Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mentorship Education

Disclaimer: This is a work in progress, I'm mostly curious about what you think about this idea. Also, sorry about the wall of text.

As a software developer, I try to identify places were technology can help people. I've had many conversations with a few people about how the education industry is on the cusp of a large reform because of the Internet. I'm not sure if that's true but I'm going to act like it is for the sake of argument at the moment. Many people believe that this is going to come in the form of a centralized education platform or standard that delivers online education. We're already seeing things like this, Kahn Academy ( and Lynda ( are two excellent examples. I'd like to look at how technology can help education from a different perspective because I think the idea of online education (or eLearning) is flawed in one very serious way; it completely ignores the human aspect of learning and assumes that we're going to learn on a cookie cutter assembly line.

I'm not denying that education is possible through online resources because I go to Google whenever I don't know the answer to something, but there is a difference between answering a trivia question and understanding the fundamentals of economics, the events that lead up to World War II, or software engineering. The fact of the matter is that, when it comes to learning, each human is different. I think this means that we can't expect that a one-size-fits-all education process is going to be the most efficient method of learning for everyone. We have to tailor education to the individual if we want to make the most out of the time that we're spending learning.

This leads me to the guess that the most effective education is a one-on-one environment where a single mentor educates a single learner. This way the mentor can adapt to the needs of the individual. We already know that this method works because when a student is doing poorly we give them individualized tutoring. Why should this method of teaching be reserved for when a student is behind? The only real reason I can come up with is because we don't have enough teachers to educate our entire population individually.

Let's break education up. If we focus on teaching/learning a single topic at a time then, theoretically, we're able to master one topic quickly. Once we've mastered a single topic shouldn't we be able to then pass on our understanding of that topic to someone else? I believe that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it so what if part of our learning process was to teach it to someone else? Realistically this means we would learn a topic from a mentor and then once our mentor believes we understand it well enough we would graduate to a mentor of the topic and teach someone else. After we've mentored someone we become a reference to that person as they become a mentor. We're not actively engaged in the education of our "grand-learner" but we act as a reference to their mentor, your previous student. This is all done at a single topic level because this is a living educational platform that focuses on a student learning a single topic from a single mentor. In this ideology you're always teaching and always learning.

Here is where technology comes in, there is no way that this would be possible without a software platform to find mentors across the world who are experts in their field. I envision this working very similar to a pyramid scheme but without the sleazy sales pressure. If the learner were able to rate their mentor on how well they felt they were able to teach the topic then that data could also be applied to their mentor's reference but at a fraction of the impact. This allows us to build a pyramid of data that holds the mentor responsible for ensuring that their student understands the topic well enough to then be able to teach it.

I don't have all the answers for this yet but I'm thinking about this at the moment and wanted to hear what you thought. What are some of the stumbling points or gotchas that I have missed? Any suggestions for how this could work better? Am I completely insane and this would never work?
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