My thoughts on eduFire as a (biased) tutor

Note: This post was written before I knew there was a 1 on 1 option. Turns out the button to request tutoring only shows up when you’re logged in as a student instead of a tutor. I’m quite confused as to why that matters since you can join classes fine as a tutor but that’s a fault in the UI not the site itself. Be sure to check out the comments for more info. Also, why can’t I find a list of certain types of classes? You can mess with the url and add “/classes/language” such as to find all classes of that language but I can’t see a link to do this anywhere!

The title says it all. This viewpoint is completely biased and objectivity is impossible from my position as a Japanese tutor. Let me make that clear before I even start.

I decided to try an eduFire Japanese class as a student for mainly three reasons.

1. It was free.
2. I’m interested in seeing other styles of tutoring and keen on improving my own.
3. I’m always happy for any opportunity to keep up my Japanese.

Thoughts about the service

So I picked what looked to be the most advanced class out there, which as it turns out was an intermediate class. That brings me to the first thing that has me puzzled about eduFire. Are the classes free or no?

Currently, every Japanese class is listed as “Free” yet the tutors themselves list prices on their lessons. I’m assuming some tutors are offering free classes as a way to promote their class but every tutor? I guess it’s a good thing that all the tutors are so generous (more generous than me for sure).

That leaves me with the next question which is kind of made moot by the previous one but if you teach let’s say a $25 class and you somehow manage to attract 100 students, do you get paid $2500 x 0.85=$2125? Or even just 20 students, do you make 25 x 20 x 0.85= $425 for just one class? That’s quite a racket!

Even with a modest 5 students, you make $106.25 dollar for an hour, that’s like a high paid consultant. Why is it such a awesome deal for tutors (and incidentally the site who gets a 15% cut)? Because in most cases, the students are getting hoodwinked, that’s why. There are two aspects of language teaching which are often mixed together: presenting new information and practicing the new information.

The first aspect is non-interactive and is more of a lecture style presentation. This means I can create a YouTube video with the static information and charge every student to watch it. Maybe I can respond to questions via email. This is essentially what you are getting with if you join an “interactive” class with let’s say 50 other students. You can have a 100 or even 1,000 students, it scales well but it’s not something you’d want to pay for each time.

The second aspect is truly interactive and doesn’t scale at all. Conversation practice means you are either speaking or listening. Typically, beginner students will speaker less since the teacher has to correct and explain more. Ideally, you want to approach an even split as the student becomes more advanced. Let’s say for example, at an intermediate level, you speak for 30% of the time. For a private lesson, 70% of it is spent in listening to a Japanese speaker or getting corrections, all of which are to your benefit adding up to 100% goodness. For a two person lesson, the 30% listening time is split in two and you only get 15%. And the listening is of lesser value since half of it doesn’t apply to you. Let’s say you still get half of good general listening practice but waste a quarter of corrections and pointers that apply specifically to the other person. Now your goodness is down to 67.5%. You should be entitled to a 32.5% discount. In a standard regular 20 person class, you get a mere 6.25% speaking, 25% pure listening, and 3.125% specific pointers and corrections. That’s a mere 34.375% and that’s with a generous pure listening calculation! Personally, I think if you take a $20 class with 19 other people, you should be charged $1. After all, the teacher still makes the same $20 regardless, right?

But in the end, since all the classes seem to be free at the moment, I’m complaining about a completely hypothetical situation. I’m still confused as to why all the classes are free though and wonder how long that will last.

Thoughts on the lesson

I won’t say which but the class I took was absolutely horrible. I actually felt stupid and was almost convinced that I couldn’t speak Japanese at the end! The worst part of all this is that the class itself was actually quite normal. I had just forgotten how horrible regular Japanese classes were.

Basically, you’re like a talking robot that must spit out the correct answer when your button is pressed. The lesson was so formally structured that all you had to do was spit back the question with the answer filled in. There was no freedom or any form of conversation whatsoever. My hopes of getting some conversation practice were promptly crushed. The 自己紹介 was the only free portion of the whole thing and the tutor didn’t even ask any follow up questions or anything for that matter! It essentially became a monologue that I could type up and just read out loud. Also, for any corrections, there were no explanations on why it was wrong or expansion on similar examples.

