Running head: TUTOR TRAINING

Running head: TUTOR TRAINING


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Tutor Training and its Effect on Student Success:

A Review of the Literature



Tutor Training and its Effect on Student Success:

A Review of the Literature

College and Universities have been offering tutoring for undergraduate students since as early as 1637, when Harvard hired tutors to help teach Latin (Sheets, 2014). Since that time, tutoring services have become a ubiquitous part of the undergraduate learning environment, and, in an effort to improve student learning outcomes even more, tutor training programs are now considered nearly an essential to the process as the tutoring itself.

As tutoring centers increase the time and attention paid to developing their peer tutoring staff, following best training practices has become paramount. Tutoring coordinators and center directors want to ensure that training gives their peer tutors the best opportunity to help students learn, all while balancing budgetary constraints and lack of time to create and implement complex training plans. Thus, it is important that what training paradigms that exist are supported with healthy peer-reviewed literature, in addition to action research in the field. To that end, there are three central questions this literature review seeks to summarize using current research findings:

1. How does tutoring help students succeed?

2. Does training produce more effective tutors?

3. What type of training is best for quality tutoring to occur?

Research into these three questions will provide additional support for why tutoring programs deserve a lion’s share of funding from their colleges and universities, while also serving to shape future research into what makes effective tutor training programs, not only in terms of what they offer to support their peer tutors, but also being sure that the content and methodology being used in tutor training has a direct and significant connection to students’ success.

Influence of Tutoring on Student Success

Very few people question that tutoring is useful to student success: if it were not a long-standing successful model of student support, colleges and universities would have long ago ceased to fund them. Instead, a review of spending tends to find the opposite to be true—one North Carolina study, for example, found that community colleges spend upward of 10% of their budget on tutorial support services (Upswing, 2019), and the U.S. Department of Education spends over $275 million each year on tutorial support programs nationwide through its TRiO grant initiatives (U.S. Department of Education, 2016).

Within the collegiate landscape, peer tutoring (tutoring done by “near peer” students, rather than professional educators or by subject-matter experts) has been shown to have a strong and lasting effect on students beyond the initial promises of simply improving academic performance, but let’s not discount the strength of evidence highlighting the benefits to student retention and progression. Study after study has found that peer tutoring improves students’ academics; in a comprehensive review, Bailey (2010) cites several well-regarded peer-reviewed studies into the potential benefits of peer tutoring on student success: higher exam grades, higher course grades overall, and higher GPAs (grade point averages).

Other than positive course results for students who attend tutoring, peer tutoring also benefits students in other less tangible ways. MacLachlan and Hagger (2010) found that students who attend tutoring see an improvement in their self-determination and motivation. In a stressful environment where students may not immediately grok the importance of studying or the relationship between studying and good grades, higher motivation means a great deal, particularly as it relates to resiliency. In a similar study conducted on upper-class high school students, Monjelat, Méndez and Lacasa (2017) found that students who attended tutoring had more intense time-on-task, and used more active and discovery-based modes in their tutorial sessions than when they worked by themselves (with the caveat that Monjelat, et al., (2017) relied on an ill-defined problem as the basis for their research).

Longer-term benefits from attending tutoring can also be seen in the literature. Shiozawa, Hirt, and Lammerding (2016) discovered that students who attend tutoring are more organized in their studies and rate more highly in cooperative learning techniques. In other words, they are more willing to take the time to think through the steps and processes that will keep them on track, and they are also more likely to reach out for help, or to find ways to study together; both behaviors that would indicate greater long-term success in college, career, and home life. Another example of the value of tutoring is in the opportunity for the students to engage in what Kapur and Bielaczyc (2012) calls productive failure, where students intentionally continue forward even if they are uncertain of the outcome, knowing they can use the data from failing to help them try other types of success. Tutoring can help promote these low-risk failures by prompting hesitant students to respond to questions they don’t immediately know the answer to, or by asking students to perform a task in a tutoring session with help that the student feels they cannot accomplish on their own, then getting the student to reflect on what happened and make a plan to avoid the failure in the future. The value of this opportunity to fail productively cannot be understated: Kapur and Bielaczyc (2012) posits that productive failure while studying results in a growth-oriented mindset while also promoting stronger learning over time.

Tutoring is associated with a lot of positives, and peer tutoring in particular is cost-effective for the university in terms of return on investment (Bailey, 2010). Undergraduate peer tutors can be paid reasonably low wages for their work as a trade-off for assisting the tutor with building transferrable skills and giving back to their community. They are cheaper to hire and train than a professional staff member, and students tend to prefer tutors who are similar to them in age and interests (Bailey, 2010).

