Take a moment to reflect on the time in your life when you’ve learned something really amazing, when you’ve had that ‘aha’ moment and suddenly realized something key in your learning journey. What helped you to get your break-through? Most people would say that that moment took place because of another human being – a tutor, mentor, coach, peer or a family member. Most of those transformational moments have been led by another person. This simple reflection is a powerful illustration of the importance of tutorship and mentorship in learning.
With recent technological trends, however, tutors and mentors can easily be overlooked – and that’s a huge mistake. Let’s explore this further.
The role of technology in learning
We are all aware that the world seems to be changing very fast, but few people anticipated quite how quickly this change would occur. Industry after industry is being digitally transformed. And there are very clear winners and losers – adapt or perish!
Take the example of Nike – by switching its mindset and thinking of innovative ways to connect with its customers Nike has reinvented it’s brand and supply chain. At the beginning of 2017, it’s stock price was $52; it’s now up to nearly $88.
Equally, L&D must also mirror such innovation when developing training programs to engage Modern Learners in fast-moving companies where digital transformation is or on the cusp of taking place. Doing so, will not only align with the company’s approach to better connect and think more creatively when tapping into training and talent management but better ensure return on investment.
Is digital technology dominating today’s learning?
Let’s look at the four phases of learning evolution:
1. The traditional industrial age education method was shaped by the needs of the age, with rows of inactive learners subjected to a production-line approach to learning.
2. In the early nineties of the last century, technology enabled us to experiment with CD-ROM based courses, Flash animations and solitary eLearning on dedicated machines.
3. But it’s only now that we are seeing real breakthroughs, as technology reaches a level of maturity to provide ubiquitous, mobile learning, that harnesses the social dimension.
Most training organizations are spread across these three eras, with various levels of progress.
As American-Canadian writer William Gibson said, ‘The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.’
4. As we all focus on evolving to the more advanced and effective era of blended learning, the fourth industrial revolution is already upon us.
Artificial Intelligence (AI), The Internet of Things (IoT), Bots, Virtual Reality and other technologies are fundamentally changing how we work and how we learn.
Technology isn’t always the solution
So, what is the future of learning? Are we all going to learn from robots?
According to Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, within ten years students will be taught by machines powered by artificial intelligence. He claims the robots will adapt to each student, making ’extraordinarily inspirational’ teaching available for all.
And yet, according to Toward Maturity report (2017-18), 55% of training continues to be delivered face-to-face.
Does this mean that the vision of Sir Seldon is wrong, that we have been resistant to accepting this concept or that we actually still need a human element to learning?
Let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that because technology is the future, it is also the solution. For example, cheap eLearning solutions that rely solely on technology can lead to low engagement, low return on investment and ultimately a failure as an effective, low-cost learning solution.
The lesson here is: lead with people, follow with technology, not the other way around.
Technology’s role is to enhance the work of educators and to empower learners. It is not technology, but tutors and mentors who are the true ‘killer app’ when it comes to an impactful learning experience.
Matt Britland, Head of ICT at Kingston Grammar School, also argues that the future of learning is not about robots nor one specific device.
Interestingly, he says it’s about access to learning ATAWAT (anytime, anywhere, via any device), as well as local and global collaboration. For Matt, the future of technology in education is the cloud; and the future of learning and teaching is social.
It’s true that the role of personal technology in learning is increasing and it will continue playing an incredibly important part in, e.g. intelligent learning or employing flipped classroom methodology and giving learners plenty of self-study opportunities. However, there will still be a firm place for tutorship and mentorship in the learning process.
The future of learning is human
As John Dewey, an American philosopher and educational reformer said, ‘Education is a social process; education is growth; education is not preparation for life but is life itself’.
The mechanisms by which individuals learn from direct experience have received a great deal of attention in recent years; learning is a social phenomenon. We learn when we observe the environment around us, picking up on various clues that allow us to function in the world, communicate with one another, solve problems, make decisions and much more.
But that’s not all. In his book Visible Learning (2009), the author John Hattie claims that, ‘teachers are among the most powerful influences in learning’. Therefore, meaningful relationships drive transformational learning, in which learners gain new perspectives and become more self-determined over time.
This has been proven by the research and clinical work of lecturer and educational psychologist, Jacqueline Zeller, who explains that the relationships between children and teachers are powerful mechanisms for change: ‘When students felt that I believed in them and supported their growth, they felt more confident both academically and socially at school’.
The same mechanism applies to adults. As an adult learner, you appreciate having a tutor or a mentor who believes in you, guides and empowers you to achieve your learning goals.
Moreover, as you learn a language or develop a soft skill to communicate with other people, human interaction is critical for you to be emotionally and socially engaged and able to experiment.
The role of an adult tutor is to forge meaningful relationships and create a learning experience that transforms learners’ lives and development.
