Information Age Education
   Issue Number 73
September, 2011   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by Dave Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education project. See and the end of this newsletter. All back issues of this newsletter are available free online at

Beginning in October 2011, Information Age Education will be publishing a series of newsletters exploring educational aspects of the current cognitive neuroscience and technological revolution. Bob Sylwester and Dave Moursund will provide two introductory articles. These will be followed by a long series of “Guest” articles written by a broad collection of experts in the field.

We encourage you to tell your colleagues and students about the free IAE Newsletter. Free back issues and subscription information are available at

Tutoring in Informal and Formal Education Part 1: Overview of Tutoring

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” (Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain; American author and humorist; 1835–1910.)

IAE Newsletters #73 and #74 draw on the free book “Becoming a better math tutor” by Moursund and Albrecht (2011). Note that one of the authors of the book is also an author of the IAE Newsletters.

The first of these two newsletters provides some general ideas about tutoring. The second focuses on tutoring in math.


Most people think of tutoring as something that is designed for students who need or want some extra, personalized help in their schoolwork. A school might provide tutoring as part of a student’s Individual Educational Plan (IEP). Parents often hire tutors to help their children with homework. Indeed, this is now a large market, with services provided in personal one-on-one sessions and/or via the Web.

Also, of course, you are also familiar with the idea of a child taking music lessons or receiving personal instruction in other areas. Socioeconomic status plays a big role in such individual or small group tutoring endeavors.
Still more broadly, think about the individual tutoring a child receives long before starting school. The child’s brain is wired to learn natural languages, and the individual “tutoring” of parents and other native language speaker’s in the child’s environment is usually successful in helping the child become proficient in oral communication.

For an historical perspective, think of the apprentice-like learning environments of a child growing up in a hunter-gather or agricultural environment. The child learned by observing and imitating, perhaps receiving some formal instruction, practice, and feedback. The feedback came from a combination of the learner and the person providing the individual instruction and feedback.

This apprenticeship type of teaching and learning went on for tens of thousands of years, until eventually reading and writing were developed. Reading and writing required a new approach to teaching and learning. Initially this new approach was mainly one-on-one or small group tutoring and was made available to a very tiny percentage of the population who served the government and/or wealthy people.

Content, Practice, and Feedback

In some sense, teaching and learning are simple. The learner receives content from external and internal sources. The learning that occurs is used in a manner that allows the learner and/or others to observe the results. The learner and the observers provide feedback.

With the development of reading and writing came the idea that a student could learn to read well enough to begin to read to learn. Add to this the eventually mass production of books and other written materials, paper, and writing instruments, and we have the opportunity to accomplish educational goals by helping students learn to “read across the curriculum” and “read to learn,” and then turning them loose to learn.

Back at the time of the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson promoted the idea that all citizens should gain a third grade education and that this sufficed for most people. (The more talented and/or wealthy could go on to further education.)

Nowadays, children are expected to have learned to read well enough by the end of the third grade so that they can begin to gain a significant amount of their education by reading. By the end of the 7th grade, reading becomes a routine aid to learning the content being taught in school. Still, the “stand and deliver” oral presentation remains a well-ingrained component of instruction even in higher education.

More About Individualization of Content and Feedback

We all know about the need for prerequisite knowledge and skills in learning, and the ideas of constructivism in which new learning is built upon previous learning.

The research of Benjamin Bloom (1984), his students, and others provide convincing evidence that for a high percentage of students, individual tutoring produces significantly faster and greater learning than does large group instruction such as is provided in the regular classroom or the higher education large lecture classes.

Our public education system strives to teach “standardized” curricula content. Of course, there is some opportunity for individualization. Providing easy access to good libraries is one approach to individualization of content. The idea is to educate students to learn by reading and to learn to make use of feedback from themselves, the peers, teachers, parents and others. In this type of instruction there can be a strong emphasis on learning to do self-assessment and learning to take advantage of a wide range of feedback opportunities.  In addition, there can be a strong emphasis on students learning to take a steadily increasing level of responsibility for their own education as they grow toward cognitive maturity.

