Uber for private tutors

You do know that private tutors are the missing secret element in MOOCs, right?  All sorts of internet learning will go better when private tutors are available on demand.  Yet for the non-wealthy it does not always make sense to hire a private tutor on an ongoing basis.  Still, you might have a few questions which can be cleared up in fifteen minutes or so, if only the person were available on relatively short notice.

Let’s bring private tutors into the sharing economy.

Recently I heard of a new Dutch start-up, Konnektid.com, which is trying to do exactly this.  I am hopeful.


MOAR services on demand and same day shipping! I am too important to leave my home!

The way to get that is to go to a physical university. A lab session, is a time when the kids are doing work while tutors are whizzing about answering questions questions up to and including "How do I do this?".

If TC wants to expand that outside of the labs, then he can invent a clever classroom format that does the same thing in more theoretical subjects. Then he can invent a way for private-enteprise outreach people to have "workshops" to his shiny new method out to the people.

It would be a good thing if it works. But it would not resemble private tutoring.

Google tried it with Helpouts (and failed).

So what? They created Orkut before Facebook and had a ton of users. They're so big that their definition of "success" is a couple orders of magnitude beyond that of a startup.

On-demand tutoring has worked out great for language learning. Lots of players in that space.

Is it possible to recreate the core concept of the university; a body of tutors that recognize and accredit each other?
They can coalesce around a curriculum, a set of coursework, over which students progress until they have certain measurable
skills. The students pursuing the courses can do so with more or less work, and more or less help, depending on ambition and
funding, among other things. The best students might attract good tutors by their inherent appeal _as students_ (scholarships)
or _as assistants_ (funded teaching and research assistants) to provide merit-based tuition relief.

Perhaps the lectures themselves are largely free, but proctored exams, advanced 'study groups,' and tutors are not.
The remaining challenge is to tie assessments to useful skills and useful skills to valued credentials/employment.

why do we need private tutors at all... with our fabulous public education system?

the "non wealthy" are seriously neglected by public education and public welfare??

has the U.S.. Dept of Education noticed any such problem?

adjunct professors have it too good these days; let's make it so they have to hustle every day for work, instead of every semester. does any pundit who bloviates about the 'sharing economy' know what it feels like to live with absolutely no certainty about the next paycheck?

Excuse me but I was told that workers enjoy the flexability that the sharing and gig economies provide. I don't understand why anyone would require a consistent level of hours and pay each week.

in all seriousness, the 'sharing economy' is entirely predicated on a basic guaranteed income. if i knew that my rent, basic foodstuffs, and at least catastrophic medical care were taken care of, then i'd cheerfully teach spoiled rich kids their latin declensions.

1) I worked as a tutor. It's lame driving to people's houses and doing a bunch of scheduling. 1/5 of my time in sessions was driving (not getting paid).

2) Teachers/Adjuncts benefit when the demand for their services is higher. If this makes it easier for would be tutors and students to find each other, it helps tutors.

"1) I worked as a tutor. It’s lame driving to people’s houses and doing a bunch of scheduling. 1/5 of my time in sessions was driving (not getting paid)."

Why not have the students travel and maybe tutor 2 or 3 at once. Also what about Skype and or gotomeeting?

Workers (really, contractors) in the "sharing economy" are 99% part-time, which doesn't seem to be changing any time soon, so I don't really know what you're on about.

Who is paying to learn (make their children learn larin declensions) and why? I have nothing against it, but who is actually doing it?

It's Latin not Larin. See how helpful that is !

Adjunct professors are what happens when you have a huge supply glut in teachers combined with universities that largely do not care about teaching (not that adjuncts may not be good teachers; just that hiring professors is 99% based on research, and professors are never fired or even given a stern talking to if they're terrible teachers). Really, the only segments in the whole education system in the US that actually does care about teach are vocational-technical schools and the private tutor market.

Higher Ed apparently exists to employ people, rather than to make people employable.

Chegg has been doing this for a while and the students love it. The service was originally InstaEDU, and was acquired by Chegg a year ago.


Forget tutors, where are the jukus (cram schools) so famous in Japan? Why don't middle class families who can't afford private schools but still want better than random government school send their kids to an after-school school a couple days a week to either round out their education (because schools primarily "teach to the test") or improve their chances on those important college entry tests and tasks?

Don't have kids, eh? These things are all over the place.

For example, http://www.russianschool.com/

It's like Kumon for smart people.

More like Midwesterner: There's Kumon in Minneapolis, but nothing like it now that we're in Fargo, Even in Mpls, they're not very widely known. At least in my circles.

