The impact of digital mentoring platforms on multicultural mentoring

Radlick, R. L., Mirkovic, J., Przedpelska, S., Halvorsen Brendmo, E., & Gammon, D. (2020). Experiences and Needs of Multicultural Youth and Their Mentors, and Implications for Digital Mentoring Platforms: Qualitative Exploratory Study. JMIR Formative Research, 4(2).

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Immigrant youths living in Norway have a greater risk of dropping out of school and/or being unemployed
  • There is increased interest in implementing interventions, like mentoring programs, in order to help decrease the gaps between immigrant and native youths
  • This study examines the needs and experiences of immigrant mentees and mentors
    • Researchers also analyze the effectiveness of having a digital platform to carry out mentoring relationships
  • Help in personal goals, desire for connection, and need for security & control were prominent themes from this qualitative study
    • Salient subthemes: Desire for socializing, sharing information/insights, establishing trust, balancing relationships, paying it forward, need for anonymity, and willingness to help with achieving goals (by goal-oriented mentors and mentees)
  • Although the results demonstrate the usefulness of digital mentoring programs, mentors and mentees still pointed out that this shouldn’t fully replace in-person interactions
  • Findings indicate the potential that modified eHealth apps have in enhancing mentoring relationships and mentees’ social capital 

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Background: Mentoring programs (ie, programs that connect youths with adult volunteers) have been shown to improve outcomes across the behavioral, social, and academic domains of youth development. As in other European countries, mentoring programs have few traditions in Norway, where interventions for multicultural youths are usually profession driven and publicly funded. Faced with the risk of disparities in education and health, there is a need to better understand this group’s experiences and requirements relative to mentoring. This would also serve as a basis for designing and implementing digital support.

Objective: The objective of this study was to gain insight into multicultural youth mentees’ and adult mentors’ experiences and needs in the context of an ongoing mentoring program, how digital support (electronic mentoring) might address these needs, and how such support could be designed and implemented.

Methods: The study used a qualitative approach, with data from 28 respondents (21 mentees and 7 mentors). In total, 4 workshops with mentees as well as semistructured interviews with mentees and mentors were conducted. The sessions were audio recorded, transcribed, and analyzed thematically.

Results: In total, 3 main themes were identified from the experiences and needs reported by the mentees and mentors. These included a need for connection, help in achieving goals, and the need for security and control. Subthemes encompassed a desire to socialize with others, balancing the nature of the relationship, paying it forward, building trust, sharing insights and information with peers, goal-oriented mentees and mentors wanting to assist with goal achievement, and the fundamental need for privacy and anonymity in the digital platform.

Conclusions: The findings of this study are supported by the literature on traditional mentoring, while also offering suggestions for the design of digital solutions to supplement the in-person mentoring of multicultural youth. Suggestions include digital support for managing the mentee-mentor relationships, fostering social capital, and ways of ensuring security and control. Features of existing electronic health apps can be readily adapted to a mentoring program context, potentially boosting the reach and benefits of mentoring.


Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Broadly, the experiences and needs expressed by the multicultural youths in this study coincide well with studies that have examined similar groups relative to the concepts of health and social capital. For example, a Canadian study [28] found that refugee youths defined health in terms of a sense of belonging, an ability to cope, and self-determination, dimensions closely aligned with the themes identified in this study.

Mentees and mentors offered a wide range of ideas and preferences for adapting the main components from the original ReConnect platform (eg, forum, messaging, toolbox) and suggested new components for the e-mentoring platform (such as calendar and GPS). Perhaps the clearest implication of the findings for e-mentoring design, expressed by all informants, is that it must not replace in-person contact between the youths and mentors. Although mentoring that is exclusively based on digital contact may be a better than nothing solution for some, informants in this study instead focused on the ways digital support could enhance in-person mentee-mentor encounters and relationships. This echoes the view that the core benefit of mentoring is the relationship between the mentee and mentor and concerns that e-mentoring might undermine the dyads’ ability to forge quality relationships [17]. Support for broader networks among mentees and mentors, both individually and collectively, was also emphasized, again as a way of fostering in-person relationships. These findings reflect Catalysts’ own theory of change, highlighting specific areas where e-mentoring could enhance their traditional mentoring in terms of managing the relationships, supporting social capital, and ensuring security. 

Reflective of the primacy placed on the mentee-mentor relationship, informants’ suggestions for digital resources largely had to do with fostering in-person relationships and activities toward specific goals (relating to main themes 1 and 2). Information that aimed to boost mentor skills and sense of efficacy (eg, case descriptions and various scenarios for responding) as well as mentees’ skills and self-efficacy in eliciting mentor support for their given needs were suggested [35]. Specific tools (forum and toolbox) to support mentee-mentor collaboration around concrete tasks were also important in this regard. For example, many of the suggestions for digital support had to do with tools that could boost specific skills such as Norwegian training, writing a CV, and goal-based planning, along with ways the mentors and mentees could become engaged in developing skills. This ties in with what others have suggested [36]—that specific activities toward concrete goals (relationship as the context for an intervention) are preferable to friendship models of mentoring where the main objective is to forge a close bond (with the relationship as the intervention). Although the forum and toolbox were considered valuable for relational support, sending private messages was viewed as less important by most of the stakeholders, as existing tools (eg, SMS and WhatsApp) were largely viewed as sufficient.


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