Mentoring & Online Courses: Mentorships Improve Learning & Training Outcomes
Lei Lei Tun
In Homer’s Odyssey, King Odysseus entrusted his friend Mentor to watch over his son while he fought in the Trojan war. In the king’s absence, Mentor became the prince’s guardian, teacher, and confidant.
Today, the concept of mentorship has become central to effective learning. In the case of online learning, where learners and instructors aren’t in close proximity, mentorship is especially crucial for learner success. According to a study that looked at 2,880 survey responses, online students who had mentors were about twice as likely to pass the course than those who didn’t. Effective learning in turn fosters the growth of great leaders, thinkers, and communicators who can be great assets to your company.
In his book on mentoring adult learners, Dr. Norman J. Cohen outlines the four phases of a valuable mentor-protégé relationship. Here are some best practices on how you could apply these mentorship phases to online learning in order to promote learner success in the course and in the workplace.
Phases of a Successful Mentorship Relationship
Phase 1: Earn learners’ trust.
Learners may be used to a traditional classroom environment where they have rigid schedules and are surrounded by the instructor and their classmates. But in an online course, it’s suddenly on them to define their own schedules and take on a more active role in their learning. Therefore, it’s understandable how a remote learning environment would be somewhat intimidating. The mentor’s job then becomes to establish familiarity and dependability for the learner to survive and thrive in this context. They might do this by:
Introducing themselves to each mentee before the course begins.
Creating groups for mentees where they can get to know one another.
Responding to mentee messages as soon as possible.
Once trust is established through these initial steps, students will feel comfortable having the mentor as a point-of-contact between themselves and the instructor. They will be much more likely to reach out with challenges they may face throughout their learning journey.
Phase 2: Establish a rapport and set goals.
After the introductory message, the next step is for the mentor and the protegees to get to know one another. The mentor might prompt students to ask each other icebreaker questions like, “What’s the best place you’ve ever visited?” or “What is your biggest pet peeve?”
When they get a better sense of who their mentees are, it’s time to find out what kind of learners they are so the pair can set goals for the course together and provide assistance in a way that’s most helpful to the learner. Mentors might ask students questions like:
What do you hope to achieve from this course?
What do you think will be the most challenging for you?
What do you think will be the most rewarding for you?
How can I help you get to where you want to be?
By finding out their aspirations, strengths, and weaknesses, mentors can gauge how their expertise can be best applied, which in turn will help protégés gain the most out of the relationship.
Phase 3: Offer learners guidance and feedback.
As the course progresses, mentors can monitor learner progress and offer guidance. For example, before an important assignment is due, they can send students a message reminding them about the upcoming deadline. If students seem to be falling behind, they can help them get back on track.
Another good way to improve both mentor engagement and learner performance is to give mentees the option of mentor feedback on their assignments before submissions. This way, learners that may have felt reluctant to ask for help will be more comfortable reaching out for feedback. The mentor can then give students thoughts on their progress and ideas on how they can improve. This not only solidifies the mentor-protégé relationship, but it also allows the learner to turn in better work than the pre-feedback version. Even after students receive instructor feedback, mentors can help interpret it with their mentees to ensure learners know what to do differently (or keep doing) for future assignments.
However, mentors must remember to cater their actions to the needs of each student! Some may appreciate a little more hand-holding, but others may prefer to move through the course independently without feeling pestered.
Phase 4: Challenge learners to apply learning concepts.
This is the most important part of the mentor role. While their guidance and feedback on assignments will improve student performance, true learning is when students can apply their learnings to solve real-world problems, just as Mentor’s teachings enabled the King Odysseus’ son to fend off his mother’s aggressive suitors and protect his household. Hopefully, your mentees’ lives are far less dramatic, but it’s important to challenge them to implement their learnings. After finishing a learning module, mentors and mentees might brainstorm together about actionable ways to put their knowledge to use in the workplace. They might even reconvene to chat about how things went in practice.
The benefits of assigning mentors for your corporation is unrivaled, particularly in an online training environment. Assigning mentors in your online courses can improve learning outcomes, which will help you develop talent within your company. In a time when the shelf-life of technical skills are getting shorter, soft skills have become a priority for talent development. So in addition to learning and applying the course material, a good mentor-mentee relationship will allow both mentor and protégé to practice such soft skills like effective communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills. Ultimately, mentors can help you develop a workforce of committed learners who are adaptable to today’s changing landscape.