The Case for the Online Mentorship Movement

Special Focus : Learning Societies in the 21st Century
Life Skills February 08, 2019

In 2017, Mehedi Hasan moved from Bangladesh to Germany to study at a university there. After two semesters, juggling work and school became almost impossible. He left and enrolled in a front-end developer program with an online learning platform. When Mehedi’s father got sick, he rushed back home to Bangladesh and set his program aside. After his father recovered, Mehedi returned to Germany – but hit a wall with his studies. He felt like he’d forgotten everything, and, panicking, tried to quit.

Here’s where this story could have ended like so many others. Faced with discouraging results, mounting economic pressures, and limited time, Mehedi could have dropped out of his program and found shorter-term solutions to make ends meet. But the program he enrolled in included a dedicated online mentor. Someone who coached Mehedi through his challenges, giving him emotional support and studying tricks that allowed him to regain ground. Within a year, Mehedi earned his bachelor’s level diploma and was back in the workforce on an exciting career path.

It’s no secret that across the globe, entire groups of people don’t have the skills they need to keep up with today’s changing economy. Technology has dramatically reshaped the job environment, and that promises to continue in the years to come. Technological advances are expected to displace as many as 800 million jobs worldwide by 2030.[1]

No doubt, those who can afford traditional higher education (or, those who incur debt to get one) have historically had a better time weathering economic change. Yet even that advantage is slipping away. Education institutions haven’t kept pace with how forces like automation and digitization are changing the global economy. Now more than ever, having a university degree in hand doesn’t mean you’re job-ready. In a recent study, more than half of employers worldwide said they struggle to find the kinds of candidates they need.[2] As upward mobility is increasingly tied to technical ability, inequality seems poised to get worse.

The good news is that, just as the global economy is innovating and changing, so too is education. Look no further than the movement towards online mentorship. For someone looking to break into today’s tech economy, there is no greater professor than a mentor. By this I mean an industry professional with a proven track record who can share invaluable first-hand experience. Someone to guide a person through projects designed to teach them the core competencies they’ll need on the job. Someone to keep students engaged by helping them identify goals, work through challenges, manage time, and come out on the other side with a job that they want.

Online mentorship works. I know because I’ve seen many stories like Mehedi’s play out through the online learning platform I co-founded. We apply the principles developed by education researcher Benjamin Bloom who discovered that students perform significantly better when given a) the time to master a topic at their own pace, and b) the help of a tutor. We’ve adapted Bloom’s findings for today’s economy, pairing course materials with dedicated mentors to teach people the skills they need for the most in-demand jobs. Mentorship isn’t just for the entry level. We have mentors helping people upskill and launch into new phases of their careers. Last year, our mentors across 18 countries logged 115,000 hours with our students.

It’s fair to ask what’s in it for the mentors. Mentors should be paid enough to earn a supplementary income from their time spent. But, in my experience, most see it as more than that. It’s an opportunity to give back. It’s the chance to become part of a larger community. It’s a way to stay in touch with changes across an industry. It’s a window into the challenges junior colleagues are facing right now – professional context that they can use to become better bosses and co-workers. We’re building a movement, with real potential to become the backbone of a 21st century education system that works for everyone.

I’m the CEO of my company. I’m also a mentor. It’s useful for me to have this kind of direct feedback loop with our students. It’s also incredibly rewarding. Last year, I mentored a 53-year-old woman studying digital project management. I’ll call her Alice. For many years, she was a small business owner, but had to close her doors in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Alice lives in a remote village in the French countryside, where there aren’t many job prospects in her field. More challenging still, she wasn’t comfortable promoting herself. In our online mentorship sessions, we worked together to improve her soft skills like interview prep, networking, and personal branding. She completed her program and landed a promising sales job.

We have an opportunity to meet the evolving tech economy head-on and reskill the people whose jobs are poised for radical change. But first, global education systems are in need of a revolution. One that ushers in top-quality online coursework that’s available to all – and directly relevant to today’s economy. One that pairs online mentors with their future colleagues. This has the power to bridge skill gaps and physical distances, making us ever-more more prepared for the changes ahead.


[1] McKinsey: Jobs lost, jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages

[2] Capgemini: The Digital Talent Gap—Are Companies Doing Enough?