When it’s your turn to talk and you’re thinking about what the teacher wants you to say, it means you’re a robot. It was Japanese class déjà vu. Seriously, I’m at the point where I’ve started thinking that the more formal teaching experience you get, the worse teacher you become. The lesson was free but it still cost me an hour of my increasingly dwindling free time. I’d like to try another class from another tutor but I’m afraid to waste any more time.

Maybe it’s just not my style or I’m biased and misinformed because the comments on the tutor were all stellar and full of praise. If any students of mine are reading this, please feel free to rip on my lessons and tell me where I’m going wrong here.

Thoughts on improvements

Now, the site obviously has nothing to do with how well an individual tutor or the classes are but I think there are certain things that can be done to improve the situation. After all, the site is only as good as its tutors. I think they’re missing out on the whole web 2.0 social network thing with their philosophy of classes. Classes just don’t work very well for learning languages but private tutoring is expensive and good teachers are hard to find. They should work on lowering the barrier of entry for tutors so that students can get more and more personal attention. The first most brain-dead barrier to entry is that the site itself is not localized. If you want more native Japanese tutors, maybe it might help to be able to use the site in Japanese? Duh. The second barrier to entry is that every tutor has to start from scratch with their own teaching material. There’s no way to put up teaching material on the site much less sharing and rating it amongst other tutors. That seems to me like a huge waste of effort. And how about some basic training or starter guides for potential tutors? Finally, the whole class philosophy makes tracking individual students very difficult. Personally, I keep notes of every private lesson not just for the students to review but for myself to help me remember what we’ve done so far and what remains to be done. After a few lessons, I have a pretty good idea of each student’s strong points and more importantly the stuff that needs to be worked on. Now obviously, I don’t scale very well but imagine what you can do with an whole army of qualified tutors with good teaching materials.

Right now, all the site does is help you find students, arrange a time, process payment, and perhaps pay a license fee for the flash application from Adobe, which has free alternatives anyway. I think it’s time to get a bit more ambitious and start thinking about how to become a game-changer for traditional language education.

Update: It looks like they might already be on the case.

12 thoughts on “My thoughts on eduFire as a (biased) tutor

  1. “I won’t say which but the class I took was absolutely horrible. I actually felt stupid and was almost convinced that I couldn’t speak Japanese at the end!”

    hahaha! Well, speaking for myself, I’ve used eduFire twice, each time w/ a different teacher back in October. One of them used an approach similar to what you described, whereas the other was more conversational.

  2. Let me clear up some of the cost / money issues here really quick:

    Right now, Japanese is on its own special little track which is moving towards subscriptions (which means eduFire’s sponsoring the Japanese classes to take place) – the prices you see on tutor profiles are for 1-on-1 tutoring (which generally seem to be around $20-$25 an hour), but tutors set different prices for classes which can be $5 or more (or free, if they want to promote themselves, a class, or be a philanthropist). So, nobody’s making $425 a class, though that would be pretty awesome, gotta say 🙂 Most classes are around $5 per student, though the classes economy is still figuring itself out, since classes was only just launched a week ago.

    You should definitely try out a 1:1 lesson with someone (I can recommend some people if you want) if you’re interested, and I’ll hook you up with a coupon so you won’t have to pay for it (just e-mail me). Especially someone of your level, I don’t know if classes would be for you (and of course, 1:1 is always going to be a more personal / educational experience, like you said).

    As for everything else, definitely thank you so much for your thoughts on improvement. I appreciate them muchly. There’s definitely a lot to improve on, and lots we can improve on 🙂 Thank you!

