Research Synthesis: Offering one-on-one instruction/mentoring courses online


The instruction in certain disciplines require a physical demonstration of a skill followed by a professional critique. In applied instrumental or vocal music performance, applied music lessons are typically administered as a weekly one-on-one meeting with the instructor. This mentoring model is also seen in the coaching of some athletic sports, as well as other arts disciplines, such as dance. Certain aspects of audio engineering instruction have a similar model of coaching a student as they learn a technique or process. I sought to determine how these could be administered via distance education, as well as what challenges and solutions would be faced when offering one-on-one instruction/mentoring courses online.

The research showed that certain parts of one-on-one instruction, such as full performance critique and coaching, could be very effective online. However when real-time musical synchronization was needed, the minor time delays inherent in distance education became problematic. The advantages of the extreme close-ups possible with a zoom camera were often outweighed by the shortcomings of not being able to physically place a student’s hands in the correct position.

Online learning does hold great possibilities in community, networking, and collaboration. Students can have access to a wider range of mentors and experts, since they are no longer constrained by location. Lessons can be archived and re-purposed, so that students can access them at their own pace and at a convenient time. Mentoring can happen asynchronously, and larger communities can allow students to connect learning in new ways. While not a perfect system, online offering of one-on-one instruction and mentoring holds vast possibilities.

Annotated Bibliography

Anderson, A. J. and Ellis, A. (2001). Using desktop video to enhance music instruction. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 17(3), 279-294.

Anderson and Ellis begin by summarizing the usual means of teaching a musical instrument, showing that the traditional method of a face-to-face lesson and instructor guided student practice was still prevalent at the time of writing (2001). From my experience, this is still true today. The authors look at the use of video technologies and show how the advances of quality, in resolution and frame rate, have made computer video a viable option for distance music instruction. Computer video can provide a collection of high resolution demonstrations for asynchronous use, or real-time two-way video for face to face instruction.

Bandopadhyay, S., (2000). Distance Education in Indian Music : feasibility and prospects. International Seminar/Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal, 1-5.

This paper focuses on the unique nature and traditions of Indian music, which has been centered around the guru-shishya system. This system of mentoring and education involves a teacher and a disciple in one-on-one instruction. The author points out that attempts to institutionalize the instruction of Indian Classical Music have yielded only mixed results. He proposes that distance learning, one that is learner centered, is closer to guru-shishya system which is important for the long-term development of quality performers.

Bolton, J. M. (2007). Developing composition pedagogical knowledge: Music teacher education students as online mentors. Australian Online Journal of Arts Education, 3, 1.

This paper describes a small scale qualitative study using music education students as online mentors for 8th grader who were learning music composition. Though composition does not require physical demonstration of a skill, it still has traditionally involved one-on-one mentoring. Since the mentors in this study had no experience with feedback, they became familiar with what constituted good quality feedback. Compositions were shared via a server and all communication was thru email. While the study was too small to be conclusive, they did find that mentoring training and fact that these mentors were the only help the 8th graders received led to effective mentoring.

Bond, A. (2002). Learning music online: An Accessible program for isolated students. Australian National Training Authority.

This paper outlines an in-depth study into providing music instruction remotely through distance learning. The content was redesigned for onlnine learning, using good practices. A website was setup where student could view asynchronous self-paced lessons on music theory and technique. Student would study and construct knowledge on their own. Because it was deemed that development of performance skills and the ability to interpret music caught not be effectively taught in an online system, this aspect was relegated to face-to-face teaching. All in all, the study’s findings were somewhat grim. Separating the student from the teacher had a negative effect on quality of performance, student engagement, and development of knowledge.

Columbaro, N. C. e-Mentoring possibilities for online doctoral students: A Literature review, Adult Learning, 20 3-4, 9-15.

This article reviews literature regarding doctoral student mentoring. It begins with determining the role and definition of mentoring in doctoral degree programs. The article goes on to look at what is possible in e-mentoring and the current states of such mentoring. The author concludes that both formal and informal mentoring is vitally important to the doctoral student, but that there is often not a concerted effort to create mentoring opportunities, especially for online students. E-mentoring, in the form of organized, developed communities can help close this gap.

Downs, D. D., (1997) Cedar Falls harp project: Music instruction on the fiber optic telecommunications network. Encyclopedia of Distance Education Research in Iowa, 99-102.