Fair enough, no offense meant. They are pretty common around here.

It is common for Chinese-American parents to create such programs for their children. The mathematician/scientist/engineer fathers teach math, and the mothers teach Mandarin.

Juku is meant to cram for specific material on a college or high school entrance exam. Quite different from what an American high school or middle school student is studying for.

Although there are classes now for SAT prep right? This is closer to the material that a juku covers.

There is also a big business in private tutoring for lawyers and physicians licensing exams. I am sure attending a cram school makes all the difference in their real world competence.

These have existed since the 1980's. Stanley Kaplan test prep schools are the ones I'm think of. They were in person, not online. They are test prep, of course, not helpful in real-world competence.

I don't understand what the innovation is in having them online. I'm not even sure that they would work if online, not as well. There's nothing like paying for a class and teacher to get you to attend and be attentive.

what would the Tinder for private tutors be?

We should call it by its real name: Uber for homework.

That's an interesting question: I have the academic credentials and experience necessary to sign up, and I live in a place (New York City) that probably has a lot of pent-up demand. I'm working as an adjunct professor at Marymount Manhattan College, and while I enjoy and appreciate the work it isn't hard for me to imagine a better-paid situation arising.

Still, I think the better comparison is to Airbnb: I'd want to be the penthouse of tutors and charge appropriately. Uber tells drivers to take the fee or leave it, but I'd rather see someone decide to hire me for $50 / hour or Joe down the street for $25.

I trust everyone sees the irony here: rather than one teacher for 20-25 students in the classroom, we have no classroom and one teacher (tutor) for each student. I suppose the irony is why I don't understand the economics of Amazon: rather than all the customers going to a single brick and mortar store to buy goods, the customer orders the goods over the phone or online and the goods are delivered via UPS from a warehouse to the customer's house. How the latter is more efficient than the former escapes me. Don't get me wrong, I prefer Amazon because I hate going to most stores (hardware stores being the exception), and if I were a student again, I would like my own personal teacher. Hey, if Amazon's stock can continue to soar without making a profit or even projecting a profit (the rising stock price making the business model possible), so be it. But what happens if the "investors" in Amazon stock come to their senses and there is no bigger fool willing to buy the stock and what happens if mom and dad refuse to pay for junior's own personal teacher and instead tell the brat to get off his butt and go to real school.

*sigh* amazon is more efficient because they are able to ship directly from distribution warehouses to consumers, rather than the classic model where the 'wholesaler' sold the goods from the warehouse to the 'retailer' who sold the goods to the end customer. if you cut out the retailer you remove an entire variable (and a huge number of small businesses go bust, main streets dry up, blah blah blah) and 'the efficiency is passed on to the consumer' (or amazon shareholders)

Amazon wins easily where there is uncertainty about distribution. I know whether Amazon has the book I want; I'm not at all sure it will be in my local bookstore.

Note also Amazon warehouses aren't paying retail overhead costs -- they aren't on Michigan Avenue or Rodeo Drive, for example.

It's notable that you cite hardware stores as an exception. I fully agree. The old veterans at Ace Hardware have solved many a problem for me by finding the right stuff. Getting a cheaper price on the wrong thing isn't helpful.

Hmmm . . . Uber for old codgers. Get started with kickstarter or gofundme. Do an IPO or get acquired by Amazon. Yeah, that might work.

That ring is chrome-plated plastic. You'll need a strap wrench for that.

Just imagine how many overpriced services everyone wants you to buy whenever you have a store. Add taxes.

Amazon is NOT more efficient, not for me. Shopping is a social, recreational activity for most women. By social, I don't mean social media. Going shopping is an activity in its own right, even if nothing is purchased. Eventually, this will be something that Amazon will need to grapple with. Men might make more money, but most purchasing decisions are made by women, regardless of funding source.

Here's a free tutorial system for "non-wealthy" high school students in need of occasional help with math and science homework blocks: http://www.studybuddyhelp.org

McLean, VA Pete McCloskey has built this impressive national honors student tutoring network pro bono.

Many colleges have online tutoring. Schools in Texas also have this outsourced to India where people are less lazy and know math. Skype, etc. is a cheap person to person way of conducting this..

You can post questions to sites like Stack Overflow or to Usenet groups, although people will scold you for vague questions or those that could easily be answered by Googling. I understand that this not a full replacement for tutoring.

