Essential Knowledge for Establishing a Large Scale Online Mentoring Programme
Think of someone you admire, someone who has “won at life”. It is almost certain that they did not do it by themselves. They had help and guidance from those who went before; those who have already made the mistakes and those who both encouraged and challenged their minds.
It really is this simple: if you want to be successful you should get a mentor. Get two!
More and more educational institutions are incorporating mentoring into their student and alumni provisions. Running mentor programmes help achieve a wide variety of intuitional objectives.
The Wide-Ranging Benefits of Mentoring Programmes
1. Increases in graduate employability
2. Provides a substantial value-add to the student experience
3. Gives students early exposure to the value of their alumni network
4. Builds awareness of the power of the alumni network as a lifelong resource
5. Encourages non-financial giving (often a precursor to financial giving)
6. Enhances your competitive advantage (business schools already know this!)
7. Engages your global alumni community –mentoring can happen from and to anywhere.
Many institutions already have traditional mentoring programmes — often run by hand, geographically limited and involving matching mentors and mentees together one by one in a long and involved process. Whilst this model can provide great value to the chosen few (programmes range from 20–500 pairings), when compared with the full populations of students and alumni across the globe this is a drop in the ocean. The idea of extending programme reach through online technologies is catching on, but this transition needs careful thought to ensure success.
What is Mentoring?
Everyone seems to have their own definition, ranging from simply ‘giving someone advice’ through to ‘a significant and deep developmental relationship that requires serious investment from both sides’.
It’s just semantics. Both of these should be seen as correct but identifying different points along a mentoring spectrum which ranges from ‘micro mentoring’ — the transfer of a few small but important points of information or wisdom from one person to another — through to advisory relationships, experiential relationships and finally on to those deeper developmental relationships.
The Psychology of Online Mentoring
Online mentoring platforms, particularly those that enable direct “peer to peer” engagement, allow you to efficiently scale the reach of your mentoring efforts to thousands of participants across the world. To be successful, one must carefully consider the online engagement model and the particular psychology of both mentor and mentee within the online space.
Mentors need to feel in control
Mentors volunteering online are very much putting themselves out there; flagging their availability to potentially thousands of people. One can sympathise with them feeling slightly vulnerable at this! A thoughtfully designed platform should take steps to emotionally stablise potential mentors, giving them a feeling of control by allowing them to fully understand what is expected of them and to define their giving capacity — for example: with how many people are they able to engage?
Furthermore, do not presume to know their interpretation of ‘mentoring’, instead present to them various points along the mentoring spectrum we defined earlier. Mentors are usually unpaid volunteers, big of heart and generous of spirit. Any volunteer manager can tell you about the perils of exhausting their spirit from over-asking.
The mentoring request itself should be very much that — a request. Whilst some mentoring models follow the ‘mandated partnership’ model of constructed pairings, the online space needs to be more free flowing. Mentor requests should be up to the mentor to accept or decline (gently of course).
Ultimately — when you decide to embrace the online peer-to-peer mentoring model you are making a conscious act of letting go of control. This control should not be lost entirely but instead transferred, via an intuitive system, into the hands of your users whilst you keep a thoughtful eye over proceedings.
Empowering the inexperienced mentee
What about the potential mentee? Firstly — your platform must provide intuitive discovery — the ability to drill down through hundreds or thousands of mentors to the one they want. A student contributor once said “no one had to read a manual to use Facebook”. The same should apply for your own platform.
It is easy also to forget the psychology of a young potential mentee. For those of you operating schemes that include students as well as young alumni, one must consider that many young people are not yet comfortable networkers. The thought of directly approaching a stranger and asking for help will be alien and intimidating. Previously, the ‘manually matched’ model inherently gives them the loving push for their own good: “Here is your mentor, now get on with it”!
Your platform should also make potential mentees feel as safe as possible in making the approach. This requires deep pre-qualification. The model of pre-qualifying mentors on to specific interactions means that we can reassure mentees their chosen mentor has already said it is ok to ask them for some work shadowing experience. What might previously be considered an audacious and over-reaching request is made into a perfectly acceptable and safe ask.
Principles in Action — try the CASE e-Mentoring Network
The above design philosophies have been central to the development of tailored mentoring platforms which Aluminati have launched across the world from Canada, to the UK, Europe to Australia. In particular we have been delighted applying our craft in the creation of a global online mentoring network for the 85,000 CASE members. If you are a CASE member reading this, you can see all these philosophies in action within CASE’s own platform and of course we would be delighted to see you enabling your own mentoring profile!
—Daniel Watts is Managing Director of Aluminati Network Group
and an Educational Partners of CASE. If you are interested in finding out more about the CASE e-mentoring platform visit CASE e-Mentoring platform