This paper, written by the facilitator, describes the use of video conferencing to provide distance applied music lessons on harp. The author originally had to operate the switch to turn on the student’s microphone when they needed to speak. He then mentions some ‘hacks’ the technician was able to set up to provide two-way audio, which greatly improved the communication. The answers to the instructor and students questionnaires showed that bi-directional voice communication is essential. While the distance lessons were better than no lesson at all, face-to-face instruction was still preferred and considered necessary.

Hebert, David G. (2007). Five challenges and solutions in online music teacher education. Research and Issues in Music Education, 5, 1, 1-5.

The author highlights a few major changes throughout the history of music education and points to online music education as the next major change. He then outlines five challenges faced by these new online methods and proposes solutions. At the heart of much of the solutions is dleiberate and careful communication between administration, distance education staff, faculty and adjunct professors, and student of the online program.

Hutchinson, A. & Colwell, J. (2001). Using a wiki to facilitate an online professional learning community for induction and mentoring teachers. Educational Information Technology, 17, 273–289.

This study examines the use of wikis alongside online learning communities in the mentoring of new teachers. Overall, the study found that wikis were not a very satisfying tool in the absence of other types of mentoring, as they left the new teachers feeling disconnected. Wikis do have benefits in that they allow the student to reflect of what they’ve learned, and collaborate with other students and mentors in a way that allows them to construct knowledge and identity.

Maki, J. (2001) Is it possible to teach music in a classroom from a distance of 100km? Learning environment of music education using ISDN-videoconferencing. 2001 World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia, & Telecommunications proceedings. 1208-1213.

The author presents research regarding the use of video conferencing to provide music instruction to remote cities in Finland that do not have music teachers. Due to when the study was conducted, the video conferencing system used ISDN lines. Each type of music instruction had its own advantages and disadvantages. They found little change from face-to-face teaching when the subjects were music theory or history. When trying to teach ensemble music and have remote sites perform together, the delay can become problematic. Teaching an instrument, such as guitar, a teacher cannot move a child’s hands. However, they can zoom in to their own hands, which can provide a closer view than even the front row of a normal classroom. They found it ideal if the teacher can control the camera at the remote location.

Martin, M., Balderson, D., and Morris, M. (2012). Using an online learning-management system for coaching. The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 83, 4, 50-56.

This article gives a solid background of learning-management systems and describes their use providing mentoring and education to coaches, especially parent volunteer coaches in non-school based athletic programs. The authors found an online based LMS was a good fit for many of the limitation they were faced with - limited budgets and lack of qualified instructors in certain locations. In addition, most of their target audience cannot devote the time to attend training. The article points to the importance of planning and the benefits of reusing content.

Rees, F. J., & Downs, D. A., (1995) Interactive television and distance learning. Music Educators Journal, 82, 2, 21-25.

This article describes the use of interactive television to provide distance music courses and private instruction. The interactive televised instruction (ITVI) mentioned in the article used specialized classrooms connected via private fibre-optic networks. These facilities were used to provide graduate level course in music to local and remote sites, where previously there had not been enough enrollment to justify the course. They were also used to facilitate masterclasses and private instrument instruction. One of the major problems the article mentions - mailing materials with enough lead time - has been solved by the internet and email. Written in 1995, the article shows how much technology has progressed in nearly two decades. At the same time, it also shows how little progress has actually been made into distance instruction of music.

Riley, P. E., (2009). Video-conferenced music teaching: challenges and progress. Music Education Research, 11, 3, 365-375.

This study examined a test project involving undergraduate music education majors who taught music to elementary-school students in Mexico via video-conferencing. This teaching had the additional requirement of being conducted in Spanish, which was not the pre-service teacher’s native tongue. The researcher found that demonstrations and instructions were consistently more difficult to convey via the video conferencing than in face-to-face teaching. There was also a feeling of disconnectedness and anonymity with distance education. But the video conferencing does have the benefit of providing instruction that is otherwise not feasible.

Sherbon, J. W., & Kish, D. L., (2005). Distance learning and the music teacher. Music Educators Journal, 92, 2, 36-41.

The purpose of this article is to provide established music teachers who are considering distance learning with valuable information to guide their decisions. The author gives general background content on distance learning and what is involved in the various types. He outlines the technology and skills a successful online student should have. The author points to the importance of effective communication in any online course and mentions that certain types of instruction (such as research or musical performance) may be better served by traditional face-to-face courses.

