Tutxoring – more details

This page sets out more details about tutxoring and my background. If you want a quicker, punchy overview, see Tutxoring.

Convergence, Long Room, Trinity College

Tutxoring is very much about the highest levels of understanding and the edges of human knowledge. You could describe it as coaching for people who are learning things so advanced or so new that there are no teachers available.

Some people see the word ‘learner’ as meaning someone who is at an early, beginner stage. However, to me, the very best in the world are always learners, because you get to be good by constantly learning how to do better.

How does tutxoring work?

It’s been said that you don’t really understand something until you can explain it to someone else. Most teachers find they develop a much deeper understanding of their subject when they start to teach it, because that process reveals gaps in what they know. You can get that benefit, without having to explain the basics, with a tutxor who can keep up with you. 

After an initial discussion agreeing goals and our approach, we meet regularly for a tutxoring conversation of an hour or two, weekly to monthly, to suit you. We discuss what you’ve achieved since we last met, and your plans for the next stage.

The structure is simple, but what we’re talking about won’t be.

We can meet using whatever medium works best for your situation: phone or audio call, video call, or face to face. Meeting in person offers the richest experience, but it’s more expensive, and difficult in the current Covid-19 situation. I have 20 years’ experience of very successfully providing similar support at a distance.

We can record the sessions. Most people will find that making their own notes during and immediately after the session is particularly helpful, but I can provide outline notes as an extra service if you prefer.

Our discussions will be completely confidential. You are free to use whatever we discuss however you like, but I will not disclose or use anything you tell me in a tutxoring context, unless you explicitly say it’s Ok. The only exception is where I am legally obliged to do so. I am well used to working with topics that are sensitive or personal, and with commercial confidentiality and market sensitivity. (As policy, I do not take long or short positions in any individual companies.)

It’s important to emphasise that you will be doing most of the work, in between our conversations.

What’s it like?

Tutxoring is unique, so it helps to describe it in terms of things that it’s like.

The model comes from the later stages of PhD supervision, or some forms of an Oxbridge tutorial. While the supervisor or tutor usually starts with a better understanding than the student, good students will, by the end, be among the world experts in the specific area they’re working in, and the role of the supervisor or tutor becomes much more of a guide than a direct teacher. 

Metaphorically, it’s like climbing a new route up a mountain, where there are no previous climbers to learn from. Having an experienced alpinist to advise you will be an immense help, but they can’t tell you the route: you must find it yourself.

To give another climbing analogy, it’s like climbing with a belay. An expert climber can climb much faster with an experienced belayer below them who can skilfully adjust the rope. The belayer can’t stop you from slipping and falling, but they can help you make sure that when you do, you don’t fall too far.

It’s also like being an elite athlete. Your coach provides invaluable help and support – but you’re the one who’s best in the world, who reaches the Olympic heights of being the highest, fastest, or strongest.

There are obvious parallels with executive coaching, life coaching, and counselling, but tutxoring is distinctive in its focus on and engagement with your learning. Like a coach, a tutxor will help you plan what you will do and hold you accountable for that. Like a counsellor, a tutxor will listen actively to you.

So there are elements of planning, accountability, and listening to these discussions, but the core benefit – the unique quality that makes it tutxoring – is that you are checking your own understanding by explaining it to someone who’s able to follow along and ask incisive and critical questions. 

Half Dome, Yosemite NP

What types of project are suitable?

Tutxoring is suitable for anything where:

  1. you need to learn something new, or discover or build something new,
  2. the usual sources of teaching and learning are not sufficient, perhaps because they simply don’t get you to where you want to go, or you can’t use them for reasons of confidentiality or availability, and
  3. it’s important enough for you to spend significant time and money on.

It could be a very specific project, for example:

  • an R&D project
  • a large-scale strategic reorganisation plan for a niche industry
  • benchmarking in highly competitive high-tech context
  • brand positioning and strategy for a groundbreaking new product or service
  • getting strategic value from a new stream of data
  • positioning yourself to provide a high-value service that has never existed before.

Or it could be that you want to explore the boundaries of human knowledge in a more open-ended and far-reaching way.

It’s possible that the parameters of the project are unclear, and your main task is to learn enough to be able to focus it down to something more deliverable.

While the premise of tutxoring is that for the most challenging and ground-breaking topics, there are few resources available to help you, there are often people and situations that have sufficient parallels to make them worth exploring. A tutxor can help you identify existing courses or learning materials that will be useful, and can help you integrate what you learn from that context in to your particular situation. Or, of course, they can step back if it becomes clear that you can get what you need from someone else.

Academic research may be suitable, depending on the context: get in touch to discuss how best to interact with other support structures such as project advisory boards or research support services. It may be particularly helpful for independent scholars. This service may exceptionally be suitable as extra support for doctoral students, perhaps where the work is interdisciplinary, but it cannot replace academic supervision, and is available only after discussion with your formal supervisor(s) and their agreement.

Why does Doug Clow make a good tutxor?

My academic work as an educational technologist is, of its nature, multi-disciplinary and wide-ranging. Learning technology as a subject brings together insights and approaches from many quantitative and qualitative research traditions. The PhD students I’ve directly supervised worked in areas right across those traditions. I’ve worked particularly on professional learning and organisational learning.

As well as the subject of learning technology itself, there’s the topics that the technology helped people to learn. In my 25-year career I’ve worked on projects helping people learn a huge range of complex topics, from Herodotus to Hamiltonians, from Foucault and Bourdieu to feature selection and bias in neural networks, from teaching primary kids through the medium of Welsh to taxonomy and field biology, from art history to artificial intelligence.

My work has also been closely concerned with learning and development, which has given me experience and insight into how people learn in ways that support their workplace and wider goals.

As well as my academic work, I have a practical, delivery-oriented background. Early in my work life, I worked in computer and electronics retail, and have maintained a close interest in customer service and innovative technology ever since. My particular role at the Open University was often focused on leading and delivering strategic change and development projects, and I have worked with many commercial and public sector organisations.

Tutxoring is not the same as teaching, but I do have a strong teaching background. I have 25 years’ experience as a teacher at an advanced level in the following subjects:

  • statistics and data science
  • electronics
  • chemistry, biochemistry, preclinical medicine
  • spectroscopy
  • 3D modelling
  • programming, database design, informatics
  • intellectual property, data protection and GDPR
  • social media for professional purposes
  • educational and learning theories, including online learning
  • research design, research skills, and advanced qualitative and quantitative research methods.

If explicit teaching is more appropriate to your context, I do offer training in these areas. Tutxoring is designed for the situations where nobody can offer you training.

If you want a harsh taskmaster who will bully you into doing your best, I’m probably the wrong choice. I’m not tough. If you want someone who’ll never be critical and will tell you you’ve done brilliantly even if you haven’t, again, you probably want someone else. I’m not effusive.

But if you want someone who’ll help you to be the best you can be, balancing support and encouragement with constructive criticism and incisive questioning, get in touch.

What next?

The next step on your tutxoring journey is to get in touch for an initial discussion about what you want to learn and how I can help.