BILLINGS — Technology is used more in classrooms today than ever before, but there is still a classroom - an in-person component of learning. So now, when kids need help, who do they turn to? Many parents are struggling to find answers, so they’re calling on virtual professionals.
“There's been a giant spike in queries are around homeschooling, and that behavior is pretty new," said Andrew Geant, CEO of Wyzant, one of the nation's largest tutoring marketplaces.
Geant co-founded Wyzant in 2005 to connect teachers and students of all ages. When they first launched, 100% of the meetings were done in person. Now - 98% of them are online with a huge new client base.
“It started with college students, where college students, unlike high school and middle school, were not really given much of a pass," Geant said. "They were required to continue working online, get grades, try to graduate. And then interestingly, we saw middle school and elementary school begin to increase.
"When you’re talking about a middle school student or younger, obviously there needs to be the role of a mentor, teacher, tutor in order to help keep them on track and manage through the course of their day, and not all parents are able to do that.”
Geant has also seen a rise on the other side of the screen.
“We’re seeing also an increase in tutors who are coming to the site as people are looking for additional income and gigs," he said.
65,000 tutors are listed on Wyzant, with a thorough screening process that involves an approved application and multiple proficiency exams. It means there’s help on basically any topic, at basically any time - with replacement-level results.
“The biggest barrier was getting people to try it," Geant said, "and once they tried it, almost 100% of people would say ‘Wow, this was actually a lot better than I expected.'”
“When this first started, I was so worried about how this was going to go, but it has actually been amazing to see kids really do well," said Olga Prather, owner of Sylvan Learning Center in Billings.
Before the shutdown, Prather offered almost no online-instruction. Now, she’s a self-proclaimed Zoom master.
“One day we weren’t using them, and then the next day we had no option but to use them," Prather said. "And (kids) are not afraid of technology. So it’s going to be something we’re able to use and embrace and it’s going to change learning.”
Prather says the 1-on-1 style online tutoring allows has made the transition easier.
“I think it’s the normalcy of being able to have direct instruction," she said. "I was bending down because I dropped my pencil, and my student on the other end who was a kindergartner said, ‘Olga is playing hide and seek with me!’ And I’m like, 'Ah! I am! I’m back!’ So it is as effective I believe because again, it’s more direct.”
There’s a stigma around tutoring - that it’s only for those with expendable income, which isn’t the case for many these days. But Wyzant’s competitive directory means there are deals to be found, and Sylvan is rolling out free tools.
“If they just need some help, they can reach out to us, and know that I can give them some advice," Prather said. "We’re planning to have some free sessions for parents so they can understand, and understand how to get through all of this."
You can contact Prather at Olga.Prather@sylvanlearning.com.
Prather also wanted to make sure outgoing seniors and parents know that while many colleges aren’t requiring the ACT for admission this year, the test is required for academic and athletic scholarships and that ACT officials have rescheduled a testing date for June 13.