Thursday, September 29, 2005

Scalability of Human Mentors and Coaches

Bill Bruck took issues with a comment I made to his article on Building Interactivity Into E-Learning. Specifically, it is about the scalability of human mentors and coaches. See his comment here.

It is not clear from my original comment (my fault) that I actually support the return of having human elements in any learning process, whether technology-supported or mediated or otherwise. I see great value in the interaction between learners and human mentors/coaches.

When I read the section on "Apprenticing" in Bill's article, I have formed an opinion about what Bill meant by coaching and mentoring. The original paragraph is:

Many skills benefit from ongoing coaching over time, for example, account executives mastering a new solution sell approach. Group action learning projects are often used as stretch assignments in leadership training. Team workspaces can now effectively support such especially when they integrate discussion boards with email for collaboration, and tracking mechanisms for participation.

At the time, I assumed wrongly that the mentoring and coaching process is a one-to-few relationship (something like 1 to 5, in my mind at that time) where a mentor/coach actually works closely with a group of learners/apprentice. I also noted that Bill talked about "ongoing coaching over time". Hence I commented that it will not scale. The technical support mechanism mentioned is "discussion boards with email" both of which are collaborative tools, without a description of the process of how this would happen.

I continued to describe an alternate process (using role play simulation) and articulated that the process of getting a team to play ONE role will force a certain of level of learning because

As a team playing a role, the team needs to maintain a consistent role personality, tones, tactics and strategy. Such a requirement will force the team member to articulate their ideas among the team member critically. Team members will also review each proposed eaction critically in order to achieve the best outcome for the role.

I have forgotten to mention the technology (or collaborative tools) which support this team-based playing of a role. :-)

In this case, since the human element is the moderator of the role play simulation, the job of the moderator is quite different from the mentor/coach. As such, the human moderator to learner ratio is higher (about 1 to 100).

I am really excited to see that Bill was able to provide

coaching to 2,500 managers in writing SMART performance objectives over a six-week period.

Obviously I would like to read the case study of how this may be done as Bill's process is much more scalable than mine.

I agree whole-heartedly that "person-to-computer interaction only gets you so far".