In the 1980s, Benjamin S. Bloom, a professor of education, and his doctorate students were on a quest to solve the riddle.
“Can students taught in a group, be able to achieve as much as a student taught in a tutoring environment?”
“Tutoring” was defined as a learning environment where students “learn the subject matter with a good tutor for each student, or for two or three students simultaneously” by his doctoral students, Anania (1981) and Burke (1983) in their respective comparative studies.
In the studies conducted by Professor Bloom’s students, the group of students that was tutored achieved more than students who weren’t.
Why is this so?
Professor Bloom observed that in a conventional classroom environment, teachers often favoured some students over others. Often times, the teachers were unaware of the favouritism. Most believe they had treated students equally.
The situation contrasts greatly with tutoring, where the one-to-one learning environment makes it more difficult for the tutor to overlook weaker areas of their tutee. This might be the reason that supported Professor Bloom’s observation, that only 20% of students from a conventional class were able to match the achievements of tutored students, while the remaining 80% fell short.
Professor Bloom’s recommendation
Based on a study by Nordin (1979) and Tenenbaum (1982), Professor Bloom recommends teachers hold a “mirror” to themselves.
This is done by way of having an observer in the classroom, anonymous input from students, or assessing an audio/visual recording of the class in session. This enables teachers to better understand their own teaching methods and areas of improvement, which in turn will improve students’ engagement.
The method of using observers to improve the teachers teaching approach showed significant results, which reflected “1.5 sigmas” or 1.5 standard deviation above the average of the students from a conventional classroom environment.
This was a great discovery. However, Professor Bloom found that the result lagged behind tutoring which he described as the “2 sigma problem” .
Students who underwent tutoring outperformed 98% of the standard classroom students.
How does this apply today?
Decades on, there seems to be no known solution to the “2 sigma problem”. It is clear that one-to-one tutoring is by far the most optimal form of learning but it is not feasible financially on a global scale.
With the advancement of technology, perhaps the change will happen sooner than we think! Taxis are nearly replaced by Uber in most cities, Blockbuster goes extinct as Netflix rise in dominance, and the list goes. Our take is, innovation should impact education positively.
Private tuition may still be too costly or inaccessible for many households today. But we are already seeing technology starting to disrupt business schools and universities like never before. We believe the accessibility of tech will solve the 2 sigma problem and bring an end to the classroom dilemma, globally.
teachnlearn hopes to provide quality teachers through our online tutoring marketplace where all student can access education.