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What is Mentored Learning?

Mentored learning is one of those terms used in online education that everyone uses but no one will concretely define. Online learning courses can range from downloadable self-taught, self-paced courses to real-time, instructor-lead courses, with mentored learning falling somewhere in between these extremes - just where in between depends on the course you choose. That's why the term 'mentored learning' is so tricky to define - there are many different types of courses that offer a so-called mentored learning approach. To find out how hands-on the mentoring actually is, you should look carefully at the course structure and ask questions before you sign up.

Mentored learning courses generally have four main components:

  • Course Materials: These are the materials that you read from and interact with to gain knowledge from the course. They come in the form of downloadable packages, books, CDs, CD-ROMs, etc.
  • Assignments: These are projects given out by the instructor, normally to be completed within a certain time frame, to give the student practice with the material and demonstrate what's being learned. Assignments can be essays, workbooks, design projects, proposals, reports, etc.
  • Group Work: Sometimes available in online courses, group work entails groups of students working together to finish an assignment or study. They can communicate via email, instant messaging, forums, discussion groups, etc. This gives students the ability to discuss materials and help each other in a peer-to-peer setting.
  • Instructor Mentoring: This is the 'mentored' aspect of mentored learning. The instructor plays a key role in guiding students through the materials, setting expectation levels, answering questions on the material, making, and offering feedback. The instructor should be available to communicate with students throughout the course, and they should respond to student queries and comments in at least a 24-hour time frame.

What makes a good mentored learning course?
A good mentored learning course will have a high amount of individual student-instructor contact. Instructor help and comments should be available through several different mediums:

  • Email Exchanges - To answer student questions on an individual basis. Response time should be 24-hours or less
  • Discussion Groups - To provide answers but also support student-based initiatives, ideas, and models.
  • Marking - To comment on student work offering individual feedback on what was good and what needs to be improved. Feedback should also encompass how to go about improving the quality of work and what new directions work could be taken in.
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