Parents often ask the question, “Why do I need Tutor.com when I can access Khan Academy at no cost?” It is a legitimate question posed by parents who want the best, yet affordable, educational support for their child.
The answer depends on what each student wants to learn and how he or she will best learn it. There is much information in educational literature about deeper learning–learning that tends to stick with us and not “evaporate” by the next class. Several factors contribute to the achievement of deeper learning and they include: the ability of the learner to relate to and engage with the concept; the amount of effort the learner puts into meaningful practice or grappling with the concept; and various emotional aspects of learning including mindset, stress and emotional connection with some aspect of the learning. These factors are of course interrelated. Interestingly, they also vary for each of us according to our background, depth and breadth of educational experience, temperament and the stage of our personal maturation timelines.
These factors should drive the way in which information and concepts are presented to or “taught” to students. Khan Academy provides learners with a well-organized set of videos, practice exercises and quizzes. Students search for the topic they want to understand, view the video, practice, take quizzes and receive points and badges. This approach to learning is best suited for students who:
o Are self-directed learners who can look up a topic and take the time to view videos and complete practice exercises especially on math concepts.
o Are looking for opportunities to practice, practice, practice.
o Are motivated to learn through the receipt of points or badges, known external motivators.
Tutor.com is an online interaction between a student and a tutor that is driven by the particular problem or question that the student is grappling with. Tutors work with students to get them to analyze the question, determine the best approach and figure out the answer. The tutor supports, encourages and facilitates student learning and provides information and guidance as needed. They do not provide the answers. They provide practice that is supported and meaningful because it addresses the student’s specific question. This approach is best suited for students who:
o Want help with their particular problem and have difficulty relating to one that is similar but not the same.
o Benefit from collaborative learning where they are learning through discussion and feedback. This is particularly appropriate for writing, theme analysis and development and for complex topics.
o Are motivated to learn through personal interaction and encouragement.
What parents need to keep in mind when providing resources is the goal of deeper learning. Math and science topics tend to build upon previous knowledge. Writing skills are improved through meaningful practice and feedback. Students who learn for the test often have to re-learn material the following year in order to be able to succeed at the next level. Any type of learning that is passive and does not engage the student will result in the need to relearn down the line.
Parents should also not underestimate the importance of emotional engagement. As stated by Sarah D. Sparks in Education Week:1
But from a variety of fields, we are beginning to see emotional engagement as critical to how students remember and use what they learn.
… there is at least some evidence that small, positive moments can make a student more willing to do difficult or challenging tasks. One series of Stanford University experiments cited by the Heaths found students were more motivated to rewrite a highly marked-up paper when teachers included an encouraging note indicating that they had high expectations for the student and that they knew the student could meet them. Interventions like those created moments of empathy and mutual respect between teachers and students.
Both Tutor.com and Khan Academy can be helpful to your student depending upon his or her educational needs and educational “profile” at any given moment. They can be used individually or in tandem – with tutors referring students to Khan Academy for practice and Khan Academy students connecting with tutors to clarify or further explain concepts presented in videos. The most helpful resource will always be the one that is used appropriately and leads to experiences of deeper learning.
1 Sparks, Sarah D. “How Memory Affects Learning.” Education Week. 10 Jan 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/01/10/the-secret-to-student-engagement.html#background.