MVLRI Research in Review: K-12 On-Site Mentoring

Published on September 29, 2020
Written By: 

Kristen DeBrulerMichigan Virtual Learning Research Institute


Christa GreenMichigan Virtual Learning Research Institute

The role of an on-site mentor changes and evolves throughout the semester but it remains critical to students, particularly in terms of relationship building and motivating online learners. On-site mentors can have a profoundly positive impact on students, however the quality and level of support provided is inconsistent across the state.

Suggested Citation

DeBruler, K. & Green, C. (2020). MVLRI research in review: K-12 on-site mentoring. Michigan Virtual.


Since its creation in 2013 through 2020, the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI) at Michigan Virtual published approximately 20 research blogs and 75 research reports. This total does not represent everything published by MVLRI but rather only those publications including original research on K-12 blended and online learning. The nearly 100 resources represent research conducted internally by MVLRI staff, research conducted by partners at universities, colleges, and educational organizations, and covers a vast range of topics including, but not limited to, K-12 online best practices, online student motivation, K-12 blended teaching and professional development, and K-12 special populations. 

This body of work is extensive, and while there is tremendous value in each individual publication, there is also value in how that work fits with other similar research and the narrative that emerges from the collective understanding. Toward this end, MVLRI sought to identify, review, and synthesize the original research published in the past 6 years. Again, not every blog or report published via the website was included, only those containing original research. 

Out of the synthesis of resources, 10 main themes emerged. Each theme is presented individually in the interest of brevity. A full reference list is provided at the end of this document noting the resources that contributed to this report. 


Resources for inclusion in the synthesis were identified through the website in the “Publications” and “Blogs” sections. All published blogs and reports were assessed to determine if they included original research. Those that did were included for synthesis. Once the approximately 100 resources containing original research were identified, each blog or report was reviewed and given up to three keyword tags. The following fields were also completed for each of the 100 resources: what we already know about the topic of research, what the resource adds, and implications for policy and practice. Resources were then thematically grouped and keywords were refined and combined. For example, K-12 online program evaluation and quality was combined with K-12 online program policy because although distinct, the themes were related and spoke to many of the same concepts and conclusions. 

Once the 10 thematic categories were identified, the resources within that category were reviewed again, both for accuracy in interpretation and to determine its relationship to other resources in the same category. Out of this process, the core findings and practical implications were identified. What is presented below is the synthesized understanding from the original research included. Because of the process, not every finding of every resource could be included, rather resources were reviewed to form a broad understanding of each theme and to identify what MVLRI has contributed and learned in the 6 years since it was formed.

K-12 On-Site Mentoring Core Findings

  • Two of the most important roles of a K-12 on-site mentor are building relationships with and motivating online learners. 
  • K-12 on-site mentoring activities change and evolve throughout the course of the semester. 
  • The roles and responsibilities of a K-12 on-site mentor and K-12 online teacher often overlap. 
  • The quality of support provided by K-12 facilitators or on-site mentors tends to vary widely.  

Among the resources related to K-12 on-site mentors, several mentors indicated that building relationships with and motivating learners are a significant component of their responsibility as an on-site mentor (Borup et al., 2018; Borup et al., 2019b). Borup et al. (2018) explained that on-site mentors are primarily charged with developing relationships with learners and motivating them to fully engage in learning activities. However, mentors indicated that their responsibilities change throughout the semester (Borup & Stimson, 2017). In a study of 12 online teachers and 12 on-site mentors, mentors stated that building relationships is something that they focus on right away at the beginning of the semester. Then, by week 3 or 4, when things started to “really settle down,” mentors were able to focus more on motivating learners. Towards the end of the semester, mentors shifted their focus to closely monitoring learner progress and encouraging learners to complete their course(s). Building successful relationships with learners early in the semester is a “key to success” indicated by mentors (Borup & Stimson, 2017). 

In other resources, analyses found that while both the teachers and the on-site facilitators or mentors assumed extensive and complex roles, their responsibilities were overlapping but complementary (Borup & Stimson, 2019). Learners indicated that they tended to turn to an on-site mentor for immediate instructional support because it is “just easier to talk to someone in person” (Borup et al., 2018). Even though some responsibilities tended to be specifically assigned to a teacher or a mentor, there was often an overlap that occurs. 

Other resources indicated that the quality of the support that was provided by facilitators or on-site mentors varied quite widely. Interviewed teachers stated that while mentors play a critical role in learners’ learning and the quality of mentoring varies greatly across schools, successful mentors adapt their efforts to the needs of their learners (Borup et al. 2018). Some mentors found that requiring their learners to report to a computer lab each day allowed them to more easily and effectively fulfill their responsibilities (Borup & Stimson, 2019). To improve the quality of the support that mentors provide, on-site mentors should be provided the time and professional development to help ensure that they are able to support learners successfully (Borup et al., 2018). 

Mentors also largely believed that learners would be more likely to succeed in their online course when parents took an active role in supporting their learners (Borup, Chambers, & Stimson, 2019a). This support can take the form of advising students on enrollments, monitoring performance, motivating learners, and assisting as needed. Unfortunately, mentors also found that parents tended to be under-engaged and did not always engage learners in these ways largely because they were unclear about their own responsibilities (Borup, Chambers, Stimson, 2017). 

Administrators of online learning programs should be continually reminded of the importance of having good, quality mentors as a part of their program. The value to a learner that a good mentor provides cannot be underestimated. Because the quality of the support provided by mentors varies widely, it is also recommended that additional guidelines for successful mentors are published and that these resources are made easily accessible for mentors, teachers, and program administrators. 

K-12 On-Site Mentoring Practical Implications and Actionable Resources

  • We know that building strong and trusting relationships with learners is essential for effective mentoring. However, K-12 online learners indicated that they often turn to on-site mentors for instructional help. Knowing this, it is important for mentors to have proper training in supporting online students academically as well as socially and emotionally. Mentors need not be experts in all academic fields, rather they must be trained in effective strategies for supporting learners and know where to direct learners who need additional subject matter expertise. 
  • Michigan Virtual provides many resources for on-site mentors, and given what we have learned about mentoring is that it is important to keep providing resources such as the Mentor Guide to Online Learning and other resources to mentors. 
  • There is considerable qualitative research around the roles and responsibilities of mentors as well as on-site mentor and K-12 online learner perceptions. What is less known, however, is the actual impact an engaged and supportive mentor has on K-12 online learners. More research is needed in this area to understand the full impact of an on-site mentor and how they contribute to successful course completion and how effective mentoring can be effectively scaled. 


Borup, J., Chambers, C. B., Stimson, R. (2017). Helping online students be successful: Parental engagement. Michigan Virtual University. 

Borup, J., Chambers, C. B, & Stimson, R. (2018). Helping online students be successful: Student perceptions of online teacher and on-site mentor instructional support. Michigan Virtual University. 

Borup, J., Chambers, C., & Stimson, R. (2019a). K-12 student perceptions of online teacher and on-site facilitator support in supplemental online courses. Online Learning, 23(4), 253-280. 

Borup, J., Chambers, C., & Stimson, R. (2019b). Online teacher and on-site facilitator perceptions of parental engagement at a supplemental virtual high school. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(2).

Borup, J. & Stimson, R. (2017) Helping students be successful: Mentor responsibilities. Michigan Virtual University. 

Borup, J. & Stimson, R. (2019). Responsibilities of Online Teachers and On-Site Facilitators in Online High School Courses. American Journal of Distance Education, 33(1), 29-45.

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