The Uncomfortable Truth About Online Teaching

Many teachers were introduced to teaching online rather abruptly.  Myself included.  Love it or hate, there is an uncomfortable truth about online teaching.  It’s here to stay.

Why is this an uncomfortable truth (even if you love online teaching)?  Because it signals a massive shift in how we deliver lessons in our industry.  And change tends to be uncomfortable, even if it’s a change we want.  There is always a time of transition that tends to be a bit messy, slightly awkward & (hopefully) ultimately well worth it.

A hybrid approach

For years, I had a hybrid approach to my travelling piano studio.  I just didn’t know it was a hybrid approach.

When students were sick, I offered FaceTime lessons.  They worked well with the technology both my students & I had (a cell phone or tablet).  And, were quick & easy to set up when a parent emailed or called in the morning saying, “Jason woke up sick this morning.  I have no idea how it happened, but can we do a FaceTime lesson today?”  Every once in a while, I was the one texting/calling/emailing the same question.

Since winter likes to be “postcard-perfect” here in Canada, there were times that “the weather outside is frightful” & the clouds sing “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow” all over the city roads.  In those instances, rather than risking an accident on icy roads or getting stuck in deep snow, I would contact parents to set up FaceTime lessons so everyone stayed safe.

A hybrid approach of online & in-person gives teachers & their studio families flexibility in how lessons are given.  Regardless of what life throws at you.

If online is not your cup of tea, these are two instances where having a hybrid approach for your studio can make a massive difference.  We’ve learnt in the last year the benefits of keeping sick students (or teachers) separated during lesson time.  One teacher told me she had never been so healthy in all the years she had her studio!  And, as important as music education is, it’s not worth possible injury or vehicle damage to make it happen.

Travel teaching vs. online

As a travelling teacher, I saw massive benefits in going to my student’s homes.  And, as long as I stayed in a certain radius from my home & planned my route, the benefits greatly outweigh any drawbacks.

Having students come to your home studio has several advantages:

  • Lessons can be scheduled back-to-back
  • Save money on fuel, vehicle maintenance, etc.
  • Easy to give students resources during their lesson time
  • Easy to grab resources “on the fly” during lesson time
  • The teacher controls the environment

Travelling to students also has advantages:

  • Seeing the student’s instrument & practice environment
  • Students & their family are more comfortable in their home
  • Lesson materials are always there (if not at the piano, then in the home)
  • No need to shovel the walk & put down ice melter (that’s their job)
  • Easy to pull student’s favourite objects into their lessons (since they are usually right by the piano)

Will travel studios survive?

Looking at the list of advantages in both approaches has made me wonder about the future of travelling studios.

Before the spring of 2020, online teaching was happening.  But, it wasn’t as common or approachable as it is now.  Parents & students were also abruptly forced into online learning.  And when this happened, it flipped the switch on how & where we can teach students.

After months of teaching online, I’ve realized that I can have the best of both approaches.  So, why would I go back to travel teaching?

Teachers travel to their students’ homes for many reasons, but the most common reason is not having a separate studio space in their home.  Online teaching takes that reason away.

Online teaching makes it possible to teach right beside the dining table (something I did for months) without anyone seeing the mess outside of the camera frame.  It also lets you turn off the video or audio if, for example, your child runs upstairs with a bloody nose because his brother flicked a tiny Lego that in a strange twist of fate somehow got stuck there.  I wish I could tell you that was a hypothetical situation.  But, I can’t.

Do I think travel studios will survive?  Yes.  There will always be a market for them.  But, I wonder if they will be an option that not many people are aware of.  I wonder if they will have the same visibility online studios used to be.  

Granted this is a long time down the road.  Or, maybe not.  Us humans tend to have a short memory.

Job security

Job security is something that many people, regardless of industry, were concerned about in this last year.  Moving online was the difference between keeping a job & potentially losing that job.

Recessions & market fluctuations are all normal factors in running a long-term business.  Studio owners that have gone through this understand that it isn’t just about how to run your business in the good times.  It’s about what you do when times are more challenging that really determines your long-term success.

Here in Calgary, at the beginning of 2020, there was talk of another recession.  The global pandemic shortened the timeline on when that recession hit.  Thankfully, we’ve been able to come together as a province & city to help businesses as much as possible.

Moving my studio online has meant that my market for students went from a very small radius around my home (regional) to the world.  I went from really wondering if my business would pull through this difficult time for our city to hope that my studio will continue to serve families for decades to come.  That is incredible job security!

Staying regional means your studio has to weather the normal recessions & market fluctuations in your area.  Moving online means your clients can be anywhere & may not be dealing with those same fluctuations.

Will online be a part of your studio?

There isn’t a perfect decision here.  If wifi connections are spotty in your area, then online may never be more than an “only in emergencies” option.  And if you don’t want to deal with the messy nature of adding online lessons (whether hybrid or permanent) to your studio, that’s fair enough too.  We all have to make the right decision for our studios, our current situation & what our ideal studio looks like.

If you would like more ideas & support in going through the awkward & sometimes hilarious transition to online music lessons …

Enroll in my 6-week “Level Up Your Online Teaching” course!

This course is the best of both worlds with on-demand videos to watch on your schedule AND weekly group calls to get your questions answered.

Check “Level Up Your Online Teaching” for specific start dates.

Click here to "Level Up Your Online Teaching"


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