Why ‘Skill Apps’ Could Be Superior to Online Tutors

Hiring a one-on-one tutor can be more than a little expensive and is generally only affordable for a privileged few. To address this issue, over the past decade or so, an online tutoring industry has grown up that provides everything from free courses such as those available from the Khan Academy, to one-on-one web tutors hired per session. This online one-on-one approach has its benefits, but it’s also not within the budgets of a significant number of students and their families. But here’s the thing: Many times, a student doesn’t need an hour-long web tutoring session. Let’s face it, you can learn almost anything from the internet if you apply yourself. There are YouTube video tutorials, the above-mentioned Khan Academy has free video lectures, there are online animated classes, and there are free practice tests – the internet provides a wealth of resources to anyone with a degree of self-motivation.

What’s sometimes needed, however, is a quick check-in. A 5-to-10-minute Q&A to make sure you’re understanding something or to help you get “unstuck.” Where do you turn to for that? Well, meet the skill app. This ingenious idea allows you to hop on your smartphone – and via a video call – immediately connect with a math teacher, a physics professor, a musician, a yoga instructor, a chef, a you-name-it. And the new app doesn’t demand that people sign up for a monthly subscription. Instead, you pay by the minute — and prices can be as low as US$1 a minute. So instead of forking over huge amounts of money for a private tutor who comes to your home, or forking over slightly less money for a private tutor to teach you over the internet, you can simply pay for a few minutes of consultation to make sure you’re on the right track or to help you figure out why you can’t wrap your head around a specific linear algebra problem (for example).

It’s a little surprising that it’s taken until the second decade of the 21st century for this idea to become a full-fledged reality, but it’s here and is an affordable, easy-to-use solution for students – and anyone else who has a question that needs answering or assistance that requires a quick one-on-one consultation. Many app reviewers are also commenting on how nice it is that these new iterations of skill share apps give you the ability to “show someone the problem.” How many times have you been frustrated with something, but weren’t even sure how to properly describe your problem? Remember the last time you were on one of those ridiculous customer service calls where you’re trying to explain what’s wrong with your laptop? “Have you turned the button on the side on and off?” “Which button?” “The second button on the left side.” “Which left? My left or your left?” Such conversations would be farcical if they weren’t so frustrating.

Instead of all that, you simply hold up your smartphone and show the expert your problem. Then, perhaps within just a few minutes, you get an answer that otherwise would have taken you hours to figure out. “Oh, just change that setting from 3.6 to 4.1 … that should take care of the problem.” Bingo. You’re good to go and paid perhaps US$3-5. Once people get accustomed to this new way of finding answers, we could begin to see a radical change in what’s now called “research.” Some might harp on the fact that most if not all answers could be found via a few Google searches, but for many people in the 2020s, time is money. If you can get an answer for a few bucks instead of taking an hour and a half to comb through the web or watch YouTube tutorial videos, wouldn’t you rather spend those few bucks?

The possibilities for how people could use this new type of skill share app are staggering and finally, there’s the potential for you to assist others and make some money while doing so. What are you an expert at? Perhaps you’re a great carpenter, maybe you’re a college student who’s awesome at trigonometry, perhaps you’re a fashion consultant, or you were once in the military and know how to fix airplane engines — all of those skills could be put to use on the skill app after you register as an expert. If you’re willing to take a video call and assist someone in need, you could end up with a profitable side business or perhaps even a new career. The world of tutoring — be it face to face or online — is about to change dramatically. And, the established models of online coaching are also threatened by this new pay-by-the-minute structure. But in the end, because of this app, one can foresee a future that’s more productive, more efficient, less expensive and more egalitarian as “tutoring” will no longer be confined to those with wealth. Get ready for a brand-new world of personalized online education and skill-sharing.