However, despite the positive attributes the literature ascribes to tutoring, there is a small gap in the literature with regard to scale and study reproduction. Many of the studies conducted are action research with small numbers of participants and often even fail to adequately describe the tutors themselves—not defining the role of the tutor at the institution, the type of tutorial setting the tutor works in or the demographics of the tutor clearly enough to compare results across institutions or institution types. Schmidt (2011), for example, only describes study participants by listing a count and average amount of tutoring experience, and does not describe gender, race, age, or other characteristics; then later providing even less detail about the students being tutored.

With few large-scale studies into tutoring, there is a lack of consensus across the literature regarding what makes tutoring effective, and thus many tutorial coordinators are unaware of why tutoring works, other than knowing that it does work. Without consensus and capacity building around best practices, each tutor or tutorial center may conceptualize the concept of “effective tutoring” differently, even though their studies might all use the same language to describe the work. More work certainly needs to be done in this area.


Influence of Training on Tutor Behavior

Moving forward with a clear picture about some of the potential benefits tutoring to the student, the next question is whether training makes a difference in the students’ experiences of success. Research on the effect of training points toward a positive correlation between tutor training and positive tutoring behaviors.

Examining that correlation more closely, MacLachlan and Hagger (2010) found that tutors who had been trained exhibited more autonomy-supporting behaviors than untrained ones— behaviors that included observable pedagogical techniques such as “offering encouragements,” “allowing students to work in their own way,” and “avoiding asking controlling questions” (p.1206). After discussing these autonomy-supporting behaviors through the lens of Ryan and Deci’s model of Self-Determination, MacLachlan posits that these positive techniques help students become more intrinsically-motivated learners, and that it is through training and reinforcement that tutors are able to use these autonomy-supportive techniques consistently throughout the tutorial session.

Without training, many people might assume that some tutors could naturally exhibit positive and supportive behaviors on their own through experience-based reinforcement; however, the research doesn’t support that assumption. Bailey (2010) found that untrained tutors were more likely to use lecturing and explaining techniques and were far less likely to use open-ended questions. Similarly, in a meta-analysis comparing background, training, and experience, Leary, Walker, Shelton, and Fitt (2013) found that the biggest predictor of successful tutee was tutor training. Not only was training found to be the biggest positive predictor of success, however. In their review, Leary, et al. (2013) found that tutors with more experience were the least likely to use positive tutoring behaviors over time—untrained but experienced tutors were more likely to lecture and explain concepts, whereas the more trained tutors were more likely to engage in content questioning, and other supportive and engaging behaviors.

Leary, et al. (2012) is not the only study to be able to show tutor training is beneficial to quality tutoring. Scharfenberg & Bogner (2019) found that more training and reinforcement activities produced “less inadequate tutor-student interactions” when compared to a similar group of untrained peer tutors. Shiozawa, et al. (2016) also found that tutors who have been trained have better student outcomes than those who have not, even though they trained tutors using a completely different training methodology.

The literature is straight forward to this point: tutor supervisors should provide regular and consistent tutor training to their staff, because trained staff have been shown to perform better in quantitative and objective analysis. Bailey (2010) put it succinctly, “research has shown that students’ academic success improves significantly when they receive tutoring from trained staff” (p. 1). However, qualitative studies have also been able to show support for tutor training as a valuable tool from the student and tutor perspectives as well.

While student satisfaction is not always a reliable indicator of a good learning environment, having a satisfying tutorial experience encourages the student to continue to attend and thus reinforce their learning more— if students enjoy tutoring, that means they are more likely to seek it out. Thus the value in Truuvert (2012); the researcher discovered through interviews and focus groups that students who had the choice between an untrained tutor and a trained tutor were more likely to select the trained tutor for repeated visits, even when the training status of the tutor was not known to the student.

Calma and Eggins (2012) found a similar positive result regarding tutors’ experiences with training—tutors generally enjoy training and particularly the opportunity to get support and feedback from each other and faculty/staff during the training experience. Tutors reported wanting to spend more time in training reinforcing their learning through role plays, activities, and other low-risk practice opportunities.

Thus, it is fairly conclusive that tutor training is an important feature of successful tutoring, and that expenditures of time, effort, and money, on training initiatives is not a misuse of resources by any measure. Based on current literature, tutors who are trained are more likely to use good question asking techniques (Schmidt, 2011; MacLachlan & Hagger, 2010), are more likely to create quality learning environments for their students (Truuvert, 2011; Bailey, 2010), and are less likely to use lecturing as the primary mode of support (Leary, 2013).

Influence of Training Methodology on Tutor Development

Our last question deals with what type of training topics and methodology have the greatest impact on tutorial session outcomes. Tutors hold a somewhat ambiguous role in the post-secondary setting due to their job responsibilities—they’re expected to take a leadership role within the tutorial session, while also having little power over the students’ course progress (Schmidt, 2011). According to Schmidt (2011), this ambiguity can result in newly hired tutors creating the rules of tutoring for themselves, resulting in inconsistent tutoring experiences for students.

