Instruction vs. Mentorship

At Bloc, we use the word “apprenticeship” a lot. It’s on our landing pages and in our emails, but we never truly explain what we mean and why we use that word.

I’d like to explain.

There are fundamentally two methods of teaching: instruction and mentorship.


A teacher who instructs is someone who says “I have knowledge that I will impart to you.” You, as the student, will receive this knowledge. It’s direct, and it’s simple. It’s been the status quo for 200 years. We’ve made it efficient by cramming students into classrooms to optimize how many recipients can theoretically absorb from every one teacher.

But it stinks. When you’re learning a new skill like programming, being a passive recipient of instruction is not enough. And YouTube has made this method of learning new skills utter nonsense. You’ll want to pause your instructor to ask a question. You’ll want to ask your instructor to repeat himself. And probably most importantly, you’ll want to be able to go back to your instructor later and refer to the things she’s told you. With a human teacher in a classroom, this is basically impossible. YouTube can do all of these things, as can written content like tutorials and reference material.

Instruction is a waste of time for humans to engage in.

The second kind of teaching is far more important, and mostly neglected by our education system: mentorship.


Mentorship is a far deeper method of teaching. It’s messier, less organized, but much more effective. Mentorship means “let me do something with you, next to you, or watch you do something, and my awareness and skill level will be imparted to you by us working together.”

This is the apprenticeship model.

It’s hard to overstate how invaluable this level of learning can be. While students of instruction are studying material and attempting to absorb rote knowledge, students of mentors are being lifted away from all that and learning by osmosis, from experienced practitioners.

Furthermore, the way your mentor exists in the world is often a source of inspiration. Let’s take an example: as a new programmer, you’ll find yourself frustrated very often. Daily. Imagine trying to learn how to handle frustration by reading a book or watching a video. Now, imagine you’re chatting face-to-face with someone you’ve grown to admire, and they’re working closely to help you understand and deal with that emotion, and they’re doing it by example. They can talk about friends and colleagues they’ve had, and the different ways people handle their frustration. Their old boss did things this way, their current colleague does it this way. Here are the differences, and here is my opinion.

The ability to handle your frustration is just one meta-skill you develop as you learn to code. There are countless others: craftsmanship, pride, ego, confidence, humility, tenacity. These are things you can’t learn from a piece of content, or a subscription to a content service.

Mentorship isn’t just better than instruction. It’s a relationship that helps you become a better person.