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Group Tutoring Vs One To One: How It Compares For Cost & Effectiveness

Group tutoring and one to one tutoring are some of the best evidenced interventions to support students’ attainment, especially disadvantaged students, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. This article aims to support teachers and school leaders to choose the right approach for their school and students.

As teachers and school leaders, we all want our students to make rapid and sustained progress in their school journey. When considering implementing tutoring in schools, there are two fundamental intervention options to consider: group tutoring or one to one tutoring. 

This article explores the advantages and disadvantages of group tutoring and one to one, looking at their effectiveness and impact on students, considering factors such as budget, time, flexibility and personalization.

What is group tutoring?

Group tutoring is when a professional tutor works with a certain number of students and typically takes place in a tutoring center or classroom, very similar to a classroom we associate ourselves with. 

The number of students can vary, ranging from small group sessions being 2 or 3 students or groups of up to 4 or 5 students. 

It should be noted that while some consider tutoring groups of over 6 to still be group tutoring, this is somewhat debatable and more accurately reflects group teaching. When groups become too big for focused attention on students and personalized teaching, the effect of the tutoring decreases. 

Within group tutoring sessions, the tutor will focus on specific areas of the curriculum to deliver quality instruction focussed on the students’ areas of development. The small groups allow for group interaction and time for individual practice where students work at their own pace.

How effective is group tutoring?

A recent study by Education Week found that small group tutoring  and one-on-one tutoring, has helped schools intensify their tutoring to get real results. They suggested that these groups meet for 30 minutes and at least three times a week. 

Group tutoring is also likely to be most effective when students are selected and grouped carefully, for example all working on the basic fundamentals of math, so that their specific needs can be targeted by the tutor. This requires accurate diagnostic assessment prior to tuition starting and, if done well, this can be a powerful tool in closing the gaps for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

However, be careful, because should the group size increase more and more, the impact on student outcomes reduces as tutoring will resemble more of a ‘normal’ classroom atmosphere and students will get less out of it.

Advantages of group tutoring

  • Personalized learning: While more difficult than it is for one to one tutoring, personalized learning for students is possible within small group tutoring. It requires detailed diagnostic assessment, tutors are able to provide personalized learning within sessions. This also enables targeted provision for those who are quick thinkers and need small group classes to stretch their learning, as well as those who are currently lower attaining and require support to address gaps in their learning.

    As identified by the NAEP, low attaining students do typically benefit more from small group sessions, particularly if frequent sessions across the week are provided with consistency. However this can create timetabling complications – especially for those in high schools!
  • Opportunities for peer learning: Small groups enable the tutor to deliver an input using quality resources and equipment to engage the students in a purposeful learning environment. There is an opportunity for peer collaboration in tasks as well as personal, friendly competition – something which is not possible in one to one tutoring.

    In High School, the collaborative mentality and exploration into subject matter with fellow learners can enhance confidence, self-esteem and understanding.
  • Lower cost: For school leaders, there is an obvious cost implication that favors small group sessions. In most cases, the cost of small group tutoring, whether in person or online, is often a cheaper alternative to one to one tutoring and schools can provide tutoring for more students with fewer tutors meaning more students can have access to tutoring.

    By taking tutoring online and recruiting/training a global team of Third Space Learning tutors, we’re able to provide one to one tutoring for schools for the price other providers charge for group sessions
  • Removes stigma: The NAEP found that group tutoring reduces the potential stigma associated with tutoring, as students are with their peers.

Disadvantages of group tutoring

  • Impact: Less impactful than one to one tutoring and less effective in high schools (+2 months’ progress) than elementary schools (+4 months’ progress).
  • Diagnostic assessment: Requires complex student matching to ensure students are working on learning objectives that they need extra support with and can work at a similar pace.
  • Group size: The larger the group, the more impact drops off (evidence suggests groups to be no larger than 1 tutor to 3 students).
  • Timing issues: For any provider or school, timing can be a logistical nightmare. Even more so with small group tutoring. Ensuring the tutoring program is accessible for all students and that they are not missing out on information from other subjects, while attending tutoring can be a difficult task. You do not want to be providing tutoring services in one subject and creating difficulties in another!
  • Tutor training: Tutors typically require more training to be effective as group tutoring is more challenging to deliver.
  • Student confidence: Group tutoring is not suitable for all children. Some children remain shy in small groups or may not react well to the enhanced attention of a small group and so do not like to give answers in front of their peers.

    In circumstances such as this, one to one tutoring would be a better consideration as while there is more focused attention, with a well matched tutor a student knows and trusts, they will feel safe and confident in discussing correct strategies, answers and misconceptions.

The one to one intervention supports individuals. I also like that pupils who might not be confident to speak up in class feel it is a safe space to say they are unsure of the learning that might be taking place.

Head Teacher and Third Space Learning customer, London UK

How to make group tutoring a success

Group tutoring can lead to academic success – if you put the leg work in initially, it can pay dividends. However it requires planning and you must carefully consider size, space, subject matter and students. 

This means ensuring the group is targeted specifically for those who need it. In turn, this reduces the size of your group and keeps it as an effective small group intervention while the correct students are there and have been accurately identified through diagnostic assessment. Do not just invite low achievers as their subject knowledge, misconceptions and learning gaps in math will vary greatly from one another. 

Carefully consider the content that the tutoring will be covering and ensure the provider has the correct resources (that align with classroom teaching), the correct working space and the correct strategy to make the most out of every session.

What is one to one tutoring?

One to one tutoring is what, as educators, we would love to provide with regularity but in a class of 30, it’s physically impossible to give each student this kind of individual attention. That’s where additional one to one tutoring comes in. It’s when one qualified teacher, teaching assistant or professional tutor provides intensive, personalized learning to one student.

