imtchr.com – Helping the Teachers / Tutors

In this post about the imtchr.com / mytchr.com project I am going to focus on the second group on the online education market, the teachers, what specific problems they face today and how imtchr.com is going to solve those.

This is equally true for teachers / tutors who choose to work on a marketplace or platform as well as for edupreneurs.

As usual, let me start by describing the status quo and where I see the main problems.

Teachers are not marketers

Most platforms today are built on the idea of a shared effort, meaning that both sides of the table, the platform and the teacher, have to contribute to the success of the platform as a whole because when the platform will succeed, more students will use the service and therefore more teachers will be able to earn money with their teaching. This system works as long as each side is doing what it can do best. In case of the platform offering a stable service, take care of the payment and, of course, do the marketing. Teachers / tutors focus on their lessons and create new material.

What we have seen over the past years is that is not the case in reality. Shared effort as we have it today on the market means that teachers / tutors don’t only push, they are also expected to pull new students. But teachers are not marketers, at least not those who chose to teach on a platform. Of course, it is ok for them to contact a student who signed up for the service, offering their teaching but marketing their services outside of the platform is not on their agenda. Teachers / tutors choose a platform for its convenience, the platform takes care of everything, the teacher can concentrate on the teaching. But as we see it today, this system is broken.

Credentials and reputation

One of the core assets for anybody who offers services on the Internet is reputation. How can potential customers, in our case students, be sure of the product, in our case live online lessons, they are buying? The common way are of course ratings and credentials and the problem with this kind of reputation is that it is not portable.

As teachers / tutors tend to have multiple accounts over the various services on the Internet, they have also multiple reputations. On one platform they can be a very well reputed teacher, on the other one they might have no reputation at all and therefore a low chance to attract new potential students. Basically, if you are able to find a platform quite early after the launch and establish yourself with some lessons and ratings you have a bigger chance of getting students over the long run as a teacher who signs up later.

This is a problem not only for teachers but also for platforms as they are not able to validate what teachers sign up for their service. Maybe he / she is already very experienced and it might be valuable for the service to get this teacher / tutor in the core team. But due to the ranking of platforms today (lessons given / ratings) those teachers might never get a chance to teach on the platform as students pick of course the highest rated teachers most of the time. Therefore, the reputation system for online teachers is broken.

Being at several places at once

As it is very difficult for teachers to estimate which of the different platforms on the market will be able to lead the most students to them. This is due to the credential / reputation problem described above but at the moment teachers feel that there are far more teachers on the Internet than students and this led to different problems we are facing today like low price competition amongst them in order to attract students, the general trend to open an account on every platform available which then led to waiting lists for teachers on some platforms in order to control the ratio of teachers and students, to name only a few. But if we take the two points above into consideration then it is quite obvious that the effect of having multiple accounts does not necessarily lead to more lessons. It might even hurt your chances when you start becoming inconsistent in the pricing, don’t update your profiles, don’t answer to inquiries etc.

Teacher or Tutor?

This has been an ongoing discussion basically since the launch of language learning marketplaces and platforms. When are you a (professional) teacher, when are you a tutor. Often this separation is done via pricing but just because I take a high hourly rate does not make me a professional teacher and taking low rates does not necessarily define the quality of my lessons. If you then count in the fact that the market is a global one and that highly qualified teachers from developing countries have more and more access to high speed internet and computers with webcams, microphones etc you can see that this definition does not work, it’s broken.

The Solution

The solution to the problems above is a unified online identity for teachers. imtchr.com will offer a free, basic version and an enhanced premium version for a monthly or yearly subscription. Both versions will have the following key functions as the basic features.

  1. Web Business Card
    imtchr.com will be a simple, clearly designed online business card which will give potential students who look at the page all relevant information at a glance. This will include a profile picture, a short bio, the topics and levels taught. The free version of imtchr.com pages will display one ad. This ad will be relevant to the profile the student is viewing. There will only be education related advertisements on the imtchr.com pages which are hand selected.For the layout teachers will have the choice between different color schemes and backgrounds to individualize the look and feel of their online identity.
  2. Booking and Reputation
    Furthermore the teacher / tutor will be able to link to the different platforms and services he / she offers his / her services. Based on this information imtchr.com will display the ratings (0 to 5 stars) and lessons given directly behind the links. It will allow the students a complete overview on the overall reputation of the teacher, no matter which platform the student then finally chooses to book a lesson on.
  3. Matching Criteria
    As I described in my blog post about the student’s side, imtchr.com / mytchr.com will be based on a student teacher compatibility matching algorithm (thank you to Jamie Dick-Cleland of uSpeak for coining that phrase) which will enable students to find the best teacher / tutor for their needs based on criteria such as common interests, certifications, availabilities, pricing etc. Teachers and tutors will be able to enter those criteria even in the free basic version of imtchr.com which will eventually enhance their chances to get booked by a student. This criteria will also set a new, relevant focus on the booking process as it is far more precise than just deciding to book a teacher based on ratings and lessons given.

