Communications and Network, 2013, 5, 1-3
doi:10.4236/cn.2013.53B1001 Published Online August 2013 (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. CN
E-mentoring as a Critical E-learning Approach:
The Impact of Social Presence on E-mentoring
Ellen A. Ensher
Loyola Marymount University, College of Business Administration, One LMU Drive, Los Angeles, USA
Email: eensher@l mu. edu
Received May, 2013
One important form of e-learning is e-mentoring. Virtual mentoring can occur within the context of formal organiza-
tional programs or develop spontaneously between individuals online. While e-mentoring is burgeoning as a practice,
theoretical research related to this important phenomenon has been limited. The purpose of this paper is to suggest that
social presence theory presents a useful conceptual framework for understanding mentors’ willingness to participate in
e-mentoring relationship and on their satisfaction. In sum, mentoring relationships that offer a blended approach with
both high and low social presence forms of computer-mediated-co mmunication (CMC) will be more satisfying to men-
tors than those with low social presence CMC forms only. Implications for research and practice are discussed.
Keywords: E-learning; E-me nto r in g; Learning; Mentoring; Social Presence Theory
1. Introduction
The two CEO’s have a special relationship, with the two
palling around together, Zuckerberg teaching Graham
about Facebook and social media and Graham recipro-
cating with gems of wisdom about CEO life.
Greenfield, Atlantic Monthly
Mentoring has morphed in recent years. Today’s mentor-
ing is a co mplex process with multiple permutations that
depart from the traditional dyad in which a senior wise
elder provides guidance to a novice (Clutterbuck,
2007)[1]. We now find that there is an array of different
types of mentoring, such as the reciprocal mentoring
relationship between Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg,
and Wash- ington Post’s CEO, Donald Graham. Other
types of new forms of mentoring include peer mentoring,
group mentoring, and e-mentoring (Ensher & Murphy,
2005)[2]. One of the most innovative forms of mentoring
is e-mentoring, which is a mutually beneficial relation-
ship b etwee n a ment or a nd a p r o té gé whic h p r o vid es new
learning as well as career and e motional suppo rt, pri marily
through email and other electronic methods (Ensher &
Murphy, 2007)[3].
E-mentoring is an important form of e-learning. It can
occur within the context of a formal organizational pro-
gram or informally through a spontaneously developed
relationship between two individuals online. E-learning
represents a 91 billion dollar market and is expected to
conti nue to gr ow in fut ure year s (Farbey, 2013)[4]. Mo st
e-learning products and platforms are targeted to a virtual
classroom or group setting. However, professionals and
students can also learn by developing a relationship with
another person such as an e-mentoring relationship. In
fact, e-mentoring is growing exponentially as a practice;
however there is a dearth of rigorous research related to
understanding overall factors impacting t he effect ivenes s
of e-mentoring in general, and mentorswillingness to
engage in e-mentoring relationships in particular. The
purpose of this paper is to suggest that social presence
theory be used as a conceptual framework to understand
mentors’ willingness to engage in e-mentoring relatio n -
ships and their overall satisfaction with the relationship.
The impact of social presence on e-mentoring also has
important implications for mentoring program design.
2. Importance of E-Mentor ing
E-mentoring relationships are advantageous as they allow
mentors and protégés to enjoy maximum flexibility as
they communicate without the constraints of physical
pro ximit y or ti me (Ens her , He un, & Bl anc hard , 2 003) [5].
Moreover, e-mentoring opens up avenues of mentoring
for demographic groups such as for women and people of
color that may be under-represented in certain careers
and echelons and who may find it difficult to find face-
to-face mentors (Single, Muller, Cunningham, Single &
Carlsen, 2005)[6]. Another advantage of e-mentoring is
that the lack of visual cues decreases the distortion of
precon- ceived notions or expectations based on
demographics, thus providing a more level playing field
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. CN
(deJanasz, Ensher, & Heun, 2008)[7].
