While online mentoring has been available since the advent of internet access, it is evolving to become a transformative educational and professional development strategy. By creating collaborative learning experiences between mentees and mentors, online mentoring advances a learning era where mentorship transcends cultural, geographical, and physical barriers, enhances inclusivity, and fosters holistic development within an increasingly interconnected global community. The democratization of mentorship also encourages belonging and engagement and provides new opportunities for self-directed learning (DeWaard & Chavhan, 2020; Olivier & Trivedi, 2021).
Online mentoring elevates the classic art of mentoring (Shandley, 1989; Jacobi, 1991; Ehrich et al., 2004) into the modern world of technology and innovation. While foundational mentoring principles still apply to online mentoring, definitions are also evolving, The frequently cited definition by Bierema and Merriam (2002) established that it is, “a computer mediated, mutually beneficial relationship between a mentor and a protege which provides learning, advising, encouraging, promoting, and modeling that is often boundaryless, egalitarian, and qualitatively different than traditional face-to-face mentoring” (p. 219). In early online mentoring research, traditional mentoring models were adjusted to be successfully implemented online (Hamilton & Scandura, 2003; Whiting & de Jansz, 2004), Foundational online mentoring research was also missing (Sanyal & Rigby, C. (2017). More contemporary definitions offer a simplified explanation that online mentoring provides a “process in which electronic media are used as the main channel of communication between the mentor and mentee” (Argento-Linares et al., 2017, p. 401).
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, online mentoring has become even more valuable as a development tool as advancements in technology have facilitated and streamlined accessibility and connectivity (Collier, 2022; Tetzlaff et al., 2022). The challenges of remote work and mandated online education also provided new opportunities and necessity for creating trust between employees or students and instructors, building support for the sponsoring organization, and improving inclusion through online mentoring (Tu & Li, 2021).
In a post-pandemic world, online mentoring is adapting to surpass its previous paradigms, acquiring heightened prominence as transformative educational and professional development strategies (Mullen, 2021). This evolution is characterized by the merging of technology with pedagogical methodologies resulting in a dynamic platform that leverages digital connectivity with fostering mentor-mentee relationships (Tinoco-Giraldo et al., 2020). In this context, online mentoring encompasses a mentor’s guidance, knowledge dissemination, and personal development for the mentee through virtual channels. It also draws on online mentors’ intentional use of strategies including personal competence, availability, career planning and networking, communication, providing feedback, and emotional connection (Byrnes et al., 2019, p. 239). This reframing process for online mentoring capitalizes on the digital landscape's potential for immersive and collaborative learning experiences.
Comparisons of Online Mentoring Models
|Online Mentoring Models ||Description |
| Synchronous and Asynchronous ||Live online mentoring compared to on demand interaction. |
| One-to-one and Group ||A single mentor with a single mentee in a personalized online mentoring interaction compared to multiple mentees and/or mentors learning through group association. |
| Content-| focused and Process- focused |Online mentoring focused on learning and skills for the mentee compared to on learning strategies for accomplishing objectives |
| Co-mentoring and Hierarchical || Mentors and mentees are equal contributors to the mentoring experience compared to the mentor as expert. |
|Formal and Informal ||Online mentoring experiences that follow a schedule or objectives outline compared to a flexible approach. |
| Hybrid and Online-only ||A combination of online Structured and in person mentoring compared to online only interaction |
(LinkedIn Digital Learning, n.d.)
A single mentor with a single mentee in an online mentoring interaction compared to multiple mentees and/or mentors.
Online mentoring benefits from being “boundaryless” and “egalitarian” (Bierema & Merriam, 2002, p. 419). First, physical and logistical constraints to mentoring are removed and mentors and mentees can meet in a wider variety of locations than might be available in a traditional 8 a.m.–5 p.m. office setting with a desk and chairs, including outside, in moving vehicles, and with backdrops to hide locations, practically anywhere a reliable internet connection is available. Online mentoring accommodates diverse schedules and offers more possible meeting or messaging communication times for mentees and mentors, including early morning and later at night, and in between other meetings.
Online mentoring transcends geographical and cultural constraints (Bierema & Merriam, 2002; Pollard & Kumar, 2021). In addition to the time flexibility, online mentoring also provides opportunities for long distance and international mentoring, insuring access for students and employees worldwide that would not be possible in person with mentees and mentors in separate offices, locations, and countries. It may also remove psychological barriers between mentees and mentors due to professional position, stature, or age, and may help improve mentoring relationships where there are potential issues of race, culture, gender, first generation college students, and other criteria that may cause feelings of estrangement or lack of inclusivity among professionals and students (Termini et al., 2021). Online mentoring can help level the conversational landscape for the mentee, allowing them to ask questions with more confidence and facilitate deeper engagement and active listening (Andersen & West, 2021). Working toward this goal of greater equality in mentorship fosters a sense of belonging and enhances an institution's commitment to inclusivity.