    This criteria will also include an option for business clients to search for teachers / tutors who are accredited and who offer invoicing for their services as those are very important factors for company trainings. Therefore teachers / tutors will be able to enter their legal registration number and VAT number.

Those three core assests will be largely sufficient for a big part of online teachers. As I said, they are perfectly happy with “just” teaching a student. imtchr.com / mytchr.com will do the pulling part not only for the teachers but of course also for the platforms which can then focus on offering better services to students and teachers who are using their system.

Premium Features

If you happen to be an edupreneur though who decided to offer their teaching services independently, those basic services won’t be enough. For these customers imtchr.com will offer a set of premium features at a very fair pricing, starting at $4.99 per month / $49.99 per year. Also, if a teacher chose to downgrade his / her premium account for whatever reason it would simply switch back to the basic free version.

  1. Premium Business Card
    The premium imtchr.com page will be ad free and at the place where the advertisements are displayed on the free pages, a premium subscriber will have the possibility to embed a video to promote his / her services.For the layout premium subscribers will have the choice between different color schemes and backgrounds but also the possibility to further enhance their pages with customized schemes and uploaded backgrounds.
  2. Social Network Profiles, Websites, Blogs
    Premium subscribers will have the possibility to link to their different social network profiles, personal websites and blogs and there will also be a feature to display latest blog posts, Tweets or other status messages on the page.
  3. Direct Contact
    Students will be able to directly contact the teacher via a safe contact form. Teachers will also able to choose, if they want to display their Skype status on the page in order to receive direct calls from interested students.
  4. Direct Purchases
    As it is always the best to minimize the number of steps a customer needs to make until purchasing imtchr.com will offer different possibilities of direct purchases through the teacher page. On the one hand we will partner with different platforms which then enable their teachers to sell lessons or videos etc directly on imtchr.com without the need for the student to change the website.And as this enhanced service is targeting edupreneurs, premium subscribers will have the possibility to directly sell their services to students on imtchr.com through a basic online shop. At the beginning imtchr.com will offer payments through PayPal, later on more services will be added. There will be no transaction fees from the side of imtchr.com.
  5. Personalized Virtual Classroom
    For teachers / tutors who prefer teaching in virtual classroom systems with whiteboard etc there will be the option for a personalized and branded classroom solution.

I hope this gives you a good and detailed overview of the different features and option imtchr.com will offer. If you think this service is valuable and will provide value to our industry as a whole, please support the project in the following ways:

  • Donate
    The amount of your donation is totally up to you as every sum will get us closer to the beta launch. If you decide to donate 25€ or more, you will receive a lifetime free premium account on imtchr.com as soon as the service launches plus your voice will be heard along the way. I will offer all 25€ + donators the possibility to actively shape the platform by voting on the design and by listening to your input.

    The link for the donation page is http://funds.gofundme.com/vpjs

  • Share
    Please share this project with your fellow educators, students or friends and PLN. As imtchr.com aims at helping all teachers and tutors on the Internet as well as the students and platforms everybody is invited to participate and profit from our service.

Thank you to all supporters of imtchr.com so far and I am really looking forward to build this product together with you.

In the next post I will focus on the benefits for the third group on the market, platforms and marketplaces.

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  • chinamike

    The problem with ratings is that different companies rate differently. Some rate a teacher based on popularity, a few base it on teaching effectiveness (how quickly they can bring X student to a given level Y).

    These two rating systems are incompatible. I personally have been in the classes of well-liked teachers (often charismatic) who were, simply put, inadequate. In other instances the poll results we got from students matched with in-class observations but not always. I remember one teacher who consistently received high ratings from students but he always passed along poorly prepared students.

    The problem is not only the technical difficulty of collecting individual ratings but also figuring out what these ratings truly reflect.

    Currently, I’d argue most on-line companies ratings reflect a teacher’s popularity. The bigger the sample is, the more you can assume that popularity probably reflects positively on a teacher’s effectiveness. But at small sample sizes this can’t be assumed.

    So what will you be measuring popularity or effectiveness?

    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      As imtchr.com will focus on online education, the measurements / ratings are basically the same. 0 to 5 stars, lessons given. What differs are the ways platforms display their teachers. As you know, Myngle boosts “active” hence selling teachers, others just by the star rating.

      As you (and I) say, this is not sufficient, therefore the enhanced search via mytchr.com. The thing that those ratings can help us with is to display the reputation on one centralized page. If I am a good teacher (well rated) on one platform, there is no reason why I should be a bad teacher on another. The interesting thing for students is that they can see all the different ratings through the different platforms on one page without visiting each single one of them. The student can then choose where to book the teacher as the student might have a preference here.

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  • chinamike

    You caught me at home.

