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Distance Learning Key Issues

While the 10 dominant Internet collaborative tools have great potential for providing distance learning services with great scalability and economy, these tools are so new that the general understanding of most people regarding the most effective teaching methods for each respective technology option is usually minimal. As a rule, if an individual is motivated to learn, and the instructional content is available in a self-directed format, great numbers of people can learn with minimal interaction with an instructor. This "self-directed learning" model demonstrates the greatest overall economies and scalability.

Individuals requiring an instructor to motivate and monitor their online learning will be faced with the very new experience of creating and sustaining a relationship through Internet collaborative tools. Measurement of the effectiveness of creating, sustaining, and growing a meaningful mentor-mentee, or citizen-to-citizen, relationship is still a largely unexplored frontier, as the quality of a distance learning experience can depend heavily on the level of trust, and meaningfulness, of this very human relationship.

Online Mentorship Key Issues

If instructional content is provided in a self-directed format, and an individual needs someone to motivate and monitor the instruction, this role does not necessarily have to be performed by a expert in the content area. An online mentor’s role is primarily to encourage, motivate, and monitor the individual’s learning, and can be performed adequately by a peer or someone without previous expertise in the content area.

There is no upward limitation of the degree of benefit a person can receive from a mentor who has Internet access and information retrieval skills. Mentors for the MECHA project’s migrant students, for example, can potentially provide the student’s entire family with assistance identifying available medical and social services programs, psychological counseling, and much more.

Research into just what online mentoring is, and can become, is a rapidly evolving area of interest, upon which the future of effective distance learning depends. Building learning communities around the theme of ongoing lifelong learning requires an approach more familial and social than the traditional disciplinarian approach. In today’s world, we can’t afford to let anyone fail due to lack of mentoring assistance, most certainly not in our own families! From a cultural standpoint, whom we support in this way defines who we are and what we believe in. Online support can indeed be warm, personal, and ongoing in ways many of us have never experienced, but will, and soon!

An online course titled "Mentoring Online" at http://www.learner.org/courses/rfts/ (select "Lessons") along with two other courses titled "Beginning Internet" and "Creating Collaborative Multi-classroom Projects," demonstrate a dual format for online courses allowing for both self-directed and mentored use of these courses.

Mentoring Models and Resources

Lone Eagle Consulting's Best Online Learning Resource Listings