Mentoring as Personalized Learning

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The mentors of K-12 online learners wear many hats and serve as a critical pillar of support for their students. What is less commonly recognized is how mentors act as stewards of personalized learning for their online students. The constant pulse-checking mentors do with their students allows them to work with an online teacher to customize instruction and support based on their students’ needs.
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One of the most discussed (and possibly most misunderstood) concepts in K-12 education at the moment is personalized learning. There are many proposed definitions of “personalized learning” and even more visions for what it looks like in practice.

Definitions of “personalized learning”

The Institute for Personalized Learning defines “personalized learning” as “an approach to learning and instruction that is designed around individual learner readiness, strengths, needs, and interests.”

By contrast, the Students at the Center Hub considers “personalized learning” to be a single component of a larger framework known as “student-centered learning. The larger framework includes customized instruction and student-owned learning dependent on neither time nor place and focused on the mastery of core competencies and knowledge.

We at MVLRI have reflected recently on our own answer to the question: what is student-centered learning?

Mentors as stewards of personalized learning

Personally, when I hear about these concepts and practices, I immediately think of a role that is central to helping students learn in deep and meaningful ways:

The mentor of the online learner.

Mentors of online learners, especially those supporting an “A La Carte” model of online learning — where students take one online course as part of their larger face-to-face curriculum — provide an incredibly personalized experience for their students.

While mentors may not have subject matter expertise relevant to the online courses in which their students are participating, they still facilitate instructional support provided by an online teacher, often being the first to recognize when a student is struggling with a particular concept or assignment.

The constant pulse-checking mentors do with their students allows them to work with an online teacher to customize instruction and support based on their students’ needs. Furthermore, learning in an online course can take place anytime and anywhere and as such mentors must be adept at using technology and connectivity tools, working synchronously and asynchronously with students to answer questions as they arise.

This ever-present support structure helps students feel a personal connection to their learning.

The many roles of the mentor

Mentors can also develop a deeper knowledge about their students’ interests, motivations, and strengths by building individual relationships with them. This can be a huge benefit when it comes to helping students choose online courses and learning paths, especially since many school counselors do not have the resources or time to help inform enrollment decisions at such a detailed level.

Great mentors help make student learning and progress visible, empowering them to make informed decisions and understand the impact of the choices they make. By setting initial expectations for students and modeling the process, students then have the ability to meet or exceed them quickly and can soon begin to set high standards for themselves.

All of these mentoring practices allow for more student choice and ownership in the learning, which creates an environment more conducive to positive outcomes.

Of course, these aren’t the only things that mentors do, as they are responsible for a multitude of other things involved in running an online learning program, including:

  • Technology support
  • Grade recording
  • Effective pacing, and
  • Exam proctoring

Mentors are also responsible for orienting students to the medium of online learning and providing support in learning how to learn online.

All of these responsibilities only make it even more impressive that mentors help provide rich, personalized, and meaningful learning opportunities for the online learners that they support on a day-to-day basis.

The Mentor Forum

In our new Mentor Forum blog series, we discuss the role of mentors and mentoring in K-12 digital learning. Our hope with this series is to highlight the importance of mentoring, provide valuable resources, and further the discussion on best practices for mentoring online learners. Stay up to date on future blogs in this series by signing up for email notifications!

Justin Bruno

Justin Bruno

Justin has spent nearly a decade in education, working to innovate and refine to make learning a better experience for those of all ages. His past experiences include serving as senior research & policy associate with MVLRI, professional learning services manager with Michigan Virtual, and as an 8th-grade social studies teacher in his home state of Louisiana. He earned a B.A. and M.A. in education from Louisiana State University as well as a master's in educational technology from Boise State University. His areas of focus include agile and innovative learning development, adult learning theory, and instructional design.

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