Overall, e-mentoring is advantageous for all profes-
sionals as it provides an additional context that enables
protégés to leverage the positive effects of multiple
mentors that are crucial to career success (Higgins &
Kram, 2001)[8]. Due to the advantages of e-mentoring,
there has been a rapid growth in these types of programs
with businesses such as Triple Creek and Mentium pro-
viding platforms and support to companies such as KPM G
who sponsor e-mentoring (An & Lipscomb, 2010))[9].
One of the greatest challenges that mentoring program
ad- ministrators face is the need to effectively recruit and
match mentors and protégés (Headlam-Wells, Gosland,
& Craig, 2005)[10]. The purpose of this research is to
better understand the importance of the impact of com-
puter- mediated communication (CMC) on individuals’
will- ing ness to e ngage in me ntoring, which has i mplica-
tions for matching and recruiting mentors and protégés.
3. Theoretical Framework: Social Presence
Social presence is the level in which social cues (e.g.,
tone of voice) are present in an interaction (Short, Wil-
liams, & Christie, 1976)[11]. Face-to-face communica-
tion is considered the highest form of social presence and
pro- vides a baseline for measurement (Harms, 2005)[12].
The high degree of social presence associated with
face-to- face communication lies in the media richness of
face- to -face interaction. Media richness describes the
degree to which a medium can convey intended mean-
ings of communication. In face-to-face communication,
senders and recipients have not only the words but tone
of voice, facial and body language to assist in under-
stand i ng t he me ani n g o f the m e ssa ge . E a ch fo r m o f CM C
is associated with different levels of social presence (Ar-
baugh, 2000)[13]; (Murphy, 2011)[14]. For example,
Wang & Newlin (2001)[15] found that synchronous
technologies such as c hat rooms provide a higher degree
of social presence than asynchronous technologies. Feris,
Gimeno, Pinazo, et al. (2002)[16] found that individuals
that engage in chat room interaction do so in order to
maximize their social inter- action. In addition, their
study found that users of chat rooms perceived no dif-
ference in social presence be- tween face-to-face interac-
tion or chat room interaction which bodes well for high
social pre sence forms of CMC as a proxy for face-to-face
communication. Furthermore, Murphy (2011)[14] found
that blended mentoring in which e-mail plus talking on
the phone or meeting in person increased the overall sa-
tisfaction o f the mentor ing rela- tio nships. Therefor e, the
following research propositions are suggested: Research
Propositio n 1: Mentors will be more willing to en gage in
e-mentoring when higher presence forms of CMC are
incorporated into interac- tions. Research Proposition 2:
Mentors will be more sat- isfied with e-mentoring rela-
tionships when higher pres- ence forms of CMC are in-
corporated into interactio ns.
4. Discussions and Implications
E-mentoring as a form of e-learning is rich in possibilities,
however much remains to be known regarding attracting
and retaining mentors to participate in these types of
relationships. Preliminary research indicates that mentor -
ing program designers would be well advised to assess
mentors comfort level with various low and high social
presence forms of CMC. Technical training on various
forms of hig h er presence forms of CMC could be provided
to increase mentors’ comfort level. Also, individuals en-
gaged in e-mentoring would be well advised to incorporate
high social p r e sence forms of CMC into their intera c tions
with their mentor in order to attain a higher level of
satisfactio n with the relationship .
In sum, e-learning program designers would be well
advised to explore how differences across generations
impact CMC prior experience and comfort level. Reverse
mentoring programs, in which senior executives are
paired with younger entry level employees to learn about
social media (Ensher & Murphy, 2005)[2] could be a tool
used to overcome the CMC usage divide. In addition, as
users become more comfortable with various forms of
CMC, e-mentoring programs can offer a hybrid approach
to mentoring program design in which various high and
low social presence contexts are incorporated throughout
the programs. The millennial generation has different
needs and expectation not only for how they learn, but
also for how like to receive mentoring (Meister & Wil-
lyerd, 2010)[17]. Therefore, using social presence as a
conceptual framework to design blended e-mentoring
that provides high and low social presence forms of
CMC hold s muc h pro mise.
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