Online Tutoring

Online Tutoring

Christa Ehmann Powers (Smarthinking, Inc., USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-876-5.ch011


This chapter presents a detailed case study of a leading United States-based online learning center, Smarthinking, Inc. Conducting business in an entirely online setting, Smarthinking provides asynchronous and synchronous online tutoring for several general education courses and degree-specific courses, supporting students enrolled in secondary and post-secondary education 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the calendar year. Smarthinking employs hundreds of professional educators from around the globe. With an operational infrastructure similar to that of a call center, Smarthinking focuses on educational transactions rather than customer support for cell phones or credit cards. The purpose of this chapter is to provide insight into Smarthinking’s services and its online training and management practices, which have been substantiated by research from various professional fields. This chapter discusses the early development plans, technology infrastructure, organizational systems, and product delivery elements of the organization.
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A Washington, D.C.-based privately held corporation, Smarthinking, Inc., ( provides synchronous and asynchronous online tutoring to secondary and post-secondary students within the United States and abroad. The service is a 24/7 virtual “call center for education” where online tutors are available to address “drop-in” academic questions from students who log-in to Smarthinking’s website.

In July 1999, co-founders Burck Smith and Christopher Gergen started Smarthinking with the premise that professional instructors could deliver educational services via the Internet, particularly at non-traditional times. This fundamental premise behind Smarthinking has its roots in Smith’s previous research on economic and organizational challenges facing higher education (Smith, 1997, 1999). Set within the context of a consortium of Massachusetts community colleges, Smith argued that given the competition between public and private institutions, increasing prices, and state budget cuts, the expansion of multi-institution distance education options via the Internet could (a) increase student access and the variety of course offerings, (b) improve the quality of course offerings, and (c) decrease delivery costs (Smith, 1997, p. 23). The creation of Smarthinking was a logical extension of this position as the organization leverages a virtual workforce of educators; since Smarthinking is not limited by its geographic area, the organization is able to choose the most highly-qualified professionals to efficiently deliver services across various educational institutions while fostering equal or greater quality than individually run services from any one single institution or program (Chediak, 2005; Ehmann Powers & Hewett, 2008; Jaschik, 2005; Maeroff, 2003; Paley, 2006; Smith, 1999)

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