Moreover, online mentoring encourages self-guided learning. Mentees actively participate in mentoring discussions, using online resources and flexible interactions to explore topics they are curious about. This approach promotes independence, critical thinking, and the skill to research on their own—all in line with today's learner-focused methods. Furthermore, online mentoring breaks down barriers and nurtures self-directed learning, making it a powerful tool for modern education (Olivier & Trivedi, 2021). Online mentoring’s autonomy enriches not only academic or workplace success for the mentee, but also personal development, shaping a dynamic and vibrant learning environment.
There continue to be challenges to overcome in online mentoring requiring careful consideration and strategic management. Connectivity and access to reliable data remain persistent hurdles. If a mentor and mentee cannot have an uninterrupted mentoring conversation, by video conference or messaging, due to insufficient data coverage, even the best mentoring will be inadequate. In many countries, access to high-speed internet is an ongoing difficulty. Even with remote work and online higher education becoming more mainstream, there may still be difficulties with virtual communication perception between mentee and mentor. Visual and auditory cues that facilitate effective interpersonal interactions in face-to-face settings may not be as readily discernible, leading to miscommunication. The efficacy of online mentoring is contingent on the technological fluency and comfort of both mentors and mentees and requires vigilant attention by both participants to ensure up-to-date technology skills and coherent dialogue. Individuals who are apprehensive or ill-at-ease with online communication platforms may struggle to derive optimal benefits from the online mentoring paradigm.
Online mentoring may also require more direction from mentors regarding online dialogue and etiquette, especially for students who are used to informality from personal communication in online communication (O’Dowd et al., 2020). Mentors may also need to connect with their mentees through multiple modalities to be most effective, which requires time and planning and is essential for cultivating robust and meaningful online mentoring relationships (Sanyal & Rigby, 2017). Cybersecurity is always an issue with online mentoring and the concern that online mentoring interactions may not be secure (Jan & Mahboob, 2022). In response to these challenges, mentors assume an essential role in guiding and shaping effective online mentoring interactions. As the realm of online mentoring continues to evolve and expand, the development of comprehensive strategies to address these challenges will be integral to realizing its full potential as an impactful learning tool.
The Future of Online Mentoring
Online mentoring promises to become more critical to higher education, to business and to development as technology improves and as professionals, students, and society become more engaged in online learning opportunities. This trajectory underscores the growing significance of using online mentoring to foster a diversified spectrum of skills and cultural insights through global mentoring. In this growing trend of global mentoring, mentors and mentees move beyond cultural boundaries in pursuit of enriched learning experiences and the cultivation of intercultural competence (Domer et al., 2021; Rodriguez et al., 2021). Mentors and mentees reach out for mentoring across cultures to improve learning and connection. Benefits include finding global solutions to common challenges, developing a more diverse perspective, building global community and collaboration, especially where participants share common fields, and working together on international projects and programs (Rosser et al., 2020). Mentors and mentees must show resolve for working around barriers such as time differences, language and communication constraints, and cultural difference to achieve “intentionally global” mentoring opportunities. (Rosser et al., 2020, p. 8). More opportunities for global mentoring in business, education, and medicine will enhance academic and professional proficiencies while also fostering a heightened cultural acumen that resonates with the evolving international landscape.
Artificial intelligence methods may also impact online mentoring. While a chatbot cannot replace the role of a mentor, AI could help improve the online mentoring relationship from managing administrative details such as scheduling and providing resources to mentees, thus minimizing the time commitment for mentors, while also providing learner analytics to improve how the mentor guides the mentee, to help with matching mentors and mentees in mentoring programs (Murray et al., 2022). AI-assisted online mentoring may also offer increased access to mentoring and provide more effective mentoring to large populations and diverse and underrepresented groups (Neumann et al., 2021; Ocado et al., 2023).
As the landscape of online education continues to evolve, its collaborative relationship with online mentoring strengthens its impact as a transformative educational tool. As a “community of practice” (Tinoco-Giraldo et al., 2020, p. 23) supplements the absence of online mentoring literature, the field can strengthen and grow. The connection between technological innovation, pedagogical adaptation, and cross-cultural interaction shows potential for creating a generation of students and professional’s adept in both their chosen fields and global perspectives of online mentoring. The nexus of online mentoring thus stands ready to shape the trajectory of education, business, and other disciplines, ushering in a new era of dynamic, interconnected, and culturally astute learning and educational experiences.
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