Walking in the Woods: A Phenomenological Study of Online Communities of Practice and Army Mentoring

Raymond Kimball, United States Military Academy

Abstract

Recent changes in written Army leader doctrine have reaffirmed the informal practice of mentorship as a component of subordinate leader development. At the same time, the use of Professional Forums in the Army has the potential to alter commonly accepted norms, policies, and practices of mentoring. This dissertation conducted a phenomenological study of how lived experience in the Forums complemented or detracted from the practice of Army mentoring. The study found that the lived experience closely corresponded to Kram’s mentoring functions, with additional documented experiences in the areas of peer and computer-mediated communications mentoring. The participants’ practices of mentoring within the chain of command and crossgender mentoring were significantly impacted by unique aspects of Army culture. The researcher found that the Professional Forums were supportive of mentoring practice, but were not mentoring spaces themselves. Participants credited the Forums with helping them identify viable mentoring partners and refining their own mentoring practices. Forum participants believed that their engagement in those spaces gave them a positive outlook on Army mentoring. The study’s findings suggest best practices for informal Army mentoring while illuminating new directions for quantitative research in cross-gender and CMC-based mentoring.