  3. I have been using edufire since around September of last year, when I started I was a complete beginner in Japanese. I was able to say a few words, some of which I found I was saying incorrectly at that! The eduFire classes are the best thing to have happened. I’m sure as an advanced learner, classes would be more difficult. That is what the 1 to 1 tutoring is for traditionally.

    btw, your numbers on the math are WAY off… if that was the case I’d be MUCH more motivated to learn so I can teach. The prices for the Classes are completely separate from the private tutoring costs. All Japanese classes are free right now (Which you did mention) however, with the exception of a few stranglers, all Language learning classes are $5 a class per person… generally speaking a class that charges wont see too many students (right now) so the idea of making 100s of dollars per night is quite a stretch. However, if a tutor wants to charge $25 a class, and they can attract 50 students, more power to them! I don’t see it happening though.

    If anything you should come be a tutor… You have some great points in your post, however I think you are looking at it from the wrong side of the site.. Be the change you want to see… You can always come tutor and have a whole new audience to teach to, we would all be grateful to have you… plus you can make a little cash on the side while helping a whole new group of people learn the language you are so passionate about!

    I hope to see you around

  4. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what you guys were talking about. Then I realized that it was because I signed up as a tutor. It’s odd that you have to create an entirely different account just to see the Request Tutoring button. It’s especially confusing since I can join classes fine as a tutor. In fact, I really don’t see the point of making that distinction at all.

    That’s why the first part of the post were more questions of confusion than criticism.

    @Ron, my setup is a lot more flexible for me but if edufire really did make things easier with a CMS and ways to manage my lessons and students, and had a strong teacher community, it certainly would have been a very tempting service.

    Having said that, I might try out a class or two for the fun of it (lecture style of course).

  5. Ah yeah, the double account thing is definitely something that’s being fixed – The ability for teachers to join classes is part of that fix, but going back and changing all the code to give teachers the ability to take 1:1 classes is going to take a bit of time.

  6. edufire isn’t perfect, but my tutor is pretty good. I think you are right when you say it’s up to the tutor. Because with the wrong tutor I could imagine edufire being a waste of time and money (although I don’t pay). And unlike the class you mentioned the classes I take are relaxed and chatty (so it’s not quite so formal) yet structured…and I have learned alot. I don’t think it would be something I’d be willing to pay for, but to guide me and motivate me in my self-studies (and you know, give me a starting point) they do the job.

  7. Insightful post, glad to have discovered this site.

    I came across your site from a EduFire’s list of language bloggers,
    and wanted to let you know I have a site which may be useful to your audience.

    I run a website called Leximo, and its a Multilingual User Collaborated Dictionary.

    You can find information on Leximo’s vision by reading the Leximo Dictionary Manifesto.

    Here is the link info for my site:


    We also actively blog here: and you’re welcome anytime to guest blog if you like. 🙂

    If you decided to share Leximo with your readers, we would appreciate it if you
    linked to us with the text, “Online World Dictionary” if it’s not a hassle.


  8. I came across to sometime last year. I was little skeptical but now I see it is taking off pretty good.

    I have thought about teaching on edufire too but haven’t got my act together to prepare materials for classes.

    Do you prepare anything for your classes?

  9. I think there is way too much finger pointing. Its not about what’s good, whats bad and so on. I think that yes someone who has experience teaching might have more skills in teaching, but Most of the learning is enhanced by the student… :/ that sounds too wordy. I mean as a student you have to be straightfoward. Tell the teacher before class, what has not worked for you in the past, or what kind of environment you like, I doubt that they will completely do as you wish, since they have a bit of the experience of teachign anyway, but if you are paying specially I am sure they can work around it. As far as the prices, $$ is always too expensive. I know from my own experience that wasting money hurts, but if you are serious about the language, then you will take a risk with a tutor, until you find the one that works for you. Some people spend $300 plus on programs and such, and they don’t learn nearly as much. I think learning a language is taking resource everywhere and making it a balance. You dont have to take 5 class a week, but take a once a week long class and spend teh rest of the week studying and using good language resource to enhance what you learn. At least, i think so…

  10. Great article. I have never actualy used edufire, but was planning on trying it out to see if it was worth recommending to students. This is very helpful. Thanks!

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