Tutors have various learning methods at their disposal which help facilitate an effective, human-driven learning experience:
Peer to peer learning
A recent article by Randstad Recruitment explains that, ‘peer-to-peer learning is when one learner leads another through a task or concept’. This is as opposed to collaborative learning when learners learn alongside one another; in peer learning they learn from one another.
According to Katie Puckett, the author of The Future of Education report, peer to peer learning will dominate the future of learning.
She suggests that tutors and learning designers should create new ways for diverse learners to share learning and learn from each other. ‘Teachers’, – she continues, – ‘will become facilitators of communities built around shared learning and aspiration’.
Collaborative learning occurs when learners work in groups to discuss ideas and solve problems together.
Numerous studies collated for Ryerson University by Michelle Schwartz, Instructional Design and Research Strategist, indicate that the collaborative learning method, ‘allows learners to use their shared connections and experiences to explain and build upon concepts from the group in ways instructors cannot’ (Davis, 2013; cited in Schwartz).
Without tutorship and mentorship, learning misses the collaborative design element and becomes just content, so learners can’t take part in a real collaborative learning experience.
Collaborative design is about creating ways to bring people together into a rich, collaborative environment, says Stefan Jakobek, education lead at HOK.
His example is that, ‘maybe if a person studying Ebola bumps into someone focused on the human genome, they might have this great conversation and new ideas are sparked’.
Experiential learning method, or ‘learning-by-doing’ has been explored in detail by David Kolb in his model published in 1984.
According to Kolb, effective learning occurs when a learner progresses through a cycle of four stages:
1. Having a concrete experience,
2. Observing and reflecting on that experience,
3. Creating abstract concepts (analysis) and generalizations (conclusions),
4. Testing hypothesis in future situations, resulting in new experiences.
The role of a tutor is to guide learners through the cycle, make practical use of their knowledge and apply it in a context similar to the way that knowledge would be used in real life.
By using experiential techniques, such as discussion, simulation, case method and problem-solving tutors engage the learners by tapping into their experiences.
Without a tutor, learners may miss out on the key link between the classroom and the workplace application because the beauty of an effective experiential learning is in facilitation and reflection.
Building relationships with learners
Modern learning is no longer about a teacher or trainer feeding you knowledge. Learners want to be engaged and empowered to learn and grow themselves.
This is where trainers become mentors and coaches who encourage curiosity and experimentation.
This process helps to turn mistakes into a natural part of the learning process; it allows fostering autonomy and collaboration.
But the right to coach needs to be earned. This is why it’s so important for trainers and teachers to get to know their learners and build strong relationships with them.
Tutors and mentors can do this by:
- Setting conditions for genuine, trusting relationships in learning teams
- Finding out about individual learning needs
- Connecting with individual learners on a personal level, as appropriate
- Building trust through credibility and support
- Encouraging learners to take intellectual risks in a safe learning environment
- Promoting autonomy, collaboration and flexibility
- Challenging learners’ thinking and helping them stretch their comfort zones
In addition, Carl Rogers, a US psychologist cited in a British Council article, says that there are three very important aspects of building rapport between tutors and learners:
1. Respect (a positive, non-judgmental regard for other people)
2. Empathy (being able to see things from the other person’s perspective)
3. Authenticity (being oneself without hiding behind job titles, roles or masks)’
If you respect learners, they will usually respect you back. If you show empathy, they will open up to you. If you exhibit authenticity, you will create a safe, honest learning environment that enhances the learning experience.
It is imaginable that in a few years, learners will incorporate so much independence into their learning process, that mentoring will become fundamental to the success of learning.
Mentors and coaches will form a central point in guiding learners through the learning process and to maintain motivation.
Though the future of learning seems remote, tutorship and mentorship are vital to the effectiveness of learning.
Tutorship and mentorship in learning
There are many tricks that digital learning technologies can do for learners to support the learning process.
However, if you asked a learner what they thought about their learning experience you probably would not hear, ‘I loved your interactive microlearning interface’, or, ‘your rescheduling-in-a-click function on my phone was incredible’.
What you would hear instead is, ‘John from Yorkshire has helped me to overcome my nervousness when delivering presentations and I had a real break-through!’, or, ‘Marcy from Michigan was the best trainer I’ve ever had’.
You would hear stories about the tutors and mentors who brought the content to life or helped the learner to finally understand a tricky concept.
This is why tutorship and mentorship is key to successful learning.
Undoubtedly, technology has its place in learning, but it should be used to support and complement tutors, not to replace them. Without the human-driven element, learning just would not work as effectively as it could.
Maximizing your learning
One of the key challenges of driving people through learning is keeping them motivated. The main motivator is another human such as a tutor, mentor or a learning buddy by your side. They help you throughout the program, congratulate you when you do well, pick you up when you struggle and keep you on track so that you can reach your objectives.
Have it both ways
The beauty of having access to learning technologies is that you don’t have to choose between digital or face to face learning: you can have both. It is not necessary to limit yourself by technology-driven learning. Maximize your learning by adding the human element.