of eliciting creative and deep thinking. Often the questions can be more or less tangential to the actual assignment.

For instance, I tutor in the Humanities, and most of my students are doing graduate work in Philosophy. I’ve been known to start off a session by asking a philosophical question that may have no immediately obvious connection to the present assignment. If the assignment is to write a thesis on the philosophy of ethics in the 20th century, I might ask, “How would you say Nietzsche’s concept of right and wrong contrasts and compares to that of Plato?” This kind of query sets the student’s mental machinery in motion; before long, she is able to think clearly about all the 20th century ethical philosophy she has studied to date.

4) Provide lots of hyperlinks.

Another trick to stimulating creative thinking and enabling mastery of an assignment is to provide numerous online sources of reference material. After you’ve read your student’s assignment and gotten a sense of her point of departure, do real-time searches for pertinent links that might shed light on things. Since the sheer volume of information about a given subject is virtually unlimited in the online environment, you may quickly come across scholarly articles or blog posts that your student hasn’t yet encountered. This creates an atmosphere in which the tutor is positing sources of ideas that may be of value to the student, and in which the student is making real-time comparisons of new information with research she’s already done. More than once, I’ve had a Humanities student say something like “Thanks for those links; they really did the trick!”

5) Keep the links to your core reference library a click away at all times.

Whether you teach Mathematics, Computer Literacy, or (like me) the Humanities, you should be able to “put your finger on” the classic reference texts at a moment’s notice. My own desktop library includes The AP Stylebook, The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, Roget’s Desk Thesaurus, Magee’s Story of Philosophy, and many others (I also have their digital counterparts on my electronic desktop). If you have to spend time searching for these references, they’re in the wrong place!

These five strategies have proven invaluable to my online tutorials. I hope they will be useful to other tutors and educators as well.

Best regards,


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