by Andreas Ernst
Andreas Ernst, Scripture Engagement and Media Consultant, SIL Cameroon
When it comes to training, I find nothing more rewarding than working on a hands-on project, so that my mentees or students and I can learn something concrete together, enjoy the process, and find motivation to keep going. However, whether we like it or not, the spread of a virus, the lack of funding or an increasing need to mentor others across geographical boundaries may lead us to look for alternative ways of keeping up our training and mentoring efforts.
One of the ways I have found online mentoring most rewarding is by regularly connecting online with former students to discuss the joys and challenges they face in implementing what they have learned and to set new goals. To my great surprise, I have found this more rewarding than I expected. I have found that simply putting in the effort to ask questions, to listen well, to learn from my students’ experiences and to acknowledge the difficulties they encounter, even when the internet connection is bad, establishes a real sense of shared vision and responsibility. Another benefit I have observed is that such follow-up mentoring helps me see what aspects of training my students struggle with most, and what elements or tools are most useful for them in their contexts.
If you are like me, you may find mentoring folks online on things like using software or learning to complete step-by-step procedures challenging. However, perhaps you could consider making short video tutorials for your mentees? Recently I started making video tutorials for my students who are working on creating educational radio dramas. As I share these video tutorials via WhatsApp groups, I also send them short exercises that are in line with the tutorials and offer rewards for progress or particular achievements. Only time will tell how effective this new approach is. But I already see promising signs. I found out from one of my mentees that the Ministry of Health in his country had asked for permission to use the educational radio drama we had made together on a health-related subject and to broadcast it across the whole country. What a tremendous encouragement this was on a day I was feeling low!
Whatever particular skills you have been passing on to others, I want to encourage us all to also invest in online mentoring. True, online mentoring cannot fully replace face-to-face interaction for skills that require demonstrating procedures hands-on. However, I believe that online mentoring as a follow-up to face-to-face training is highly effective because:
- Online mentoring is very cost-effective and allows ongoing and regular follow-up.
- Online mentoring can be just as inspiring for all parties involved as face-to-face mentoring. In fact, online mentoring may be even more motivating because it allows you to shift the focus away from being an instructor towards learning from each other.
- Online mentoring adds a powerful personal and vision-sharing dimension to capacity building, which is vital for developing our future leaders and passing on the baton. This is important to remember, as some of our mentees work in situations where they lack the kind of leadership and support they need so much to serve the Lord with their full potential.
- Online mentoring helps you develop other trainers. The regular assignments and evaluation help to develop critical thinking and self-motivation skills in your mentees, which in turn helps you identify folks who could become your future training assistants.
- Online mentoring helps you collect testimonies of how your training is making a difference on the field. These are not only motivating, but also useful for partnership development and funding proposals.
- Mentoring helps you improve the content and methodology of your training. For example, following up with my radio students via Whatsapp has made me realize that two of the major barriers they face to implementing what they have learned are a) the lack of equipment in their own studios and b) the lack of support from their leadership. As a result, I have started to include the directors of radio stations in evaluating the implementation assignments of my students, as well as providing opportunities for them to purchase training-specific equipment.
What is your experience with online mentoring? I would love to hear your thoughts.