The good and bad of virtual on-demand tutoring

Brookings Institute

Tutoring is perhaps the best-studied and consistently effective educational intervention we have. So it should come as no surprise that policymakers and educational leaders across the country are investing moneytime, and political capital into tutoring initiatives. The influx of interest in tutoring is, at least in part, to support the struggling and marginalized students whose learning dropped most during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, educational programs can only benefit students if students access those resources, and tutoring is no different. Many school leaders are grappling with how to get students to participate in tutoring programs—especially for their students who need the most support. This can be particularly challenging for tutoring that happens outside of school hours.


In a recent study, we report on the implementation of opt-in, on-demand tutoring in partnership with the Aspire Public Schools (a charter management organization, or CMO) in California. The CMO provided 7,000 middle and high school students with free, unlimited access to one-on-one chat-based tutoring during the spring 2021 semester. Students accessed the program from a mobile device and could request help from an available tutor in any core subject. The topic of each tutoring session was usually driven by student questions and the interaction between tutors and students were chat-based with help from a virtual whiteboard to facilitate joint work.

We found that take-up was low. Only 19% of students ever logged on and received help from a tutor. What’s more, struggling students were only half as likely to ever use the resource than their higher-achieving peers. Figure 1 shows that students who had failed at least one course in the previous fall—and, presumably, could use the most help—were much less likely to log on.


Click here to read full article.