What does ‘mentored learning’ actually mean for an instructor in an online course? Is this very different from an instructor who teaches in the classroom? Is it difficult to provide student support in an online environment? As an instructor and the instructor coordinator for Online-learning.com, I thought it would be worthwhile to share our view of what ‘mentored learning’ means from an instructor’s perspective.
Interesting, rewarding and challenging
First, working as an instructor at Online-learning.com is interesting, rewarding and challenging. It is interesting since it allows me to develop relationships with people from all over the world. I have worked with students from Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong, Fiji, Australia, Denmark, Belgium, India, and the list goes on. The work is rewarding because I work closely with students, guiding their learning and helping them in their quest for knowledge. The work is also challenging since students sometimes ask questions that are not easy to answer. These questions help me to increase my knowledge, and at times I acquire new knowledge as I seek answers to student inquiries.
Building the student-teacher relationship over distance
My role as an online instructor makes the student-instructor relationship quite different from conventional classroom ways of interacting. The instructor-student relationship in the classroom is a restricted one and is mostly confined to the time spent in the classroom where most students have very limited direct interaction with the instructor. Online learning provides a much richer environment for exchange of information and ideas because comments can be stored, shared and filtered far more effectively.
Building student confidence at a distance
Students who feel uneasy asking questions in a classroom will often feel more comfortable asking a question by email. Issues of “too easy” or “known by everyone else” or “too personal” are diminished when the question stays between the student and the instructor as a private email exchange. Then, if the issue is a general one, both the question and the answer can be tailored and edited and made available as useful information to the whole class. Even more important, it can be crafted for specific groups within the class in ways no physical meeting of any group ever permits.
In this online model, these shared student-instructor email interchanges are much more valuable because of the editing component. They are perceived as more relevant in content (usually because they are!) and as closer to the subject matter, than the more random, less considered classroom exchanges.
Providing student support at the right time
Students in an online course also have the advantage of being able to ask for help as they need it. Students may find that they are puzzled by a particular problem that is preventing them from completing an assignment. Here, an email to the instructor gets the guidance needed to successfully complete the assignment. Email inquiries are handled quickly, in the context of the student’s working time, and they allow students to complete their work with less frustration and fewer delays. There is no equivalent to this direct interaction in the conventional classroom.
So, while a first glance might indicate that the physical distance of online instruction would render help less accessible, in fact the opposite is true. Students take ‘lessons’ on their own time and then receive help across the working day on an as-needed basis, rather than sitting in a group for a few hours in the hopes of receiving relevant information, with very limited ability to ask questions or receive personal help. There is no need to wait until the next class session, because the student controls the timing and duration of the lesson by doing it, while enhanced access to the instructor greatly assists members who need help at any stage.
Mentoring summed up
What does mentored learning mean to me as an online instructor? It means that I have the opportunity to interact with people from around the globe. I guide these students through their learning journey, rough for some, smooth for others, but rewarding for both because they contribute in ways they see valued at all stages of its progress. I receive my greatest satisfaction when students say, “Wow, I finally did it!”