Tutoring Online: An Introduction to our Resource

In this blogpost I will introduce PDLT’s ‘Tutoring Online’ resource, which is available to any member of staff (please contact vle-support@york.ac.uk if you’d like to be given access). This is a self-study resource which was produced by PDLT with input from some experienced online tutors from across the university.

It was developed pre-pandemic mainly as a way to support the tutors delivering our fully online programmes. Since then, all teaching ‘went online’ for a period of time, and much of it continues to be so as we head towards a new academic year.

We would recommend this resource to anyone involved with online teaching and regardless of your experience level. It can serve as an entry point to tutoring online (as it covers foundational concepts and practical techniques), yet is built around open-ended reflective tasks, completing which should benefit even the most experienced of online tutors.

Here are some further key points about the resource:

  • Time to complete: we think it will take most people around 5 hours to work through from start to finish (although clearly this might vary, and you can certainly use it flexibly, as needed)
  • Focused on delivery rather than design: the resource focuses on approaches to supporting student activity/engagement with online materials (rather than the actual design of those materials – which is a related area but can be seen as separate – if you would like support/guidance on online learning design, please feel free to contact us)
  • Practical, theory-informed and context-sensitive: along with the intention to foster reflective practice and continual development, these three things were at the forefront of our minds when we developed the resource. We wanted users to come away with practical tips for online tutoring that are rooted in established pedagogical theory and are open to adaptation depending on context
  • Active self-study: as already mentioned, the resource is built around activities as well as input/information, we hope that you’ll find it engaging and enjoyable to work through!

I’ll now provide an overview of the content. This may be of interest in itself, in terms of looking at the structure we used and the themes/topics which we selected. It will also serve as a preview of what to expect if you’re thinking of requesting access to the resource.

As an introduction, Unit 1 addresses fundamental questions around online tutoring such as how it differs from face-to-face teaching, including specific affordances and limitations (and following on from this, how to play to affordances and mitigate against limitations). The unit also introduces relevant foundational concepts which can underpin successful online tutoring practice, such as the community of inquiry model (Garrison and Anderson, 2017) and transactional distance (Moore, 1997).

Unit 2 covers a range of topics which are significant to understanding your own tutoring context, in terms of reflecting on how they might impact your practice and how to respond accordingly. To give a few examples of the contextual factors that are covered, these include: activity design and teaching model used, student factors, handling high student numbers, synchronous contact or not? and considering the specific tool set you are using.

Unit 3 goes into further detail on general aspects of theory and practice, including specific dimensions of the community of inquiry model, such as how to demonstrate the ‘three presences’ which can help you to achieve success as an online tutor (cognitive, teaching and social). Unit 4 tackles areas of theory/practice relating specifically to the early stages of a module (e.g. ice-breaking, socialising and modelling) whereas unit 5 covers areas specifically relevant to the middle and latter stages of delivery, including how to manage discussion boards and how to summarise/weave learning across a module.

I hope this has whetted your appetite to look at our resource, and see how it can help you to reflect on and develop your online tutoring practice! If so, please remember that you can request access via the email address above, if you don’t already have access.

Next month, I will follow up this blogpost with an entry on how I have used ‘Tutoring Online’ as a flipped resource for online tutor training sessions, including some further ideas on how you can theorise and develop your practice.


Garrison, D.R. and Anderson, T. (2017). E-learning in the 21st Century – A community of inquiry framework for research and practice (3rd edition). Oxford: Routledge.

Moore, M. (1997) Theory of transactional distance. In Keegan, D., ed. Theoretical Principles of Distance Education. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 22-38.

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