Why Asynchronous Online Tutoring Is Not Cheating

How Online Written Assistance Is The Pulse Of Our Time

"Nothing is more powerful for your future than being a gatherer of good ideas and information. That's called doing your homework."–Jim Rohn

We have come a long way from scribbling on a stone to cloud computing (internet storage). Today, we are living in a time of disruptive innovation and digital libraries and we no longer look for answers, we simply google them! This is the time of Kindle, Google for Education, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), etc., where you can learn anytime, anywhere.

According to the following humorous statement, "to steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research." This statement itself has been credited to many authors, though on the internet it shows up as coined by Wilson Mizner. Every day on Facebook, one comes across a quote which one day is attributed to Shakespeare and the other day to a famous American president. The internet is fast becoming a catalyst that is facilitating learning as we browse through pieces of news and come across "viral" content in our day-to-day lives. The point is netizens are living in an age where the internet is the biggest knowledge repository facilitating interactive learning and it is fundamental for improving the quality of education.

The Evolution Of Learning

Now, imagine a class of Greek scholars, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the famous teacher of Alexander the Great, and what must be ensuing there. Students sitting on rocks—obviously the writer’s imagination is largely inspired by motion pictures—and furtively jotting down their notes on a piece of a prototype of paper. All that must have ensued would have been surely "intellectual." The larger point here is that when a tutee listens to the teacher and later writes the same point during an examination, this is not "cheating." This act of memorizing something and later producing it verbatim is called "learning."

But why go that far? Let’s talk about a generation that we are all familiar with and take a peek into their learning style, Gen X (1965-1980) who got introduced to technology much later in their lives. Think of how Gen X learned. First, of course, there was a classroom. If you did not get the lesson, you could go to the library and find books that could answer your questions. Even then if you had a doubt, you could always go for face-to-face tutoring or refer to books that were rightly called "guides." Guides or answer keys were the books where you looked for answers if you needed textbook solutions or step-by-step answers for mathematical problems. This act in itself was not cheating but it was viewed as a part of research or making an effort. It was seen as referring to books to increase one’s knowledge. This very act of bothering to look up an answer from a "key" was appreciated and it was definitely not cheating.

Now, the Oxford dictionary defines cheating as " to act in a dishonest way in order to gain an advantage, especially in a game, a competition, an exam, etc." So what was called cheating was the act itself of scribbling notes, peeping from books, any kind of body art that comprised of hands tattooed with theorems and equations, and even scribbles of papers being passed around in the examination hall.

The advent of technology ushered an era of online tutoring where learning is just a click away. Students of the digital age have access to learning 24/7, even in the wee hours of the morning! There is a whole new wave of learners and they are citizens of a global community. The platform belongs to everyone today, from the "early birds" to the "night owls;" from children with special needs to introverts and extroverts; from homeschoolers to those like Malala Yousafzai learning from a war-stricken region.

What Is Asynchronous Tutoring

A lot of literature already exists on online tutoring or synchronous tutoring but today let’s look at asynchronous tutoring. Asynchronous tutoring relies on offline coursework. Now, asynchronous tutoring is often vilified as it is viewed from the old lens of old-schoolers as something akin to cheating. The argument here is that this is not the case for Gen Y (1981-1996), Gen Z (1995-2010) or even for the super technology-savvy, upcoming Generation Alpha (2011-2025). They are the ones that are growing up on technology and they have grown up in a world where the internet is their guide for everything. Let’s see how the users look at it:

Rebecca Howell, a freelance tutor, opines that research cannot be considered cheating. She states that if online assignments help facilitate a better understanding of a subject, then it cannot be called "cheating."

Tim Haston, 7th grade Math and Science Teacher at Global Learning Charter Public School, advises that "due diligence is required" and "the assistance from a tutor/internet/app is simply allowing you to learn how to do the skill or giving you the support to do the work and succeed."

Kip Wheeler, a faculty sponsor for Alpha Chi Honor Society, also believes that this act of looking for assignment answers is not cheating if one is using it for research. However, he believes the internet can’t replace learning, only supplement it [1].

The point is the intent of the user defines what cheating is. A student who wishes to cheat has an equal chance of doing it anyway. Then why look down upon eLearning sites that provide written assistance to students?

VARK Learning Preference

Neil Fleming, an educational theorist, who propositions the VARK learning style, elaborates: "So written assistance is for those learners who prefer an offline interaction, where they can get a walkthrough or text-based input so that they can learn the way they want to. It is simply a preferred learning style for someone who learns best through words."

What’s Happening In The Age Of The Internet Today

According to 8 Top Websites Students Use To Cheat by cbsnews.com, Wikipedia Encyclopedia tops the list. Now Wikipedia is the go-to website and it is the most credible source for any online user. If this news baffles you, let’s have a look at what it states:

"The larger point here is to point out the fact that if a student wishes to cheat, there are a thousand different ways they can. The internet also makes it harder to cheat as there are so many tools like plagiarism checkers, tools that can detect paraphrased content, and many more. At the same time, those students who intend to cheat go to any extent to do that. There have been reports where students have been found using spy cameras, fake fingerprints, and even electronic erasers!"


Let us broaden our minds and look at written help as not cheating but simply a way of learning. It could help better prepare a young mind for an upcoming examination or simply give a few pointers of reference to a young scholar to develop a theory on.

Every idea or theory that exists today was largely built upon a previous idea. There are constitutions in the world that to many may appear as a copy-paste job of existing constitutions of developed countries but to that given country, they are like a beautiful patchwork of democratic thoughts woven together. It is time to change this way of thinking and how we define "cheating" and it is about time we made a case for written help. Online tutoring platforms offer written help or asynchronous tutoring to their students. eLearning is here to stay so it is about time we changed our mindset and looked at learning styles with a new lens.


[1] Why is looking for homework/assignment answers online considered cheating?