The provider will support the learner with tutoring sessions to bridge gaps that have formed, address misconceptions, consolidate learning and/or stretch learning even further. 

With individual tutoring, there is space for personalized learning, giving focused sessions that build on individual strengths and development areas, whether in person or via online tutoring. 

The NAEP found one to one tutoring to be a very effective intervention and that if short, sharp, regular sessions take place then the impact can be vast. Over 5 months’ progress can be made across a year with, on average, 6 months’ progress in the elementary setting and 4 months’ progress in high schools. In contrast, the impact of group tutoring on student progress is 4 months at elementary school and 2 months at high school.

Online one to one tutoring has similar effects to in-person one to one sessions.

Marketing lesson slide showing how a Third Space Learning lesson works
One to one tutoring allows for fully personalized learning adapted to student needs. The Third Space Learning platform is designed to engage students in their online one to one tutoring and promote tutor and pupil interaction.

Advantages of one to one tutoring

  • Impact: With one to one tutoring, over 5 months’ progress can be made across a year with, on average, 6 months’ progress in elementary school tutoring and 4 months’ progress in high schools. In contrast, the impact of group tutoring on student progress is 4 months at elementary school and 2 months at high school.
  • Hyper personalized: Individual, focused attention for the student through personalized sessions is a huge advantage of one to one tutoring. As teachers and school leaders, we would want to ensure all our children achieve this in class but the reality is that it is not always possible.

    One-on-one tutoring provides the opportunity for students to work through a personalized curriculum based on their individual learning gaps and misconceptions. It also works at the pace of the learner and gives ample opportunity for learning, application and personalized feedback, with few distractions.
  • Rapport: It is easier for tutors to develop a rapport with their tutees and create a positive learning environment. This in turn creates a positive learning experience which increases students’ enjoyment of the sessions.
  • Student confidence: Once a positive learning environment has been established, students can benefit from the individualized support of their tutor in a low stakes environment. Students can make mistakes and learn from them, without worrying about other classmates.

Disadvantages of one to one tutoring 

  • Cost: This can actually be a red flag as a disadvantage. On the face of it, one to one tutoring costs more than group tutoring, whether online or in person. However, one to one tutoring can actually be more cost effective. There are also ways of reducing the cost of one to one tutoring, such as opting for online tutoring.

    While the decision for schools may depend on their initial budget, the cost of one to one tutoring can be moderate and more effective in the long term, provided that schools are using experienced tutors and effective providers and that impact is monitored regularly and accurately.
  • Scale: One to one tutoring can be difficult to scale to a large group of students without multiple tutors, making it challenging to deliver in person. Online tutoring can help to combat this.
  • Student needs: One to one tutoring is not for everyone. Some students feel pressured in the one to one tutoring scenario and so may prefer the environment provided by small group tutoring. However, this is also why finding the correct provider with high quality, trained tutors is essential to maximizing the progress from tutoring in the first place.

How to make one to one tutoring a success

One to one tutoring can be one of the most impactful interventions we can provide as teachers and school leaders. 

Once you have selected the best provider and tutor for your school’s needs, ensure tutors take time to build rapport with students and establish a supportive learning environment. With the right match, student confidence will rise, self esteem will increase and the knowledge gained through personalized learning and tackling misconceptions will close gaps and promote progress. 

Regular feedback from the tutor and regular assessment will ensure an accurate learning journey that is always focussed on plugging learning gaps. This not only ensures value for money, but also value in time which, as we know, is always at a premium in the education sector.

Conclusion

Group tutoring may be the right choice for some of your students but for most, one to one tutoring will make a larger impact on their learning outcomes and be a more cost effective intervention. Time and money are both priorities within school so it is important to make decisions that will have maximum impact. 

With math in mind, it’s important that students have space to dive into mathematical concepts, are taught in a way that aligns with their classroom lessons and that misconceptions are addressed in real time, all of which are best achieved through one to one tutoring. Online one to one tutoring offers a more affordable route to the benefits of one to one tutoring and may be the right choice for your school.

Do you have students who need extra support in math?
Give your students more opportunities to consolidate learning and practice skills through personalized math tutoring with their own dedicated online math tutor.

Each student receives differentiated instruction designed to close their individual learning gaps, and scaffolded learning ensures every student learns at the right pace. Lessons are aligned with your state’s standards and assessments, plus you’ll receive regular reports every step of the way.

Personalized one-on-one math tutoring programs are available for:
2nd grade tutoring
3rd grade tutoring
4th grade tutoring
5th grade tutoring
6th grade tutoring
7th grade tutoring
8th grade tutoring

Why not learn more about how it works?

What are the benefits of group tutoring?

The benefits of group tutoring are that students are exposed to small group collaboration and socializing through work, thus building communication, discussion and listening skills around the tasks at hand. It can also be more cost effective for schools in the short term and as identified by the NAEP, it can bridge the disadvantage gap if carried out well.

What are the different types of tutoring?

There are two different types of tutoring: one to one tutoring or group tutoring. They can both be delivered either in person or online.

What are the alternatives to group tutoring?

The alternative to group tutoring is one to one tutoring, whether online or in person, and this is typically the option that provides the student with the most impact and gives a more personalized, focused tutoring experience.

The content in this article was originally written by former Deputy Headteacher Steven Eastes and has since been revised and adapted for US schools by elementary math teacher Christi Kulesza.

Steven Eastes
Steven Eastes
Steven is a former Deputy Headteacher with over 10 years' experience in the primary school setting. He is now running a successful private tuition business, is co-author of 'Talking Teaching with the Dynamic Deputies' and is one half of the Dynamic Deputies podcast. Alongside all of this, Steven also writes resources and blogs for Third Space Learning.
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