MentorI hate to say it, but medieval Europe might have had better job preparation than we do today. In short, they used apprenticeships. I’m glossing over a lot of details and caveats here but, if you wanted to be a blacksmith you found a blacksmith and talked them into teaching you. You then spent the next several years working for and with that blacksmith.

That’s on the job training in its purest form. And since pretty much everyone was illiterate back then there wasn’t a whole lot of reading involved, if any. An apprentice pretty much spent every moment supporting and learning from the craft master.

Unfortunately, a lot of training seems to be the opposite these days. There’s lots of reading and too little hands-on application. And what’s more, that long-term personal bond has largely dissolved too. Most organizations seem to have travelling trainers who learners see a few times before they move on. And subject matter experts are often busy and are sometimes kept at arms’ length from everyone else. That makes it difficult to have someone dependable you can go to for advice.

Mentoring can help fill these gaps. Sometimes it’s part of a formal program and other times it evolves naturally. Either way, a productive mentor-mentee relationship is rewarding for both parties. The mentee gets the benefits of having access to someone who knows the tricks of the trade and has a wealth of personal experience. The mentor has an opportunity to stop and reflect on why they work the way they do, to make a positive impact on someone else’s life, and to be introduced to a new way of looking at things they may take for granted.

And they can both make new connections within their field.

I’ve written about my time as a mentor before, but I’ve also been on the other side of the equation. In fact, mentoring is largely responsible for how I’ve become the instructional designer I am today. It’s very comforting to know that someone’s ready and willing to provide feedback, ask thought provoking questions, and point me toward helpful resources. And it’s not a one way street. If I have a suggestion or idea my mentor likes, sometimes they adopt it! That’s a great feeling.

Here are some ways you can look into mentoring (or finding a mentor):

• Ask if your organization has a mentoring program
• Check professional associations in your field
• See if your alma mater is involved in mentoring
• Ask around on professional networking sites like LinkedIn
o Mentoring can be done digitally!
• Stay in touch with the people you meet at conferences or other industry events
• Find someone in your organization who’s open to the idea

We’ve come so far since the middle ages, but maybe there are still a few things we can learn from them. Mentoring, whether formal or informal, is one of those things. It promotes practical application and can benefit everyone involved.


If you’d like to read more about learning theory, check out the rest of this author’s blogs.

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