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Online Tuition: Does It Really Help You Save Money?

The flexibility and convenience of online tuition makes it an appealing option, but these benefits may come with a price.

Fully online tuition has not only become increasingly viable in the past few years, it’s also becoming a more and more popular way for Singaporean students to learn conveniently from their own homes. Tutors offer 1-on-1 sessions, but neither teacher nor student need to travel. It would seem this mutual efficiency might be grounds for a lower rate–especially given the time and effort needed to coordinate traditional home tuition. However, is this actually the case? At ValueChampion, we’ve analysed both tuition types to identify which provides better value and how you can make the most of your tuition spend.

Online tuition, as a relatively new method, is remarkably efficient in connecting students and teachers. However, given that neither student nor tutor needs to travel, it’s a bit surprising that rates aren’t always lower than for home tuition. In fact, their fees can actually range a bit higher.

Table comparing travel requirements, class size, flexibility, and average cost per hour for different tuition types

Usually, transportation does impact pricing. Private tuition rates average S$10–S$20/hr higher than tuition centres’, partially because the added time and effort for private tutors travel to the student’s home commands a premium. It’s a bit surprising, then, that online tuition doesn’t come at a discount–most metrics between private and online tuition align, except online tuition cuts transport costs. So why aren’t its rates lower?

Tutors are Charged a Fee, Which Gets Passed on to the Student

Even if there’s an efficiency discount from eliminating travel, online tuition likely has higher rates because of embedded processing fees. Most online tutoring platforms are essentially connectors; they create a marketplace where it’s easier to buy and sell teaching services. Tutors set their own rates, but must pay the platform a commission. Online start-up Teachnlearn, for example, charges 15% of the tutor’s listed price; Cudy charges 16%. As a result, teachers are likely to pass some of that expense on to students, raising their overall rates–and therein, offsetting the potential savings from cutting out the cost of travel.

Table illustrating impact of platform fees on tutor’s actual take-home pay amount

There is a company that bucks this model, however. Tutopiya (fully launched in early-April), directly connects their own tutors with students. Teacher applicants are screened, tested, and trained before they can be listed and scheduled for sessions. There are no listed service fees. Even still, Tutopiya’s cost range is about equal to Teachnlearn’s, at S$15-S$45/session (30min each). In this case, the expense of tutor training is likely passed on to students in a less transparent and more controlled way.

Is Access to a Broader Network Worth the Cost?

Considering online tuition fees are roughly similar to private tuition costs, there are a few things to consider when deciding between them. Private tuition requires a bit more coordination because of its travel component, and it can take time to find a great tutor nearby within your price range. However, face-to-face engagement is a better fit for some students, allows for close parental involvement, and can foster continued growth by building a relationship.

On the other hand, online tuition is fairly easy and flexible. Scheduling is easy and your child can attend sessions anywhere, as long as there’s WiFi. The biggest perk is the access a tutoring platform can provide–you can sort, filter, and scan through hundreds of teachers across SE Asia, and make an informed choice based on reviews, credentials, and area of expertise. You won’t need to worry about geographical restrictions, and if you don’t like a tutor, you can easily try another the next time. While there’s a bit less of a human touch, online tutoring can be just as valuable as traditional private tuition if you prioritise convenience and want a broad range of choices.

Conclusion: Making the Best of Both Worlds

Overall, online and private tuition are often aligned in terms of cost; their worth, however, depends on what’s most important to you and your child. The benefit of broad access to a variety of skilled tutors is certainly a plus, but a closer tutor relationship is sometimes key for social learners.

Fortunately, there’s no real need to choose between them. Many online tuition platforms offer free trial sessions, so you can test the waters without making a financial decision. In addition, you may want to consider leveraging both methods in moderation. A consistent home tutor can provide continuity in common areas of study, and for more specialist subjects, you can hire an expert online. Together, online and private tuition may represent the best of both worlds.

Carrie Arndt

Carrie is a Senior Analyst at ValueChampion, helping consumers find the best credit cards and other financial products based on quantitative and qualitative analysis. She previously led consumer studies worldwide as a Senior Research Executive at MMR Research, and led development & operations and BellaVetro. She attended Duke University and Penn State University, graduating with a degree in Political Science and Government. Her work has been featured on a variety of major media such as Yahoo Finance, Asia One, Buro, Zuu Online and more.

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