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Online Tuition: the ins and outs

The future of music education is changing. How are we to come to terms with these rapidly changing circumstances? How can we make the most out of the available opportunities?

There are many pros and cons for online tuition. On the one hand, teachers and/or pupils rely less on transport. Children can learn in the comfort of their own home and a significant advantage of online tuition is that children feel comfortable and safe. They encounter the challenges of a future which is heavily reliant on technology, helping them to keep pace with the rapid developments that transform our daily lives. Online tuition helps people to become flexible, with appointments more easily rearranged and online resources made more available. Online platforms have become a valuable learning and teaching resource and are available in a wide range of disciplines. It may no longer necessary to go to the library to take out a book which is in high demand, and not always available. With online resources people have access 24/7 and can develop the research skills necessary to keep pace with modernisation. Online platforms also build networks and communities where people can exchange services and skills. It is getting easier to access tools for the initiation of private businesses, empowering potential teachers to pursue a career in what they love and are good at.

On the other hand, there are some important considerations that should not be ignored, namely: we assume that everyone has access to internet and a device on which to work. The quality of the connection varies from household to household, severely impacting the efficiency of lessons and thus the progress of the learner. Background disturbances may also vary between different families, where some may have the advantage of having their own private space, whilst others must share with siblings or live in close proximity with others. As a result, some children may be more distracted, finding it more difficult to focus and respond to directions given by the teacher. Social interaction performs a fundamental role in the healthy development of children and in mental health. This is severely compromised through the use of technology as an intermediary medium of communication. Particularly with children it is a lot harder to pick up on behavioural signs that indicate distress or confusion. Likewise, it is a lot harder for children to respond to gestures of compassion or encouragement when the subtleties of body language are lost through connection interruptions or other interferences.

Teaching online presents a great deal of challenges. It requires a huge amount of patience. The limitations of a webcam make it difficult to move between demonstrating things on the keyboard and referring to the sheet music. These technical issues severely hinder the number of teaching methods available to the tutor. Our challenge as teachers in the digital age is to find new ways to communicate via long distance learning. One thing that is helpful is to prepare materials in advance; as a powerpoint presentation, word document or recorded podcast. These have the advantage of being used by multiple tutees and can be reviewed, allowing pupils to catch up on anything they missed or ask specific questions related to the session. We also need to develop coping mechanisms to deal with the hindrance of network interruptions. It is important to acknowledge that a good percentage of the lesson will be spent asking 'can you hear me?', 'I can't see you!' etc. Whilst this can be incredibly infuriating, the teacher must remain patient and considerate, encouraging the pupil to share their attitude, feel relaxed and at ease. Having a clear awareness of what has been successful and what did not go as planned helps the teacher to plan the next session, make suggestions for independent work and supplement the tutee with any additional materials needed to catch up on what was missed, but above all, it is important to sustain enthusiasm, and encouragement, with a compassionate mind-set that allows for technical failures, organisational mess ups, and miscommunication

Teaching online can be challenging, nevertheless it represents another important first step into the digital age, offering a new realm of possibilities for children of all ages and across all disciplines.

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