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November 13, 2018

Leveraging Learning Styles in Your Mentoring Relationships

4 mins read

Part 5 of the Series: Increase your stock by investing in your future

Understanding and identifying learning styles is a key component in the mentorship process. Everyone learns in slightly different ways, and it’s not always easy to determine how best to work with someone whose learning style is different than your own. In this post, I’m going to give some tips and tricks for identifying and teaching to different learning styles.

What’s a Learning Style?

Much like we all have different personalities, we all have different ways in which we learn. A person’s learning style is their preferred way to absorb and retain information. There are a variety of factors that influence learning styles and no one right answer. The most commonly accepted theories on learning styles identify three different categories: Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic.

Below are some descriptions and indicators that can be used when assessing some else’s learning style. It’s important to note that, while most people will have a definite preference in one of these areas, others learn best through a combination.

Visual Learners

Visual learners prefer images, charts, graphs, slides, etc. They frequently use visual techniques to differentiate words, phrases, and ideas when taking notes. For instance, they might underline or circle certain keywords. They might also use varying fonts or colors to help distinguish one idea from another.

Tips for mentoring a visual learner:

  • Draw concepts on a whiteboard or piece of paper
  • Use multiple colors as a way of separating ideas
  • When talking, use gestures and picturesque language

Auditory Learners

Auditory learners prefer to learn by listening as well as speaking. When being presented with new information, they will listen intently and likely do little else. They will actively participate in group discussions, often repeating information to help clarify what they heard as well as to simply hear it again.

Tips for mentoring an auditory learner:

  • Have frequent conversations with them
  • Promote discussion with team members
  • Ask them to explain something they’ve learned (brown bag talks are great for this)

Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners are the classic example of learning by doing. They prefer to absorb new information by using all of their senses. Trial and error is a common technique used by these learners because they will get as much out of failure as they will out of success. Kinesthetic learners rely on their understanding of concrete examples to inform their future thinking.

Tips for mentoring a kinesthetic learner:

  • Provide real examples of concepts that lead to solutions to problems
  • Suggest concepts for research and allow time for running with them
  • Leverage techniques that are also good for visual and auditory learners

Read/Write Learners

Educational theorist Neil Fleming added one more learning style to this list with his VARK learning style model. Read/write learners are similar to visual learners, but their focus is largely on text rather than images and graphs. They love making or reading lists. They will frequently rewrite information using their own words.

Tips for mentoring a read/write learner:

  • Give concepts and information in a series of lists
  • Provide written instructions and information, especially to summarize verbal conversations
  • Point them in the direction of websites and/or books that help teach the concepts you’re trying to convey

Find Your Learning Style

Now that you know a little about the various learning styles, I would encourage you to take the VARK Questionnaire to help you identify your own learning style. Going through the exercise of identifying how you learn will help as you’re trying to assess your mentees’ learning styles. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to adapt your teaching style to best match your mentees, providing with a much more powerful and rewarding experience for you both.

Read More

This blog post is part of our “Increase Your Stock by Investing in Your Future” series. Here, consultants at Excella’s Extension Center (XC) at Virginia Tech share their experiences developing an award winning internship program, lessons learned, and tips you can apply when building your own program!

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