Digital mentoring, benefits and challenges

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

In 2020 we are faced with a different kind of challenges in mentoring in the aftermath of the covid-19 pandemic, and we are looking for solutions.

Mathisen, Petter; Wergeland, Birgitte (2009). Web-basert bilde-lyd-mentoring pedagogiske muligheter og utfordringer.

One of the solutions in this situation is digital mentoring. But what kind of impact does digital mentoring make? This is a subject that has been up for discussion even long before covid-19, and the article “Web-based video mentoring - pedagogical possibilities and challenges” from 2009, might help us shed some light on the matter.

This research article is based on a single case study, and does not aim to define or generalise the outcome of web-based video mentoring (WVM), but rather create a deeper understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of digital mentoring.

The article itself has a threefold purpose, the first one being to review literature on mentoring as a modern form of individually enhanced competency development. Secondly, it establishes the concept of Web-based video mentoring (WVM). Thirdly, it highlights and discusses pedagogical challenges and possibilities that emerge using WVM.

Definitions and insight

Before we go through the material for WVM in this article, it is important to take a look at how they define mentoring, as mentoring can be quite broad. The article refers to several definitions of mentoring, and mentions in the first place that traditional mentoring is based on an experienced professional helping another to become more skilled and more competent in their professional practice, where an experienced person contributes to a positive development in a less experienced person. They also point out that “A mentor is one who offers knowledge, insight, perspective, or wisdom that is especially useful to the other person” (Shea, 2002). They also emphasize that other definitions of mentoring may place greater emphasis on the mentor's caring or social role, referring to this definition of mentoring: “A mentor offers emotional and psychological support, direct assistance with career and professional development, and role modeling. A mentor oversees the career development of another person through teaching, counseling, providing support, protecting, promoting or sponsoring ”(Lacy, 2001). In relation to defining the mentor relationship, they conclude that the mentoring relation is context-dependent or context-sensitive, as it is crucial to consider mentoring in the context of which it is already a part of.

Even though the article is from 2009, they refer to digital mentoring as something that was a bigger challenge in the past. In 2009 there were already some tools for digital communication that were broadly used, especially skype and MSN are mentioned in the article. It's even more interesting for us to look at how digital communication has advanced over the past 11 years. Only having a mobile phone gives you access to freely communicate with individuals on other parts of the globe, through apps like whatsapp, facebook messenger, google hangouts, snapchat and many more. In addition, if you have a computer and a headset, most digital and video based communication flows in a more natural and similar manner as to normal “conversation”. Now, in 2020 we have been faced with a global pandemic, that has forced more digital solutions to communication, than what we might have had. Here in Norway, most schools have had digital lessons and for every workplace that has had employees with the opportunity to work from home, digital meetings have been the “new normal”, and not to mention the increasing amount of webinars that have been popping up on our linked-in and facebook feeds.

Web-based video mentoring

However, there is a difference between communication digitally and WVM. The article refers to McQuails communication theory which says Computer Mediated Communication can simply be put as a transaction between two or more network computers, like through chatroom, emails, SNS (Social Networking Sites), text messages etc. CMC has also provided us with possibilities for mentoring, and here you’ve heard of terms or concepts liek e-mentoring, online.mentoring and internet-mentoring, which can all be covered by the concept Modern Hybrid Mediated Communication. However Wainfan & Davis (2004) further developed this concept by adding the variable “web-conference”, which means having contact through video and sound, and there you have the concept of web-based video mentoring (WVM). Furthermore, they show the degree of synchrony in the mentoring relation relative to the form of communication, and what they found was that the relation was at its most synchrone when mentoring was face-to-face, although mentoring through video and sound wasn't too far behind. Take a look at their figure below.

This could mean that a web based video conference call gives us a form of communication with high synchrony, where both nonverbal and paraverbal communication stays intact, thus being able to form mentoring relations that are close to the type of mentoring relations you would be able to form through face-to-face (FTF) meetings. This has also been confirmed by Newlands (2000) in an experimental study where FTF communications was compared to web-based video communication. The study also showed that “collaborators using modern desktop video communication (VC) elicited more listener feedback than the FTF participants, and they offered more information about their task and activities” (Ibid., 2000), which means that not only can VC compensate for FTF communication, but it can also add new qualities to the communication. However, Newlands does point out that VC seems to be more efficient for people who have already established a social relation FTF.

Benefits of WVM

There are several reasons for trying WVM, one obvious one being infection control considerations now that we have a COVID-19 pandemic, but even when that is under control, there may be gains from WVM. For some, it could be cost efficient, i.e. you would be able to save traveling expenses and cut other costs. There could be a gain through saving time, or by being more accessible. Not to mention, that this is perceived as a form for “green mentoring” which in the long run serves to be more sustainable and lead to increased environmental benefits. WVM also gives us the possibility to mentor regardless of geographical affiliation. In the case that is used in the original article, there is a geographical difference between the mentor and the mentee, and this form of digital communication gives them a chance to have a virtual relation.

A pedagogical point of view

The case in the original article follows the mentoring relation between an employee at a norwegian university, who got a 9 month assignment at a institute in Kambodsja, while his mentor and colleague remained in Norway.


- Mathisen, Petter; Wergeland, Birgitte (2009). Web-basert bilde-lyd-mentoring pedagogiske muligheter og utfordringer. Digital kompetanse. ISSN: 0809-6724. 4 (3/4). s 175 - 190

- Mathisen, Petter; Bjørndal, Cato R. P. (2016). Tablet as a digital tool in supervision of student teachers’ practical training. Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy. ISSN: 1891-943X. 11 (4). s 227 - 247.

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