How To Increase Participation in Online Tutoring


In recent years, online tutoring programs have become an increasingly popular option for extra academic support outside of traditional classroom settings. When offered at the school or district level, these programs can provide much-needed 1:1 instruction to students who otherwise may not get opportunities for extra help.

However, even the very best online tutoring programs will fail if students don't show up. Attendance and participation are critical to the success of tutoring. 

In this blog, we'll discuss the important role that participation plays in the success of online tutoring programs and explore different methods you can use to increase participation and engagement in online tutoring.

Understanding the importance of participation in online tutoring

Low participation and engagement are some of the most commonly given reasons for failing tutoring programs. This makes sense, as research shows that the more actively students engage with tutoring sessions, the higher their rate of accelerated learning.

An analysis of AY 2022-23 data conducted by JoinIn Ventures showed that program effectiveness depends on a substantial dose of tutoring combined with effort/participation on the part of the student.

When students don't participate, they don't see improvement—even if they attend the sessions. For example, in AY 2021-22, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) procured a tutoring service that they offered as a supplemental service to the school-based interventions that were already provided. The students who did log in engaged with the platform too little to yield tangible benefits. According to the FCPS internal analysis, almost three-quarters of Fairfax County student users (72 percent) used the platform for less than one hour. The median time was 29 minutes. This time frame is too small a window to provide meaningful tutoring interactions, especially for those with greater academic needs. 

When students participate in tutoring, they see results. For example, FEV Champions, students who completed 21+ sessions and averaged 11+ participation points, show the highest rate of accelerated learning. According to a recent analysis, FEV Champions showed a 69% acceleration rate in math and literacy with an average +1.46 grade level equivalent improvement on the NWEA assessment. These high participants significantly outperformed non-participants as well as students who completed less than 21 sessions during AY 2022-23.

How to increase participation in online tutoring

Choosing the most impactful type of tutoring

The most crucial step in increasing participation in tutoring is choosing the right type of tutoring. There are multiple types of tutoring available, including in-person tutoring, on-demand (opt-in) tutoring, and high-impact tutoring (HIT). 

When it comes to participation, schools and districts should steer clear of on-demand tutoring programs. On-demand tutoring relies on students to seek out extra help. However, this mode breaks down quickly because students who need the most help are the least likely to try the tutoring services. And only a very small percentage of students used it regularly. Low attendance and even lower participation are a huge issue with these types of tutoring platforms.

High-impact tutoring is the type of online tutoring that sees the highest levels of student attendance and participation. HIT programs, by design, lead to greater student participation.

High-impact tutoring programs share these key traits:

  • Sessions last at least 30 minutes and occur three times a week
  • Strong, consistent relationship between student and tutor
  • Alignment with the classroom curriculum
  • Progress monitoring of student’s knowledge and skills based on data
  • Continued oversight and coaching of tutors

Since these programs are strategically structured with sessions scheduled in advance, they see higher attendance and engagement rates than other types of tutoring programs. Many successful HIT programs occur during the school day, which increases attendance and engagement rates even more. A recent analysis of FEV Tutor's HIT program at a middle school in the southwest revealed an average attendance rate of 77%. And one FEV Tutor school district recently demonstrated 10.8 average participation points per student, just below 11 participation points needed for FEV Champion status. 

Connecting gamification and tutoring to increase participation

Gamification is the act of incorporating typical game mechanics into other environments to enhance the user experience and encourage engagement. It's used in education to transform typical academic experiences into fun and engaging game-like challenges. One of the most popular examples of gamification in education is when teachers use storyboarding to guide their students through challenging subject matter. Another example is when teachers or tutors introduce a badge system to incentivize students and reward positive actions.

Gamification in education isn’t just a trend. Today, it’s a driving force behind stronger educational outcomes. The adoption of gamification in education is growing at a rapid pace. 

FEV Tutor takes full advantage of the gamification strategy to make learning engaging and addictive. Students earn "participation points" by demonstrating productive behaviors like answering questions and completing practice work. As students accumulate points, they gain a tangible sense of progress. This adds to motivation and investment in their learning experience.

Research shows gamification increases enjoyment and engagement. A gamified approach makes tutoring sessions feel like rewarding challenges. The competitiveness gets students excited to participate, not just spectate.

Are you wondering what gamification can look like in practice? This is how FEV Tutor gives students the opportunity to earn participation points during a session:

Participation Points (15 x 15 in) (6)

Providing regular incentives to keep students motivated

Incentive programs are an effective strategy to boost participation in high-impact tutoring. By offering rewards, schools can encourage consistent attendance and engagement. Here are some proven incentive ideas.

1. 10 for 10 program

One model that FEV Tutor employs is the "10 for 10" program. For example, students earn a $10 gift card for every 10 FEV Tutor sessions they complete. Our dynamic reporting dashboards keep track of each session, so it's easy for teachers and school administrators to monitor each student's progress toward the reward.

This program rewards students who are dedicated to academic improvement and incentivizes those who are less motivated.

2. Traveling trophy

Another approach is the traveling trophy competition. In this program, classes or grade levels compete to log the most tutoring sessions. The winning class or grade level gets to display the traveling trophy. 

This is a great option for schools with a small budget, as the traveling trophy is a one-time cost towards tutoring incentives. From there, you set the criteria and the time period for the challenge. For example, tutoring sessions that count may need to be of a specific length, and each challenge could last one month.

This program fuels a sense of accomplishment, drives participation, and encourages teamwork.

3. School store

A third option to consider is creating a school store. With this participation incentive program, students can cash in their participation points to get fun items and treats.

If you go this route, you should be aware that it has a few more steps than other incentive types. The process of running a school store involves:

  1. Assigning point values
  2. Tracking student participation through your tutoring platform
  3. Maintaining a catalog of rewards
  4. Allowing students to "purchase" items by redeeming points

As they work towards earning incentives and rewards, students develop a sense of ownership over their academic progress. It encourages consistent virtual tutoring engagement while supporting academic growth and success.

Want to increase tutoring participation?

Online tutoring is a useful tool, but students only get out what they put in.

Implementing an online tutoring program for your district is the first step. Then, work with your tutoring provider to ensure you are taking full advantage of all the ways you can engage students. Increasing participation in online tutoring helps you reach every learner.