Yesterday I was asked to build an online GMAT course for a Vienna-based start-up. I gave the matter some thought, because it's still very tempting to build a live online course. One-on-one tutoring is also not that simple to deliver online, but it is possible and I think even easy to do, compared with a multi-player situation. I thought I'd share a few thoughts on this, as a way to help set expectations for those who are considering live vs online.
1) The Teacher Granted that the Dojo is run by teachers, so you can fairly look-out for some bias in what we think about this topic... and feel free to point it out in the comments below, because one thing a GMAT teacher is trained to hate is a flaw in his argument. That said, I really believe in quality teaching, and it is a fact that there are online and offline schools that do not enforce acceptable standards for teaching. We can debate the standards, but I think at a minimum the teacher needs to have paid his dues by taking the test. In some markets, this standard is not enforced. Companies hire Math students to teach GMAT Quant and English teachers to teach GMAT Verbal. This isn't done with any evil intent; I think they just don't know why it matters. Math is math, and English is English, so what's the issue? Well, the short answer is, Don't take course to find out. When the teacher tells you, in effect, "Trust me, I always wanted to be a doctor..." then you know you're in the wrong place.
2) The Material Here there is also a jungle to navigate. As a former editor for 800 Score, I can give you first-person feedback on the issue facing even the best 3rd party content providers: Quality Control. 3rd party content is not tested enough. It is checked by the writers, sometimes by editor-teachers, but never by any significant population of students. So there are rarely any outright mistakes, but there are legions of ambiguities and idiosyncratic phrases, and far fewer subtle tricks. Most companies don't have the resources to invest in creating good materials, and - critically - no company has the yearly volume of student feedback on which to test-out their materials. The GMAC sees 250 thousand test-takers each year, with perfect feedback about each and every wrong answer, even every mouse-hover. Furthermore they have the Phd power to analyse this mega data bank. Unfortunately for the students, this issue is not easy to resolve. The best solution in my view, is for a course to build itself on the official materials from GMAC. These materials are not all that expensive. The key is to use them well, not to burn them. We have a post about what to do and not to do, which goes further into this.
3) The Technology Skype, Zoom, and Webex are the platforms used to teach online. For me - they are also the reason I don't yet have an online course. You may never have seen someone scribbling on a PowerPoint slide before.... but it's a slow and messy process. A good online course should use a digital blackboard with a custom pen. But you still need to see how they handle communication in a virtual room. Bandwidth is an issue for a home-based teacher. Asking questions can also be a factor, though one which can be mitigated by using an assistant teacher to manage the chat room. Still, and sadly, teaching online just is not yet a solved problem. At this time of writing, a video lecture is a better alternative to an in-person course. My recommendation is the free Khan Academy. They do a breakdown for each problem in the Official Guide. It is Math-only, and the solutions are straight math, opposed to battlefield ready math. Still, it's a great asset to use in the middle stages of GMAT test prep.
What's Next? I'm still very interested in the concept of an online course. Anything you have seen done well or done not so well would be more than welcomed if you shared it in the comments. And I'd be happy to give you my feedback on it, in case you're having a problem with what's discussed, or how.