Stack Overflow is awesome. You're right, though, about getting scolded if the question is not deemed acceptably formatted or to vague! I am very familiar with that ;)

Stack Overflow is one of the only examples of the so-called sharing economy that actually works well, where no one is exploited and genuine value is added without a regulatory hack. I'm kind of stunned that Tyler Cowen is even using that expression, sharing economy ("Let’s bring private tutors into the sharing economy") without sarcasm or irony.

Hackhands.com is something like this for code.

This seems like it would only be practical for high school or very low-level courses. The thing about drivers is that they're essentially fungible and there are an almost unlimited number of people with the necessary skill. That's not quite the case with Differential Equations or Particle Physics tutors.

Conincidently I was approached today about such a role with a company for which I do occasional on-demand term paper editing.

I wonder how much this will undermine current systems of assessment?

Also, there are major unpredictable interaction effects in terms of whether Kid X will do well with Tutor Y. It can be extremely hit or mis.

In other words, tutors are less fungible than cabdrivers. On the other hand, TUber could be useful in letting you burn through a lot of tutors quickly so you can find the one guy who connects well with you.

Will Tyler Cowen be on TUber? How much does it cost for us to get private tutoring instruction by Tyler or Alex? Are group discounts available, i.e. does Tyler + Alex cost less than each individually?

*I am laughing at TUber! That is very catchy and amusing.

I am all for making this industry more efficient using good IT. But I don't think that would be a fundamental change. When I was a private tutor in my tweens I did not work "on an ongoing basis", I did one hour tutorials if and when the student's parents saw fit. I didn't cost much either.

15 minutes is about enough time to say hello. If you want to do things on that time scale you can do it electronically. But MOOC, not a private tutor.

This is a very interesting proposal for the following reason.
Suppose I want to study advanced quantum mechanics. What do I do?
I don't want to follow courses in a university among students since I know more mathematics than they or probably even their teacher (I am a professional mathematician) and the standard courses concentrate on the mathematics.
Moreover I don't want to be restricted by the course's timetable.
What I need is a real physicist who teaches me the physics intuition, answers my questions and rapidly brings me to the level of a Ph.D candidate (although I'm not in the least interested in a Ph.D or any diploma related to quantum theory).
For the time being no physics professor I know would do that for, say, $50 per hour (much money by European standards for private tuition) and I would be too embarrassed to ask them anyway .
The point is that I lack the information allowing me to find a suitable, reliable grad student/postdoc and a company providing private tutors at a university level is thus exactly what I need.

What you need is a book and you can ask questions on http://physics.stackexchange.com/

Actually for "advanced" QM a university course might be the go-to place. It is the basic QM courses that have to spend all their time teaching linear algebra.

Additional benefit: StackExchange is free to use, and has no advertising!

Please, for the love of anything, please stop calling it the "sharing" economy. They're brokers or lead generators or middlemen. Nobody's sharing anything.

I'm temporarily sharing my skills in exchange for money, just like the attendant at the gas station does with me.

"Please, for the love of anything, please stop calling it the “sharing” economy."

LOL, yes. It's a complete misnomer. People have been running Bed & Breakfasts forever, but nobody ever said they were sharing. If you are charging money, you are selling or renting.

I assume "sharing" tested better with focus groups. The real story of the 21st-century is the ascendancy of the marketing major.

This has been around for a while. My husband dumped adjuncting and has been doing private tutoring piece work. Better hours, better money, better students, and no departmental politics. There are a bunch of outfits matching tutors for either general work in a field or help with specific projects.

I can see it now. The new increased demand for MOOC tutors will meet with:

1) The increasing crapification of the adjunct level
2) The horrible education job market in general
3) The primacy of "Average is Over"

to give us a new army of $7.50 per hour tutors!

We already have Uber for tutors, its called Google. All the knowledge in the history of man at your fingertips and teaching kids/students how to properly search it should be a priority.

Previously the cheryl's birthday problem for Singapore 15 yo students went viral. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheryl%27s_Birthday

Now the Hannah's sweet problem for Britain's 16yo also do the same. http://www.itv.com/news/2015-06-05/gcse-maths-should-be-challenging-argues-rachel-riley-after-thousands-of-students-complain-online/

Now compare the complexity between the two problem. Which one is more difficult?

duxie, please explain further. The Singapore problem was a trivial problem in discrete mathematics (five cars came in to a parking lot at five minute intervals, explain why they parked grey blue grey blue grey) and the English newer problem is a trivial problem in arithmetic (count to ten with n) or, I guess, an even more trivial "probability" problem in non-counting ratios (six of ten!). Is your point that trivial math goes viral too easily?

What i want to know is when school math stopped being about learning useful arithmetic and became a de facto iq test.