It is easy to find examples of self-taught individuals and/or individuals who made use of formal schooling and self-instruction to become highly educated. Perhaps you are familiar with the Mark Twain statement “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” given at the beginning of this Newsletter.

We are all lifelong learners. Some of us are much more successful at this endeavor than others. In your authors’ opinion, our formal schooling system could do much better at fostering the idea of learning to learn and becoming a self-responsible learner.

A Tutoring Team

Nowadays, tutoring is often done by a team that might include:
  1. The tutee. Remember, the goal is to help the tutee in many different ways, including learning to make effective use of a tutoring team, learning to be a better learner and a more self-responsible learning, learning faster and with greater understanding, increasing long term retention, increasing transfer of learning, and so on. The Moursund/Albrecht book contains an Appendix written specifically for tutees.

  2. One of more adults who are responsible for the tutee, such as parents, grandparents, and so on. The Moursund/Albrecht book contains an Appendix written specifically for such caregivers.

  3. Computer systems that provide access to content and that provide instruction. The Web is like a gigantic multimedia library, and it can provide individualized content to learners who need such content and can make use of it. A combination of computer-as-tutor and human tutor is now available from a number of commercial sites on the Web. Intelligent computer-assisted learning systems are now widely used in schools and can be purchased for home use. In addition, there are many free resources of this sort available on the Web.

  4. A paid or volunteer tutor. A paid tutor may be hired through the school or a caregiver. Tutoring might occur at the tutee's home or school. Volunteer tutors include adult volunteers at school, peer tutors, and cooperative learning environments mainly working through a school or through a club.

  5. Someone who coordinates all of the above. If the team includes a paid tutor, he or she is likely to be the team coordinator. In other cases, the team leader may be the supervisor of the volunteer or paid tutor.

Tutor Qualifications

A tutor is a teacher. It takes a great deal of knowledge, skills, and experience to be a well-qualified tutor. Here is a list of some desirable qualifications of a human tutor.
  1. Content Area Standards. Know the school, district, and state academic standards below, at, and above the level at which one is tutoring.

  2. Communication. This includes areas such as: a) being able to “reach out and make appropriate contact with” a tutee, and b) being able to develop a personal, mutually trusting, human-to-human relationship with a tutee.

  3. Empathy. Knowledge of “the human condition” of being a human student with life in and outside of school, facing the trials and tribulations of living in his or her culture, the school and community cultures, and in our society.

  4. Learning Theory. A tutor needs to be a content learner and know the learning theory in a variety of areas relevant to the area being tutored. Of course, this includes content pedagogical knowledge. Two other important areas are:

    1. Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Among other things, this included an understanding of the computerized communication, social networking, and entertainment worlds that are a routine part of the lives of a great many students.

    2. An introductory knowledge of brain science (cognitive neuroscience), with special emphasis on the effects of stress on learning. (Moursund and Sylwester, 2011)

  5. Diversity. A tutor needs to be comfortable in working with students of different backgrounds, cultures, race, creed, and so on. In addition, a tutor needs to be able to work with students with dual or multiple learning-related exceptionalities, such as ADHD students who are cognitively gifted.


Bloom, B. S. (1984). The 2 Sigma problem: The search for methods of group instruction as effective as one-to-one tutoring. Educational Researcher, 13(6), 4–16. Retrieved 9/8/2011 from You may find that cutting and pasting this Web address into a browser produces a much faster download than clicking on the address given here.

Moursund, David and Albrecht, Robert (9/2/2011). Becoming a better math tutor. Retrieved 9/4/2011 from Eugene. OR: Information Age Education. If you want to just view the TOC, Preface, the first two chapters, and the two Appendices, go to

Moursund, David and Sylwester, Robert (2011). Four-part series on stress in education. IAE Newsletter issues 64-67. Access at

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About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities include a Wiki with address, a Website containing free books and articles at, a Blog at, and the free newsletter you are now reading.

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