How Does On-Demand Tutoring Compare to Other Forms of Academic Intervention?


Schools across the country are doing their best to close learning gaps and help students recover from the COVID-19 pandemic learning loss that continues to haunt America's K-12 education system. Many of those schools have turned to tutoring, with more than 80 percent of schools offering at least one type of tutoring as of the AY 2022-23 school year.

In this blog, we'll explore on-demand tutoring, a popular choice among schools in districts in recent years, and examine its effectiveness at accelerating students' learning, especially when compared to other forms of academic intervention.

What is On-Demand Tutoring?

On-demand tutoring is an educational support model that provides access to tutors. Unlike traditional tutoring arrangements, tutoring sessions aren't scheduled in advance. Instead, on-demand tutoring allows students to connect with tutors whenever they need assistance.

Students log in to a virtual tutoring platform and select the subject area they need support with. They are then either placed in a queue or matched with a tutor in real time, depending on the platform's traffic.

Benefits of On-Demand Tutoring

A popular choice for K-12 students, this form of tutoring is complementary to classroom instruction. Many schools have invested in on-demand tutoring programs in the hope of closing COVID-19-fueled learning gaps. If you're considering an on-demand tutoring program, here are some of the benefits to consider:  


On-demand tutoring offers unparalleled flexibility for students. Learners can receive academic support at any time — as long as they have a supported device and an internet connection. This makes it possible for students to get help exactly when they need it. 


On-demand tutoring platforms often have options for a wide variety of subjects, including math, science, language, SAT prep, and ACT prep. This means that schools and districts can make tutoring services widely available, empowering students across all grade and skill levels to more easily tackle all kinds of challenges.

24/7 access

The virtual aspect of on-demand tutoring means that both the platform and the tutors can be available 24/7. This uninhibited access to learning support contributes to a modern educational approach that can fit into every student's lifestyle. They can connect and engage whenever and wherever they need to.

Disadvantages of On-Demand Tutoring

Unfortunately, a lot of schools and districts that have recently invested in on-demand tutoring have been left dissatisfied with the results. The opt-in tutoring programs weren't delivering the outcomes needed to close students' learning gaps. As a result, many schools ended their programs early. 

Here are some of the most frequent responses from educators who were questioned about why their on-demand tutoring program failed: 

Low participation and engagement

The biggest flaw with on-demand tutoring programs is that students are not opting to use them. For example, Aspire Public Schools – a network of 36 charter schools in California - purchased an on-demand tutoring service in the spring of 2021. They then found that despite the program offering convenience and flexibility, only 19 percent of students used the tutoring service to connect with an online tutor.

Of those students who did log in, they typically had no more than four tutoring sessions during an entire term. Only 26 of the 7,000 students used it three times or more a week, meaning they weren't using it enough to achieve academic success.

Inequity risks

Another major problem that stems from the opt-in aspect of on-demand tutoring programs is that the students who most need the extra help are the least likely to seek it out. According to a 2022 study by researchers at Brown University, students who needed the most help were the least likely to try the tutoring service. As a result, opt-in tutoring could “exacerbate inequalities rather than reduce them,” warned a 2023 EdResearch for Action Project brief created in collaboration among Brown University’s Annenberg Center, Results for America, the American Institutes for Research, and NWEA.


The convenience of on-demand tutoring comes at a premium cost, especially when compared to other online tutoring models. This cost seems even greater when you consider the low usage rates demonstrated by on-demand tutoring programs.

In AY 2021-22, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) - a school division in the U.S. Commonwealth of Virginia - procured an on-demand tutoring service. The service cost the division $488,000 (prorated) for just part of the final quarter of the year. According to an internal analysis, only 1.6%, or 3,189 of the 188,000 students, accessed the service. This translates into a tutoring cost of $130 per hour.

On-Demand Tutoring is the Wrong Choice for Students

You may be wondering — if so many on-demand tutoring programs are failing students, why is tutoring considered the most effective form of intervention? Well, that's because there are multiple types of tutoring, and on-demand tutoring is the wrong kind of tutoring to offer if you're hoping to help students close their learning gaps.

In fact, there is little to no evidence showing that on-demand tutoring programs produce learning gains for students.

Instead, schools and districts should be investing in high-impact tutoring (HIT) programs. HIT 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

HIT is the type of tutoring that has been proven to work, with rigorous research showing that it's the most effective form of intervention and can help students catch up by as much as half a school year to a full school year.

