This review examines research on digital and electronic forms of mentorship, or e-mentoring. The review is organized around four questions:
- What is the documented effectiveness of this approach to mentoring?
- What factors shape the effectiveness of e-mentoring among youth?
- What are the intervening processes (mediators) that are most important in linking e-mentoring to youth outcomes?
- To what extent have e-mentoring programs reached and sustained the engagement of intended youth, been implemented with high quality, and been adopted and sustained by organizations and settings?
To date, only a small number of empirical studies address these questions. With widespread use of digital and electronic communication being fairly new, however, it is not surprising that e-mentoring is a relatively under-investigated area. The research that does exist reveals the following preliminary findings:
- Evidence on the effectiveness of e-mentoring for improving youth outcomes is mixed, as in some effects are good and some are null; the limited number of studies that utilize a comparison group not receiving e-mentoring further complicate the ability to draw conclusions about its effectiveness.
- Although some e-mentoring formats, such as email interactions, have been successful in improving youth outcomes, it is not clear which formats work best for a given population of youth.
- Although there are several potential factors that could moderate the effects of e-mentoring, including race and gender of youth, most studies to date have only explored level and quality of interpersonal communication.
- Interaction frequency and relationship quality may be important mediators of youth outcomes in e-mentoring programs.
- E-mentoring programs that have been implemented and sustained seem to benefit from clear guidelines, structure, and organizational tools.
Insights for practitioners are provided at the end of this review. This commentary recommends that programs wishing to adopt and utilize electronic communication in their mentoring programs should always consider factors that would enable mentors and mentees to use the associated tools (e.g., mobile devices, websites). More specifically, programs are advised to clearly articulate why and how e-mentoring formats can facilitate or enhance mentor-mentee interactions, anticipate potential challenges and how to overcome them, and determine how staff roles may change to facilitate and support electronic communications.
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