    Hmm, you may have a real problem if you rely on school’s reputation systems. Not only will they be difficult to compare but schools have incentives to inflate the reputations of their teachers. Good overall teacher reputations make schools look good. In other words, they help polish a school’s reputation. Now, what this means to me isn’t that the numbers are necessarily being falsified (and that could be happening) but that the reputation questions are weak- they don’t necessarily reflect what is really happening in the classroom.

    So my list seems to keep growing. Here are some dangers:
    1. Some schools clearly benefit by posting good reputation scores. They have a real incentive to influence these numbers.
    2. Some scores might reflect on a teacher’s popularity while others might reflect on teaching effectiveness.
    3. On some sites a teacher’s reputation can be falsely built at very little cost especially in the early going.

    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      But we are actually not talking about schools at the moment. That would be a B2B solution down the road. What I am talking about are Myngle, eduFire, WiZiQ, learn2lingo, Lingueo, Blueteach, italki, … and all of them have basically the same rating systems, so this part is really easy.

      I agree that listings for schools are something different but that will come at a later stage.

  • http://www.vikramadhiman.com/ Vikrama Dhiman

    Difficult but not impossible problem to solve. Its certainly not going to be easy. All the best!

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  • http://www.uspeaklanguages.com Jamie Dick-Cleland

    Kirsten i think this is great
    I think that the teacher-student matching will simply result in a higher student satisfaction rate, more stickiness, and thus appealing teachers becoming more rewarded for their ‘marketability’
    A good idea would be to compile the student feedback on what they want their teachers to be like and then to present it to the teachers so what they can see the trends for themselves and modify their methodologies, mentalities accordingly.
    I’m looking to hear more about the virtual classroom and the booking elements to see how that will link to the teacher availability across multiple websites. Having to manually update all sites manually must be a pain.
    The benefits to the teachers and students are clear. I bet the people from verbalplanet, mygle etc are looking forward to next week’s post! ;)

    i’m still not clear on the difference between teacher and tutor by the way!

    Jamie
    uSpeak

  • Jamie

    Kirsten this is great.
    I think that teacher-student matching is going to make for greater student satisfaction, which will benefit everyone involved. An idea may be for you to collate all of the data that the students submit and present it to the teachers so that they can re-assess their own approach and be more entrepreneurial, they are the ones who will need to match the demands of the students after all.
    One big thing that I would work on is a way of homogenising the scheduling/availability modules across all platforms, which may in fact be easier than anticipated if class booking reminders include an outlook/entourage/google calendar event. If i were a teacher on multiple platforms i would not want to have to go onto my 4 sites every time i made plans/had a booking in order to make sure that my availability was updated. If i were to forget it would look bad from a client(student)'s perspective.
    R.e ratings, feedback on teacher performance, there has been a whole load of research on what makes students happy and more willing to come back for another class, they are motivational factors that have to do with objective achievement, where the objectives are: to learn and to be happy. Student feedback on teachers should, in my humble opinion, be more that just 1-5. 1-5 is limiting the student's 'vocabulary' considerably. At the same time you dont what to as them to write an essay every time they have a class so you have to strike a balance.
    One of our biggest missions at uSpeak is to get data from student and teacher feedback and make it actionable, i think in the digital era we are in a massively advantageous to make improvements instantly without having to re-print books, meet with out colleagues and speak to our customers.
    I bet the people from myngle, verbalplanet etc are looking forward to next week's post, i certainly am ;)

    Let's hope imtchr will be one of the tools that we can use to bring offline students online.

    @chinamike Your points on reputation are totally solvable. It's just a matter of developing a proprietary (and improved) rating system and showing the benefits to the other learning platforms. To me at least it is clear that the current star system is totally inappropriate.

    Keep up the good work Kirsten, my donation is on it's way

    Jamie
    uSpeak

    • chinamike

      Jamie,

      As I was writing my earlier post and then looking at some of the (usually 5 star) rating systems of the schools that Kirsten wants to “work with” I also came to the conclusion that some kind of proprietary system will probably need to be created. But aren't the parameters of that system being defined by the platforms? I meant how can you measure what the platforms don't. Won't all of the platforms need to measure things in common for the factor being measured to have any validity?

      BTW, from experience, I totally agree with you when you identified “learning and being happy” as the things that make a student more likely to return. Another factor which might not be investigated by the researcher is the availability of alternative solutions. Do you know?

      • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

        I don't think that we need to redefine the rating systems as they are pretty common across the Internet. What we need to do is to add new aspects to it to set the focus on other, more important things.

    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      Thanks again for the valuable input JDC :)

      There is another “stealth” project on the table for a later stage that will take care of scheduling etc but it is definitely on the list.

      I think there is also a difference between individual teachers and schools. Teachers have their own reputation and are booked on that, schools have an overall reputation and students sign up for that, not essentially for the individual ratings. Therefore we will probably offer another model for the B2B sector.