To get our conversation started, please respond by sharing your own experience and thoughts:
When you think about mentoring, advising and informal learning in your practice setting, what comes to mind? What does it look like? What other terms do you use for it? Who is involved? What value does it have?
I think about relevant, customized, timely and support for the development and enhancement of any skill. We're all SMEs of something and if we use good basic learning principles, we can share those to the benefit of others. This could include an alumnus helping a student to get comfortable with networking, a member of the younger generation helping someone from an older generation get a handle on new technology or someone who has worked in different cultural settings guiding someone else through it.
In a business setting informal learning often looks like coaching, be it up, down or sideways. There are so many collaborative ways that everyone can learn in organizations today. With the multigenerational workforce and the power of technology, sharing new information and ideas is easy and helps businesses improve results, save time and spread the knowledge.
I think that genuine mentoring and advising experiences are rooted in mutual respect and open communication, regardless of the context in which they take place. There are of course situations in which individuals are forced or required to mentor/advise others, but in my experience this relationship is most fruitful when it arises organically and informally. For example, one of my students began meeting with me during office hours to discuss the papers for my class, but over time she began seeking guidance and advice to succeed in other challenging courses. I became an informal mentor of sorts, and after almost dropping out she began to gain confidence and went on to earn a national scholarship (which I happily wrote a letter of recommendation for). Nobody asked me to serve as an advisor or mentor; rather, it developed organically out of mutual respect and her willingness to be direct about her concerns as she began college. If I had been assigned to her as an advisor and only met with her once at the beginning of the year to help her pick classes, it might have worked out very differently. Perhaps most importantly, I think that mentors and advisers must be open to the idea that they can learn just as much from their mentee/advisee. In some ways, all of these terms suggest a reciprocal exchange of experiences and knowledge that's driven by a commitment to "the development and enhancement of any skill," as Gillian nicely stated in her reply. When one is open to informal learning and is involved in an organic mentoring or advising situation, s/he can learn a great deal as well.
The words “mentoring” and “advising” tend to evoke a top-down approach to information exchange. Zac really did take the words out of my mouth by describing it as something that is best when it occurs organically, coming from a place of mutual respect. Ideally, mentoring can be a reciprocal process. And, given the complexity of organizations, DePaul in particular, it is not always possible to have one mentor/advisor who is the repository of all institutional knowledge. The idea of informal learning is exciting, as it implies that a space and culture exist where individuals can grow through the exchange ideas.
It appears that women are normally prone to mentoring and advising and informal learning is a natural by-product of that in social settings. Women's more naturally look to share experiences and learn from them. In a professional setting, intentional mentoring exists when there is an open culture that allows for direct communication. Trust is paramount for this openness to occur. The proliferation of business roundtables, mentoring groups and peer advising is mentoring at its best. Here, men and women equally participate and, when professionally facilitated, the entire group benefits. I am looking forward to continuing the conversation tomorrow night and appreciate all the comments that preceded mine.