There are many different types of online education courses. They range from downloadable self-paced courses to real-time, instructor-led courses. And while most people can understand each end of this spectrum, it is in the middle ground where most of the confusion lies. The middle ground is loosely called ‘mentored learning’. ‘Mentored-learning’ can mean anything from sending a student a couple of emails to diligently monitoring a student’s progress twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. For the prospective student, it can be difficult to understand what mentored learning will mean for them in an online course.
The rest of this article describes how our company, Online-learning.com, defines mentored learning.
Our idea of mentored learning
In our model, mentored learning plays a key role in the overall learning experience. We couple self-paced reading materials and practical assignments with several kinds of communications such as student-to-instructor email, student-to-student email, real-time classroom chat, and discussion groups. This means that throughout the course, students are performing one of four operations:
- Reading through the course materials – In our courses, students spend their time reading and interacting with the course content. Students read though a series of lesson modules and take quizzes to prepare themselves for the practical assignments. This is very much like traditional studying.
- Completing the assignments – Throughout their studies, students work with course software, researching, creating, assembling and submitting assignments.
- Working with other students – For the duration of the course, students will work with other students via email, via chat and via discussion groups to either discuss topics or complete group assignments.
- Being mentored by the instructor – The phrase ‘instructor-mentored’ means students are being monitored and guided through these activities by a course instructor or course marker. This mentoring includes email exchanges, discussion forum exchanges, and marking of assignments.
Email exchanges: Either instructors or students can initiate email exchanges. Success is measured by the speed of the response. We try for ‘inside 24’ – response times of less than 24 hours. Instructors respond at best speed, often within minutes, and we notify students of the times during the day when they can expect more immediate responses. Circumstances dictate that there may be some delays, but these do not exceed 48 hours.
Discussion forums: In the discussion forums, students take leadership on specific topics of their experience or issues of importance to them in their studies. Here too our instructors are involved by commenting, supporting, and linking users. We provide answers, but we also listen and promote student-based initiatives and ideas
Marking: We mark assignments with comments linked inside the student materials so readers see exactly where work can be improved and corrected.
Advantages of mentored learning
We believe that mentored learning offers the right balance between self-paced courses and classroom-based courses. It offers students a personalized learning experience. It allows them to learn at their own speed, at their level and at their convenience. And it ensures that they have access to an experienced instructor who can guide them through the learning process.