What the Tutoring Industry Can Learn from the Southwest Airlines Holiday Meltdown

Jan 18, 2023 | Tutoring Industry

What happened to Southwest Airlines?

During the 2022 holiday, Southwest’s antiquated tool, SkySolver, and various internal processes collapsed. It was not a matter of broken software that caused this unforgettable meltdown. A strategy to deal with a disruptive storm was undermined by a lack of modern automation and poor user experience. It was simply not possible for Southwest to handle the sheer volume of changes and coordination required without a modern digital infrastructure. In addition, Southwest lacked a central hub for gathering resources, regrouping, and finding a way out of the chaos. These problems are not unique to Southwest.  Companies across all industries should evaluate their dependence on homegrown systems, especially those built on antiquated mainframe computers. 

Reflections on the Disaster

Our team closely monitored Southwest’s situation as well as the subsequent collapse of the FAA’s ability to keep the entire US flying. We arrived at the conclusion that our platform, in many ways, serves a similar function to an airline. In several meetings, we reflected on the fact that what we do as a company (like an airline) is provide our partners with a reliable set of solutions that empower them to tutor thousands of students each day.

Witnessing a Fortune 500 company collapse due to inadequate logistical automation was humbling, but also incredibly insightful. We talked about how the heart of our mission is simply making sure tutors and students can be together (attendance). Consistently bringing people together is the crucial first step in preventing a catastrophic and possibly generational failure in academic human rights.

How is the Airline Industry Like Tutor Program Management?

Airline RoleTutoring RoleJob Function
Airline OperationsProgram AdministratorsScheduling, HR
Picking up a loved oneParentsCaregiver
FlightTutoring SessionService being delivered
PilotsTutorsService Provider 
Ground CrewTeachersOperations

It takes a great deal of coordination and effort to run a massive tutoring initiative. Administrators (operations in a central hub) coordinate school schedules, deal with HR issues, and help parents (like a family member waiting for an arrival) who are confused or unhappy for various reasons. Each session “takes flight” under the direction of these administrators, ensuring that every student receives the support they need. Tutors (like pilots) show up in rooms without students, looking for administrators or tutor coaches to fill the void of a student’s absence. 

Teachers (like ground crew) keep an eye on their clocks to make sure students receiving tutoring are in the right place at the right time. There are times when students (like travelers) need to miss class or navigate to another tutoring venue which may be outside their regular schedule. In order for online learners to login at the right time, they need to be reminded or sent messages. There are times when tutors have to be substituted because of cancellations. While all of this is happening, the world and policymakers are waiting for results.  Administrators are charged with the difficult task of making sure consistent standard data is collected so that the overall health of the program can be evaluated for its impact and for its many opportunities for improvement.

The Heroes 

Behind all of the many wonderful stories about tutoring as a source to promote academic progress are a group of people dedicated to managing the overwhelming logistical components.  

Running a tutoring program that leverages thousands of tutors serving tens of thousands of students requires:

  • Designing a logic model with clear definitions and alignment on Needs, Inputs, Actions, Outputs, and Impact
  1. HIRE
  • Finding qualified tutors, running background checks, training, certifying, and coordinating availability
  1. MATCH
  • Thoughtfully matching students with the best tutor – leveraging logistical data and evidence based data points that have proven better outcomes
  1. TRAIN
  • Familiarizing tutors with the technology used to coordinate logistics, communicate efficiently, teach with clarity, run assessment, and collect the right data (attendance, dosage, academic progress, and social-emotional-learning insights)
  • On a daily basis, making sure every scheduled student spends time with their tutor
  • Leveraging 360 feedback loops to make on-the-fly changes to improve program design
  • Reflecting on outcomes to optimize for success in the next cycle

One of the most critical industries in this country failed millions of users because of legacy systems and poor operational design. It is imperative that we do not let the tutoring industry, which is just as vital to our country’s future, suffer the same fate. 

The heroes that run our nation’s massive tutoring programs deserve:

  1. Highly secured cloud-based software for efficient program implementation (rostering, matching, seamless communications, data collection, and much more) 
  2. Modern technology that evolves in real time (with partner collaboration) affording administrators the technical scaffolding to constantly make their lives easier
  3. In-app chat to ensure all end-users that experience technical difficulties have a human ready to help at a moments notice
  4. Most importantly, a technical partner that listens every day, and works tirelessly with partners to explore ways to improve: automation, user experiences, and student achievement

For more one Pearl and how we can help support your tutoring program visit us at www.tutorwithpearl.com.