2 min read

Tutoring vs. Coaching – The difference between teaching content and strategies

Imagine this: You are struggling in your math class. You are a bright individual, quick on the uptake, but when it comes time to preparing for a test, you get lost. You think you understand everything, but you just don’t know how to prove to everyone else that you know the material.

What’s the solution? Get a tutor, go for extra help, simply just try harder?

Many times, tutoring is the sought after solution, but it’s a solution to a problem that might not be at the root of the issue. I like to think of this analogy: You need to screw in a screw, so you grab a flathead screwdriver, only to discover what you really need is a Philips head.  Tutoring assists in gaining content knowledge (i.e., there are two different types of screwdrivers), whereas coaching teaches the strategies that assist us in how to learn successfully (i.e., when a screwdriver doesn’t work, what do you do?). Learning the difference between a flathead vs. Phillips is tutoring, but knowing when, why, and how to use them is coaching.


Sometimes you may miss content in class, need more one-on-one attention to review the material, have questions on what you need to know and how to do it, or struggle with moving from practicing material to doing it independently. Tutoring can help with these obstacles. Tutoring is supplemental help to provide more opportunities for learning content. Tutors can explain confusing topics, review example problems, and really dive into curriculum. All of this can be beneficial, but sometimes learners also need guidance on what to do when the tutor leaves to tackle the content independently. If tutoring doesn’t seem to be remediating all of the obstacles, it may be a good idea to think about how coaching can help fill in the gaps.


Maybe you know that you have a problem (or not), but you don’t know what to do. Coaching can be a method of guiding individuals in learning how to identify issues, create goals, and implement a problem solving action plan. Coaching can manifest in different ways for people, but the overarching goal is to provide the individuals with the ability to 1) know themselves and their learning style best (metacognition), 2) identify problems so they can access resources and strategies (self-monitoring), and 3) problem solve by accessing their strategies and resources. Sometimes these abilities can develop on their own, but having a coach can facilitate their acquisition through cognitive modeling and checks in to develop accountability. As a coaching organization, we have always believed that everyone wants what is best for themselves, but, sometimes, they may not always know how to achieve it.

Tutoring vs. Coaching

There is one common misperception: Tutoring and coaching are not antagonistic to one another, and, in fact, it is quite the contrary! At New Frontiers, a big portion of our work contains elements of both. Independence does not manifest without both skill sets. Identifying the obstacles to learning is the first step to providing support.

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