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: Learning as network-creation.

Several of the other articles I read in this research synthesis cited Siemens as a source. Following those citations led me to this article, where Siemens looks at network forming as a model for learning. Connectivism is the building of networks by connecting nodes, which can be any element, including data, thoughts, feelings, or interactions. Collaboration and interaction, which are part of the two-way process of networked learning, are essential to the mentoring and one-on-one instruction typical of applied music instruction. Though Siemens does not (nor does he attempt to) provide a complete connectivist learning theory, he puts forth several interesting ideas that I found thought-provoking.

Simonson, D., (1997) Applied vocal music instruction on the ICN. Encyclopedia of Distance Education Research in Iowa, 73-77.

In this paper, the author describes the use of the the Iowa Communications Network video conferencing system for applied vocal music instruction. Performers in one location sang a vocal piece with digital keyboard accompaniment. The video and audio of this performance was shared with the remote site where the masterclass presenters were located. Even though the audio system was designed for speech, the participants rated the audio quality excellent. After each performance, the presenters coached and critiqued the singer and worked with him to improve his technique. The survey responses show that this was an overwhelmingly positive test. Distance applied music lessons are very effective at this time of coaching, where a full performance is followed by critique.

Simonson, D., (1997) The Iowa Communications Network as a vehicle for the delivery of applied instrumental music instruction. Encyclopedia of Distance Education Research in Iowa, 123-127.

In the first of the two tests of applied music, the author describes the use of the the Iowa Communications Network video conferencing system for applied instrumental music instruction. This test focused on clarinet, trombone, and percussion. While the system began to disappear and the instructors taught effectively, the percussion caused a problem by overloading the audio system. After some adjustment, the distortion was removed. By utilizing the zoom features of the video, the percussion instructor could detect improper mallet technique, demonstrate the proper techniques for all participants, and see an immediate improvement in the participant. Like the applied vocal test, the survey showed positive results.

Singh, G. (2011). An online abstract mentoring programme for junior researchers and healthcare professionals. Distance Education, 32, 2, 229–242.

This paper describes the Abstract Mentor Programme - a mentoring program designed to assist healthcare workers with little academic paper writing experience prepare abstracts that meet the standards for international conferences. These are workers are primarily third world professionals and the skills and knowledge they require cannot be gained easily via simple online distribution. Mentoring, community, and practice-based learning is required. While the focus is on the medical community and HIV/AIDS treatment and not on music instruction, what is of interest is its focus on creating learning communities. The author mentions the “3-Os learning model - onsite, online, and ongoing.” The community that was created has a toolkits available in multiple languages for download and connects junior professionals with experienced mentors.

Webster, P. R. (2005). Computer-based technology and music teaching and learning: 2000-2005.

Webster’s paper is an extensive summary of the current literature and status of the use of technology in music instruction in K-12 and higher education. As such, it does not document any new research, but does provide a great resource for finding suitable research. Only a small portion of the paper is devoted to the topic of online education and mentoring. At the time of writing, Webster said “video conferencing with high quality sound is a very promising recent development.” In the seven years since, there has been vast improvement in what is possible in this area.

Whiting, V. R., and de Janasz, S. C. (2004). Mentoring in the 21st century: Using the internet to build skills and networks. Journal of Management Education, 28, 3, 275-293.

This study is focused purely on mentoring in the traditional sense of the word, but handled primarily via internet and e-mail communication and not over the phone or thru face-to-face meetings. This study deals with mentoring in a business environment, not one-to-one music instruction, but it still outlines the advantages and disadvantages of online interactions. These advantages include easy of scheduling, anytime access, and the ability to craft questions and responses with more care. Disadvantages include time delays and possible confusion due to lack of body language.

Winzenried, R. (2002). The next big step? Long-distance learning via internet2. Symphony.

This article describes the use of Internet2 in real-time music collaboration, teaching, and performance. Internet2 is a not-for-profit high performance data network that includes government, industry, research, and education partners. The high bandwidth capacity of Internet2 allows it to support activities that would not be possible on the Internet. The article recounts several specific uses that included a remote masterclass, rehearsal in which the conductor was in a different location, and performances where the musicians are removed from the audience. The biggest challenge is the small delays in transmission. While these are under one second, they wreck havoc with musical synchronization.