“They [high-impact tutoring and on-demand tutoring] both have the word ‘tutoring’ in them, so it seems like the same thing, but it’s really not,” said Susanna Loeb, Ph.D, Professor of Education at Stanford University and Executive Director of the National Student Support Accelerator (NSSA). 

On-Demand Tutoring vs. High-Impact Tutoring

Why is high-impact tutoring so much more effective than on-demand tutoring? Here’s how these approaches compare:     

Student-led vs. curriculum-led approaches

On-demand tutoring is student-led. Learners seek support as needed. However, as pointed out above, students do not seek out support on their own — even if they really need it.

In AY 2021-22, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) procured a tutoring service that they offered at no charge to students and families.  According to an internal analysis, less than two percent of the student body used the opt-in tutoring service. 

High-impact tutoring is curriculum-led, with sessions scheduled in advance. As a result, they see high rates of participation and engagement. A recent analysis of FEV Tutor's HIT program at a middle school in the southwest revealed an average attendance rate of 77%.

Poor quality of instruction vs. high quality of instruction 

When tutoring sessions are not scheduled in advance, there is no way to pair a student up with the same tutor for every session. As a result, on-demand tutoring lacks a consistent student-tutor pairing. The on-demand method also lacks a connection to classroom curriculum and objectives. Instead of being directly tied to classroom curriculum, it relies on students to bring their own problems and questions to each session. These factors decrease the quality of instruction.

High-impact tutoring uses pre-scheduled sessions to ensure a consistent student-tutor matchup. This helps to build strong relationships and instructional continuity. High-impact tutoring programs also use high-quality instructional materials that are directly connected to classroom content, aligned to state standards, and personalized to cover each student’s learning gaps. Together, these factors increase the quality of instruction.

During students' free time vs. embedded in the school day

On-demand tutoring happens outside of school hours, relying on students to voluntarily give up free time on their nights and weekends. It also means students have to use their own computer, wifi, learning materials, etc.

High-impact tutoring programs are often embedded into the school day. These programs provide equitable access for all students in a controlled learning environment.

Embedding tutoring into the school program has many benefits, including:

  • A higher likelihood of student attendance
  • Improved education equity
  • Increases ability to reach the students who need it most
  • Reduces barriers to attendance (e.g., technology issues, wifi problems, lack of access to learning materials)
  • Doesn’t require missing extra-curricular activities
  • Reduces issues that stem from overcrowded classrooms and teacher vacancies

Evidence of effectiveness

Despite a rapid rise in tutoring programs, with almost half of surveyed school leaders reporting that they adopted one-on-one or small-group tutoring during the 2020-21 school year, there is little to no evidence that these on-demand tutoring programs are working. In fact, researchers from Brown University and the University of California, Irvine, found that even with the availability of on-demand tutoring and frequent reminders to both parents and students to use it, more than 40 percent of the students failed at least one class

On the other hand, the effectiveness of high-impact tutoring programs is well-researched and thoroughly documented. Eight meta-analyses, including more than 150 studies, consistently found that high-impact tutoring results in substantial additional learning for students. It is an equitable, proven approach to accelerate student learning.

When directly comparing high-impact tutoring with other tutoring models, such as on-demand tutoring, researchers found it to be 20 times more effective for math and 15 times more effective for reading. 

How to Implement High-Impact Tutoring

Are you considering implementing a high-impact tutoring program at your school or district? Follow these steps.

  1. Secure funding: There are multiple funding streams available, including federal, state, and local funding sources. Learn more about how to fund intervention programs in our funding ebook.
  2. Develop a plan: Work with your tutoring provider to determine which student populations and subjects will be the focus of your HIT program. Focus on alignment with your curriculum and learning objectives.
  3. Implement: Launch your high-impact tutoring program and work with your tutoring provider to incentivize students to participate.
  4. Track outcomes: Monitor student progress and look for any opportunities for improvement. Modern tutoring platforms, like FEV Tutor, provide powerful, real-time dashboards and reports so interested parties can track outcomes against benchmarks and make data-driven decisions quickly and easily.

Looking for the best online tutoring option to support students?

While on-demand tutoring can be a useful tool, it is best used as a method of homework help or as an additional layer on top of a high-impact tutoring model. On-demand tutoring models are not the best choice for stand-alone intervention offerings.

High-impact tutoring helps students close their learning gaps and better grasp new classroom material. It also can give educators the support they need as they work to help all students reach their full potential. 

Want to connect your students with 1:1 live virtual tutoring tailored to their unique learning needs? See how we can implement high-impact tutoring to empower your students’ success.