Tuesday, October 31, 2006

eTutoring: Towards a successful business strategy

According to some industry estimates, tutoring is a $5 billion dollar market. The US government has budgeted up to a thousand dollars per public school student to provide her extra academic support.

How much these figures are off the mark is open to debate. But everyone is certain about a few things.

• That we need quality academic help for our children.

• That this quality help is not really as easily available in spite of all the money flowing in the market.

• That the problem is magnified in remote areas.

We need to find some more efficient and acceptable solution to this alarming situation.

In spite of all the media interest and a growing community of etutoring service providers, this form is yet to achieve a “critical mass.” By some estimates, etutoring forms perhaps five percent of the total tutoring market!

A study of mainstream tutoring businesses reveals an interesting spectrum. At one end, tutoring is a highly personalized service delivered in person in the home. At the other, is the one-on-many “classroom” scenario of the tutoring center. Most tutoring businesses currently operate in an either-or model.

In what online, etutoring firms call the “offline” model, the critical resource is the tutor. Getting local market acceptance is relatively easy. The problem is the availability of quality tutors and “market reach.” One face-to-face tutoring center can only cater to students a few miles around it. And there is the matter of high cost.

The online tutoring model, on the other hand, opens up virtually unlimited global tutoring resources to a business. But local cceptance of the new concept remains an uphill task. Parents still associate internet with entertainment, at best. In fact, a lot of them, for absolutely understandable reasons, block Internet access for their children when they are supposed to be studying. They are comforted by the physical presence of their tutor.

An obvious solution is to take advantage of the pluses of these two seemingly divergent approaches by integrating on-line and off-line tutoring.

With a hybrid model, businesses stand to gain from all perspectives:

• Parents are assured of a “physical” presence of a hitherto “virtual” entity - at a blended pric.

• The on-line business gets access to a local market through the off-line business

• The off-line business can excape the constraint of local tutoring talent and, because students are visting the site and/or tutors are visiting student’s home less frequently, geographic reach can be extended.

The hybrid model comes with its own complications, and the biggest, ironically, is in the ability of the leadership to make the conceptual synergy work for real businesses. To date, firms have built business and teaching models down one path or the other. Merging the oideas involves joint action and dividing the risk, burdens and rewards is always problematic.

Still, a look at the advantages suggests a certain inevitabality in the industry’s evolution. Competitive advantage will accrue to the firms that make it work first - or the group that decides to build th hybrid model from scratch.

-First Published in School Improvement Industry Weekly (www.siiwonline.com)

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