The role of Mentor in e-Learning: Adding the Human Touch

Posted on : April 23rd, 2014
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The traditional meaning of ‘Mentor’ is one who offers support and direction. In the corporate scenario, mentoring is an established way of transferring knowledge, developing skills and fostering confidence. In an ideal world, learners can benefit the most out of regular interactions with mentors and gain professional insights to do their jobs well. But keeping the increasing number of learners, geographical spread and the conflicting schedules of both learners as well as mentors, the ‘ideal world’ is difficult to construct.

Mentors in E-Learning

With infusion of e-learning in corporate training, learners are more attuned to self-paced learning. E-Learning provides them the opportunity to learn as per their needs and convenience. While corporate learners have embraced technology-aided learning, the worth of human interactions in learning cannot be discounted. Even with ready learning material available, learners often need support during an e-course to fully grasp the concepts and their practical applications.

Building case for Mentors in e-learning

There are divergent views on the benefits of Mentors in e-learning, but with increasing availability of internet connections and social collaboration platforms, the ‘pros’ are fast increasing compared to the ‘cons’! In fact, contrary to many pre-existing beliefs on the benefits of introducing a mentor in e-learning, it is beneficial for the overall impact of learning.

Mentors in E-Learning

Myth Fact
  • Only face-to-face interactions truly benefit the learners as they can observe the mentors closely
  • Time constraints and distance often disable learners from benefitting from face-to-face mentoring. When mentors are available through a virtual platform, learners can benefit from their support anywhere and anytime.
  • Mentoring through technology-aided platforms bring in extra costs and development time in the training cycle.
  • Many modern LMSs have a built-in role for a mentor that can be assigned for each course. This comes at no added cost. Similarly, many social collaboration platforms can be utilized- free of cost.
  • Learners cannot truly open to Mentors in e-learning.
  • In the absence of social or organizational status, appearance or behavioral expectations in electronic communication between mentors and learners, the latter opens up more.
  • Messages through a virtual electronic medium can be misconstrued and this can hamper learning.
  • The electronic medium allows a log or record to be maintained of all communication between the mentor and the learner. This allows doubts or queries on previous topics to be also cleared, if needed.

 

There are many ways to introduce Mentors in e-learning – the most widely accepted one being through the Learning Management System. There are several reasons for this:

Easy access for Learners: Learners access e-courses through the LMS and it is convenient if they can connect to the mentor within the system. As and when they have a query or doubt, they can connect directly to the Mentor without signing out of the system.

Security: The interaction between learners and mentors is on secure platform within the LMS. Many a times, the contents of an e-course can be specific to the workings of a particular organization and if the interactions occur within the LMS, there is assured discretion which is maintained throughout.

Moderators can initiate and supervise interactions: While subject-matter-experts or Veterans from the organization can take up the role of the Mentor, supervisors can create, lead or moderate conversations within the LMS. They can view the queries of learners and expedite or follow-up if necessary

Knowledge is built and grown within the system: Since all interactions occur within the system, they can be logged to create knowledge within the system which other learners can utilize as well. In this way, not only the Mentor but the learner also contributes to the growth of knowledge within the LMS and the organization as a whole.

Within a modern LMS, there are many technology affordances which support the role of a Mentor for an e-course. Utilizing one or more, a robust channel of communication can be created which supports the learners as per their needs.

Mentoring through E-Mail: Taking in consideration the sporadic availability of many experts, many LMSs create the provision of sending an email to seek support from a Mentor. For each course, a mentor can be assigned and learners can connect to them during the course or later – as per their need. Our proprietary LMS WiZDOM v5.0 has a feature which allows the learners to click on the ‘Ask-the-Mentor’ button to open a new mail, with the appropriate recipients’ address filled in. All that the learner needs to do is type in the query and send. The mentor will access the email and deliver a suitable reply within a stipulated time. The communication over e-mail is successful as the Mentor is allowed to read the queries at length and think about the appropriate answers.

Mentoring through instant messaging/chat: Alternatively, some LMS have the provision of sending an instant message to the Mentor. This is also a successful way for mentor and learners to connect as the Mentor can take out time and read queries at ease and answer suitably. For mentors who can are available, two-way text chats can be conducted which encourage real-time conversations, debates and collaborations. The chat can be conducted within the LMS, where supervisors can play the role of the moderator and make sure that the time of the mentor is suitably utilized.

Mentoring through video-chat: An extension to two-way text chat, video conferencing features within a LMS can also be utilized to create a communication channel between learners and mentors. This comes closest to real time face-to-face interactions which occur within a classroom. In the virtual platform, features like ‘muting’ can be utilized to make sure there are coherent conversations and each learner can be given turn to ask his or her question. Learners can use icons like ‘raise-your-hand’ to interrupt the mentor without disturbing the flow of conversation.

Mentoring through message board/discussion boards: Collaboration features like discussion boards in a LMS can also be utilized for fruitful interactions between learners and the Mentor. Learners can leave their comments or queries on the discussion board and the mentor can answer them as per his or her availability. Contrary to an email or instant message, the questions are posed in a social platform and other learners can view the answer as well. This aids learning of the entire community of learners and also aids the growth of knowledge within the system.

Thus introducing a Mentor in e-learning has many benefits and can be achieved through multiple ways and means. The process of interactions is beneficial for learners as they get to interact with experts and gain from their support. For Mentors, the interactions strengthen their own knowledge. Additionally, the interactions also help Mentors understand the perspective of the learners and help them assess the learning content better. For the organization, this leads to growth of knowledge and a closer bond between veterans and novices.

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Arunima Majumdar

Arunima is an e-learning blogger and likes discussing innovations in training & learning for the new-age corporate sector.

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