Enhance Your Association’s Online Courses & Cohorts with Mentoring

With remote and hybrid work, people don’t have the same formal or informal mentoring opportunities as they did before lockdown. Young professionals, especially, don’t have the same chances to overhear conversations, watch interactions, and absorb the unspoken rules and rituals of an industry. 

It’s more difficult to acclimate to a new profession or working environment when you have to rely on a Zoom or Teams screen. And turning to co-workers for guidance, explanations, or solutions isn’t always possible or advisable for people in any career stage. Instead, a mentor from outside the workplace can play a transformative role in a professional’s career. 

An increasing number of associations now offer mentoring or coaching in selected online courses, leadership development programs, and cohort programs. When professional coaches aren’t in the budget, volunteer mentors can add tremendous value to courses and cohorts.

Increase the value of your online courses and cohorts with mentoring

Many people have a natural resistance to asking for help. We like being resourceful and self-sufficient. But it’s easier to accept help if it’s included in a program or course we want to take.

Gen Z, dubbed the “anxious generation” by researchers, appreciates receiving guidance from those with more wisdom and experience. Mentors remember how it feels to be in their mentees’ shoes. They help learners of all ages address the professional challenges in their lives. They show their mentees how to apply their new skills and knowledge. 

Mentors help learners connect with people and expand their network. They help learners figure out:

  • What programs or courses to consider next
  • What to read or listen to regularly
  • What type of association activities to pursue
  • What skills and knowledge to acquire
  • What types of positions to aim for

They give feedback on coursework, offer advice on how to manage workloads, and provide a safe space for asking questions. They also act as accountability partners.

Build mentoring into the price of live or on-demand programs or make it available as a premium service for an additional fee.

Group mentoring as an alternative to individual mentoring

In a traditional mentoring arrangement, the learner (mentee) is paired with one mentor. But what if you don’t have enough mentors to go around?

With group mentoring, you don’t have to recruit as many mentors. One mentor facilitates discussions with several learners. In this lower pressure environment, the learner isn’t the only object of their mentor’s focus. Learners also hear the diverse perspectives of their fellow mentees.

Mentoring discussions focus on common goals and challenges. The group could also put someone in the “hot seat,” as in a mastermind session, where everyone helps the subject solve a problem.

Group mentoring could involve multiple mentors as well. For example, in leadership cohorts, mentors could rotate depending on their expertise. This arrangement brings diverse mentor perspectives and experiences to mentoring discussions. It’s a lower pressure situation for new mentors who may not think they have enough to offer.

What’s in it for volunteer mentors

Mentoring is a virtual microvolunteering opportunity requiring a limited commitment for the duration of the course or program. If multiple mentors share group mentoring responsibilities, mentors can work around scheduling conflicts. 

Course and cohort alumni are ideal for facilitating mentoring sessions. Mentoring is also a good fit for members who rather not serve a year on a committee or get wrapped up in a time-consuming project, like a conference. Members can mentor for eight weeks, then take time off before deciding to sign on again.

To boost recruitment efforts, remind members about the help they received when starting out or attempting to move up—or the help they wish they had received. Mentoring is an opportunity for exposure to new perspectives and a look at your industry through a fresh lens.

Mentors get to develop coaching skills, which are becoming an in-demand management skill. Mentoring is rewarding—a way to pay it forward and leave a legacy by making a difference in someone’s life.

In some associations, mentors earn CE credit for their time. You could also thank volunteer mentors with a discount on future programs or surprise them with a free registration for an upcoming program.

online courses and cohorts with mentoring lead to conversations like this one between two guys online

Supporting mentors

Offer basic training and support to volunteer mentors. If you want them to actually read or watch what you provide, keep it short. Post a more detailed version they can consult, like this mentor guide from the Construction Management Association of America.

Consider offering these resources for mentors:

  • Training videos or guide
  • Top 10 tips
  • Mentoring dos and don’ts 
  • Top 10 questions asked by mentees
  • Jumpstart guide for conversations
  • Mentor forum in your online community 

Association examples of online courses and cohorts with mentoring

Construction Management Association of America provides mentors for its Construction Manager-in-Training program. Mentors provide participants with guidance and support to ensure they stay on the right track and get the experience necessary to qualify for certification. 

EDUCAUSE bundles mentoring with its Institute cohort programs for professionals in different career stages and specializations. Learners receive mentoring for three months from an experienced leader from the higher education community. 

At AASA, The School Superintendents Association, National Superintendent Certification Program participants receive one-to-one coaching from an industry veteran or recently retired superintendent. If your association recruits retirees for mentoring, make sure they’re up to date on employment market realities. 

In the New York Library Association’s six-month Developing Leaders Program, each participant is matched with a mentor, based on their short and long-term goals. 

A twist on group mentoring is offered by the Society of Women Engineers. Members join two-week mentoring cohorts focused on specific topics. They serve as mentors, mentees, or both. The limited duration makes it easier for mentors to prioritize their commitment.

Mentoring is a popular feature of emerging leader cohort programs. One of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ leadership programs is an eight-month mentoring program. Skills-based training is offered to both the mentor and mentee. The pair complete a project together—a microlearning lesson, newsletter article, or blog post. They’re required to attend two annual meetings with their registration fees covered by a sponsorship.

Mentoring differentiates your online courses and cohorts from the growing non- and for-profit competition. Even better, this valuable experience makes a difference in the lives of learners and their mentors.

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