For this reason, training tutors on the responsibilities that make a tutor effective seems to be a good topic, even though there is a gap in the literature regarding whether this sort of “tutor responsibilities” training results in student success. For an idea of what a tutor might be trained on in a session designed to decrease the ambiguity of the role, there are some critical reviews of tutoring that provide strong definitions. For example, according to Calma and Eggins (2012), tutoring responsibilities include making course information (structures and topics) explicit to the students; students in tutoring get to authentically respond to the learned material, build on their background knowledge and confront their misconceptions.

Other content suggestions come from Truuvert (2012), which found that tutors who were trained on learning strategies and basic educational psychology were able to enhance the students’ experiences in the tutorial session more effectively, and focused some of the time in session on helping students learn how to problem-solve on their own. Other studies, such as MacLachlan and Hagger (2010), found similar results—tutors who were trained in supportive behaviors around learning consistently used those behaviors in session to promote student autonomy.

Other research focuses less on the content of training and more on the type of training methodology. Scharfenberg and Bogner (2019) found that tutors who are trained using a role-play-based training methodology produced tutors with stronger understanding of procedural pedagogical knowledge (i.e., they were better able to apply good teaching and coaching methods in their sessions). Calma and Eggins (2012) also found that tutors responded more strongly to active training techniques like think-pair-shares and case studies.

Relatedly, Zhang, Lundeberg, and Eberhardt (2011) discuss the value of problem-based learning in tutor training, and how, in a similar fashion to how Monjelat, et al. (2017) found students were more attentive and more willing to take risks in a problem-based tutoring session, tutors are more likely to retain training information over a longer period of time when the training material directly relates to a problem they need to solve. It’s unclear if Zhang, et al. (2011) points definitively toward experiential learning or training that is concurrent with tutoring, but their findings seem to suggest this concept is a valuable avenue to discover.

There is not much literature on what topics or structure used for tutor training produces optimal results across populations of tutors and student types, but in addition to the several small studies highlighted previously, there are internationally-recognized organizations that offer support and guidance on how to build a successful tutor training program, based on decades of research and experience. The College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA) has served as a certifying body for tutor training programs in the United States and abroad since the 1980s, and during that time have produced several publications and guides to help tutorial program administrators design and implement training. CRLA (2019) recommends the following features:

· Tutors should receive a minimum 10 hours of training, at least six of which should be live, interactive and synchronous. This requirement is supported by literature such as Calma and Eggins (2012) which describes how in-person training promotes the active exchange of ideas and the mentorship between supervisor and tutors to elicit longer-term buy-in by removing community isolation.

· Tutors should work toward accruing at least 25 hours of experience tutoring students, to practice applying the skills they have learned or are learning in training. The combination of tutoring and training here is supported by Shiozawa, et al., 2016; Zhang, et al, 2012).

· Tutors should be aware of, and trained using, a clear set of standards and objectives—to include The Dos and Don’ts of Tutoring, Study Skills, Communication, etc. Many of the topics suggested by CRLA align with the studies that have been done on tutoring effectiveness (Calma & Eggins, 2012; Schmidt (2011); others).

A comprehensive review of the effect of these requirements on tutor training across a large sample size could not be found in the literature. However, it is well-regarded in the field and has been identified as a valuable set of guidelines for continual development of tutor training systems (Boylan, Bliss, and Bonham, 1994; Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, 2010).

Conclusion and Recommendations

The research at this point is seemingly conclusive that peer tutoring contributes to student success, that training helps tutors be more successful, and that certain training topics or techniques yield good training results for peer tutors at the collegiate level. Tutor trainers have a wide collection of materials (from the published CRLA and CAS recommendations, to decades of peer-reviewed studies into various components of tutoring) that they can use in conceptualizing an effective training topic. However, to advance the topic past action research and self-study, a stronger connection needs to be made between tutor training and student success across institutions. A sizeable gap in the literature is an analysis of tutor training programs nationwide or even regionally to determine larger-scale successful trends demonstrating consistent results across different research methodologies and tutor/student populations.

One recommendation based on a review of the literature is that research should shift toward addressing questions, such as: what are the most important topics for tutors to learn to improve their chances of impacting student success, and how can tutor supervisors create the best training environment for supporting their staff and ultimately contributing to students’ successes in higher education.

In addition to designing larger and more comprehensive research studies, the connection between training undergraduate peer tutors and adult training methodology in general seems to be lacking—most research on tutor training tends to be published in journals on higher education or teaching, whereas most research on training adults in the workplace are published in journals dedicated to human resources or corporate hiring. So, a research study that could draw these two ideas together would fill a niche that tutoring centers would benefit greatly from. While the research on tutoring and tutor training is nowhere near its infancy, tutor training research at this stage needs to seek to validate training modules built on andragogic principles, rather than on pedagogical ones.

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