Not useful? I rephrase the second question this way:

A company has 2 positions vacant. The HR person says that there are 6 applicants from your school and the chance that both position will be filled by students from your school is 1/3. What is your chance of getting the job?
Should you spend more time preparing for this job interview or try another company?

It is just that the answer for the second question was already given and was only asked to show the derivation. And the students whinge about this.

I was a full-time tutor and test prep instructor for 5 years, part time for another 5, and my rate for the past 4 years has been $90/hour (working backwards from that: $80, $75, $60, $50, $45 back in 2003). I also work(ed) at a large hagwon, the Korean version of a juku. I say "was" and "worked" because I've mostly phased out of that business, being more interested in writing and working in a high-paying district as a public school teacher. But I still do whatever work comes my way.

I wrote about the test prep tutoring market here. Short version: test prep tutoring is a sales and marketing game. The rate you charge has everything to do with your risk tolerance and desired clientele, not your quality. I'm good, which is why I can charge a relatively high rate, but I'm not interested in providing guarantees or endless reassurances to the really rich, which is why I don't charge $300/hour or more.

The hagwan/juku market is different. Parents are incredibly high maintenance, and the managers protect their tutors from all sorts of crap. There are thousands of these throughout America, and they aren't particularly affordable. When I read those stories about the Chinese mom working for $21K/year who pays for 7 years of SHSAT tutoring for Stuyvesant, I figure she's probably getting money from back home. Fraud is big among the Asian communities; I know more than a few kids with full-ride needs based scholarships whose parents drive recent model luxury cars. No way would anyone other than unassimilated Asian kids go to these on more than an ad hoc basis. They're just totally alien by American standards (white, black, Hispanic, or 3rd generation Asian).

Academic tutoring is different. The high end folks pretty much stay out of it, because they don't have much to offer and there's no real guarantees they can even pretend to deliver. Parents either look for college students who are happy to tutor in advanced math or science to their AP kids for a low rate---it was $35 or less an hour back in the mid-oughts--or they look for tutors who can work with their teenagers for money so the parents don't have to have the stress (raises hand) and they get between $60-90. Maybe more; as I said I haven't been doing it lately. I'm sure there are other categories, but it basically comes down to those broad categories.

I don't see how the tutoring business proposed could possibly work. What parents want from academic tutoring most of all is help with homework, not so much because they want the kids to do It, but because missing homework will screw up their grades.

Online tutoring won't work, really..

I was talking with my wife about this a couple days ago. Perhaps, it's a matter of status.

Today, there are lots of private tutors but they teach you how to sing, ride a horse, paint, play football or hockey. One of our friends works a private tutor children of elementary school age. All of her clients are children with the lowest results at school. Parents consider it's OK to hire a tutor when the child is slower than the group in math/literature/2nd language. But if the child is at least average, hiring a private tutor signals to the community that the child is slow or antisocial. That's the work environment of our friend in Texas.

It's curious than parents have the money to pay lots of money for a football tutor and not a finance, literature or world history tutor. What would yield better results in child's future life?

I had this same idea some months ago when I was learning math.

"Yet for the non-wealthy it does not always make sense to hire a private tutor on an ongoing basis."

I think we may have hit peak Cowen.

"Let’s bring private tutors into the sharing economy."

Peak Cowen indeed.

Tutor.com is another one. Penn State contracts with them to provide on demand tutoring for students in their online World Campus. They do it this way to get a trusted tutoring service, so students are less likely to seek out those that enable academic dishonesty.

Some private tutors from the past: René Descartes, Abraham de Moivre, Leonhard Euler, Immanuel Kant, Albert Einstein...

Not quite the same thing, but I have used MRU content in my private tutoring (specifically Tabbarok's video on calculating elasticity).

Hello everyone, I have good news! This technology already exists! Later this week our flagship app, "tutor." will be launching for beta testing. We have been developing this location based tutoring app for almost 2 years, and can't wait to share it with you.

Penumbra Development
Welcome to the future of Education.

Hello everyone, I have Good News! As much good news as the Gospel. I now offer math tutoring for creationists. Check the New York Craig's list for details.

I'd like to see an app that facilitates -- rather than undercuts -- organized labor. Not all of us who frequent Marginal Revolution are huge fan of unions, but it would put a smile on all of our faces if an app could put union bosses out of a job. The labor-saving device that saves organized labor: http://www.crass.us/2015/06/a-labor-saving-device-that-could-save-organized-labor-we-need-an-app-that-crowdsources-decisions-to-union-members/

Comments for this post are closed