Online Learning: The Key Role of an Online Mentor

Written on 19 October 2020.

Within the context of online learning, an academic mentoring system helps to prevent participants from dropping out, and to ensure effective learning throughout the course. Alongside a personalised career coaching programme, it forms one of the central pillars of EDHEC Onlines distance learning without the distance, a concept founded on supporting every learner. To find out more, we met with Sandra Cimbolini, an online mentor working daily with participants in EDHECs online courses.

Formation online

What does your role as Academic Mentor involve?

Sandra Cimbolini: In the context of distance learning, the lack of face-to-face classes can limit potential interaction with the teacher. To mitigate this, Academic Mentors lead virtual classes at the end of each section of the course and answer, in real-time, any questions that participants have about their classes. At EDHEC, we support learners throughout the entirety of their online learning and do everything we can to help them successfully complete their courses, right up to receiving their diplomas (when applicable). This is the secret to our 97% programme completion rate, much higher than the rate for MOOCs.

Academic Mentors lead virtual classes at the end of each section of the course and answer, in real-time, any questions that participants have about their classes.


Which courses are you involved in?

SC: I am involved in the Online Manager Programme, in accounting and management control. I am a chartered accountant I have worked in both practice and industry and am now working independently as a sub-contractor for an accountancy firm. My experience allows me to give learners a practical and fact-based perspective. At the same time, I have been teaching at EDHEC for five years, allowing me to fully understand the educational dimension of mentoring, even when it is remote.

How do you support students day-to-day?

SC: On a day-to-day basis, I support students by answering their questions about the course as quickly as possible. I also correct the online exercises on our platform my goal is to teach students to research and think for themselves before looking at the answer sheet. I find that this is more effective for learning. Sometimes I also offer additional exercises. Students mainly come to me about points brought up in the video classes which they havent or have only partially understood. Because everyone has a different knowledge base, some concepts need to be clarified verbally. Some learners sometimes also ask me for insights into topics which havent been mentioned in class.

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Which digital tools do you use to communicate with learners?

SC: I contact them via Slack every day and occasionally by e-mail. Our virtual classes are organised via the platform Zoom.

What is the key to successful mentoring?

SC: I think it requires a certain degree of commitment on both sides. I have to admit that I was a little nervous before I started, as teaching remotely differs from the traditional class format that Im used to. But it didnt take me long to realise that you quickly develop a relationship of trust a bond, even with the learners.  They quickly understand the usefulness of my role. And if the participants can tell that their mentors are committed, this motivates them to be committed too.

Academic mentoring is a way to reduce the sense of distance and bring a human touch to fully virtual courses.

Based on your experience, what do you think makes mentoring particularly vital for online programmes?

SC: While distance learning offers numerous advantages in terms of flexibility and teaching efficiency, it also poses two risks which we must be conscious of: the feeling that you have been partially left to manage on your own, on the one hand, and the temptation to give up, on the other. This is why an online mentor is essential. We provide the support learners need to face these two challenges. I see it clearly in the day-to-day of teaching remotely: when course participants feel lost regarding a case or concept that they have studied via e-learning, they automatically reach out me to discuss it and resolve their issues. Its a way of reducing the sense of distance and bringing a human touch to fully virtual courses.

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