Alternatives to traditional tutoring

This is post #9 in the series: How to choose the right tutor

Do you always need a tutor if you or your child is strugging with learning, or if you want to learn a new skill?  The answer, of course, is no.  You need to explore all the alternatives available to you, and then make the best decision for your situation.

Here are some alternatives that you might want to consider:

School, home school, and college programs:

  • School teachers often offer free tutoring at noon or before or after school.  An advantage, besides the fact that it is free, is that you work directly with the subject teacher, or another teacher of that subject in the same school, so you know you are covering the precise material you need to succeed in the course.  You are also already at the location, though you may have to arrive a bit early or stay a bit late.
  • Many community/junior colleges offer relatively low-cost continuing education courses that, while usually attended by adults, are also open to teens and even children.  These, of course, are “class” situations, but in some cases that is an advantage.  For example, if you need help learning a second language, a group situation with lots of oral interaction may be ideal.  Also, the folks who attend these classes are usually highly motivated and interested, and so the sessions can be very lively.  As well, the students are usually very happy to help each other and work together.
  • Some communities have home-school support groups that provide classes in specialized activities and skills for the families involved.  Even if you are not a home school family, you might be able to get your child accepted into a class related to your child’s need.  You might have to pay a fee, but not necessarily.

Community organizations:

  • Some community organizations, such as churches, or youth drop-in centers, offer free homework help.  If the volunteer helpers are educated and experienced in the subject you need help with, this can also be a good alternative.  However, usually the help you receive here is more along the lines of assistance with a particular assignment, rather than an on-going program to help you build up your skills in the subject.  Also, you may have to share the tutor’s help with many other students, and only get a few minutes of attention in an atmosphere than may not be quiet and focused enough for your needs.
  • Other community organizations offer training in skills related to their interests.  For example, a writer’s club may offer seminars on writing skills at their meetings; or a community sports league may be a great way to learn a new sport and become more physically fit. Of course community rec centers also offer sports-related programs, many of which are relatively low-cost or even free.  Some community groups will offer free lessons, such as cooking, budgeting, and other home skills, to low-income students.
  • Some clubs and organizations offer very low cost seminars and workshops for members, though others of course have higher costs.  Some groups will also allow “drop-ins” from non-members who wish to attend particular lessons, but the cost is usually a little higher than for the non-members.  Of course, in these situations you usually do not get the one-on-one attention of a tutor, but you might actually meet a group member who would love to give you a hand with your learning. 
  • It should be noted that some skills are best learned in a community/group setting.  And some students also learn better when they can interact in a group setting.
  • Public libraries of course offer many free learning materials.  You can borrow books, magazines, videos, kits, and so much more.  The majority of libraries also now provide free computer use (though you often have to reserve a time slot), and some even offer free computer training.
  • Some community museums and other such locations offer free talks on various subjects, such as history, geography, or various sciences, during the lunch hour or in the evening.  Often the speakers are highly qualified and even entertaining, and the student may also be able to explore very interesting displays, watch films, etc.  Art galleries, dance studios, and other similar locations also offer low-cost or free sessions in the fine arts.

Seniors in your community:

  • Seniors’ centers are another place where adults can often get computer training, as well as learn a wide variety of skills in a group setting.  Some seniors’ centers will also allow children to join the seniors for activities. 
  • Not only that, but some seniors are delighted to tutor young people, often for free.  Our seniors have a great wealth of skills, but often feel they are no longer needed.  Perhaps you know some seniors, family or friends, who might be delighted to tutor you or your child just for the pleasure of the interaction and relationship (though of course you might want to offer at least some remuneration in appreciation, as many seniors are living on very small incomes).

Teen and young adult helpers:

  • If you hire babysitters for your children, consider looking for one who has skills in the area of your child’s learning needs.  You could offer to pay a bit extra for the sitter for help your child with homework and/or tutoring the particular skill/basics you child needs.
  • A trusted teen or college student you know might be the perfect person to tutor your child.  They will have studied the material relatively recently, and have a good understanding of how young learners feel and learn.

Family and friends:

  • Of course, parents and older siblings and even grandparents and other relatives are also potential tutors/helpers for younger children in the family, as are close friends.  Even when there is no one with the needed skill, it might be an opportunity and motivation for the older family members to learn the skill themselves and then turn around and teach it to younger family members.  There is no better way to learn a new skill well, than to immediately teach it to someone else!


  • Another alternative to consider, especially for older teens and adults, is learning a new employable skill by taking an apprenticeship program.  You may be paid a minimal wage as you learn “on the job,” and may even earn more as you progress, until you reach journeyman status.  Some apprenticeship programs do require taking courses at various points along the training journey.  Usually you will have to pay for the courses, but if you complete them successfully, achieve journeyman status, and agree to stay with the company who trained you, they may even refund to you part or all of the costs of the courses.

Internet learning:

  • And last but not least, there is of course the internet.  Computers and many other on-line technologies provide access to endless amounts of learning through the world wide web.  Even if you do not have a computer at home, you can often get free access through the school, a public library, or other community organization. 
  • There are many excellent learning software programs that can be purchased at stores, bought and downloaded on-line, or even downloaded or used for free at many wonderful websites.  The programs are often very entertaining as well as being good learning experiences. Many good programs keep track of the child’s progress, and only move them onto the next level when the child achieves mastery of the current level. 
  • However, parents should always first check out computer programs themselves, and should keep a close eye on their children’s use of the programs.  It is always wise to ask your child’s teacher for suggestions, or ask if a program you know about would be helpful.
  • Children do learn better if they are interacting with real people while they use computer programs.  Always keep a close eye on your child’s use of learning programs, and spend time with them, encouraging and helping as needed.

On-line tutoring:

  • It is also possible to get tutoring on-line.  Students can interact with the tutor through email, Skype, chat rooms and other methods.  This is usually a better alternative for middle teens and older, than for younger teens and children.  Always check out references for on-line tutoring very carefully to be sure the teacher is a genuine tutor.  Note also the location of on-line tutors; an American on-line “history tutor” might not be the best help for a student studying Canadian history, for example.  
  • Most on-line tutoring requires the payment of fees, of course, but there are some sites where students can get homework help and answers to problems they are having with their studies.  Some schools and teachers offer these kinds of services to their students, as well.

Here are just a few examples of on-line tutoring and learning sites that you can check out to get an idea of what is available:

Discussion: What other alternatives to tutoring have you discovered?  Be sure to share your ideas and experiences with us, in the comments below.  Thank you!

Penticton tutor:  If you live in the Penticton area, and are looking for a tutor, be sure to check out my Penticton tutor information page!


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