Learning Styles

Submitted 4 years ago by Dan Trepanier 

Not everyone processes information the same way so its important to understand your interns learning style and your teaching style as a mentor. 

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Each of us has our own sense of style and unique challenges in the way we learn and teach - Let's have a mentoring discussion on this fascinating topic. The following are excerpts from previous conversations with mentors involved in Federal Government Internships Success Stories

  • Active, intuitive, verbal, visual ask how they learn best, if they don't know - help them find out. There are pleanty of resources via the Internet.
  • Teach how they learn and teach what you know
  • Talk about goals and ask what your intern wants from this experience - a career, job experience, education or simply finding out what they are good at or interested in.

'As a person with a disability, ADHD and as a parent with a child with a learning disability I was very aware that not everyone learns the same way or at the same rate.  Different learning styles is no mark of intelligence or aptitude. Before I even begin teaching, I sit down with my intern and use various tools to determine their individual learning style. It is interesting that many people don’t know there own learning style but there are many online resources to self-test and many ways to ask the right questions in order to determine how your intern learns best.  Take that information as a foundation and develop best practices as you both progress. Keep the dialogue going to determine what is working and what is not.'

Challenges - Purposeful Criticism

  • Is required and is part of learning
  • Focus on the behaviour - not the person
  • Everyone needs to understand their weaknesses in order to overcome them
  • Compliments are easy to give, celebrate strengths, note improvements and share progress both formally and informally
  • Build confidence to overcome challenges
  • Introduce new challenges and encourage continuous learning 

The most difficult part of being a mentor is criticism.  Nobody wants to be the bad guy, but I would have been doing my intern a great disservice if I didn’t correct her or let her know if I had a problem with a situation or habit. 

It was important to get the point across, have it understood what went wrong and explore ways to improve the situation.  It was important to have her understand that while she may have not used the best judgment, tool or made a error that  It was not about her but about a behaviour or action and being aware gave her the opportunity to develop.

'One of the things I have encouraged all of my interns to do is look at what they are afraid of doing and tackle that obstacle, it has been my own experience that the thing I am most of afraid of, have the least confidence in is the one thing I should be doing. The fear does not go away until it is faced and addressed.All of my interns confidence and skills developed over time. Their strengths, weakness and personalities were very different and  approach situations as unique as themselves.  My first intern Andrea had kept in touch with me and had the opportunity to share her experience with the intern who followed her.  Andrea became an additional support to Michelle, sharing some of the things she had learned during her internship and afterwards. Michelle joined me in interviewing some of the candidates for the internship that followed hers. She then stepped forward and shared her experiences with my current intern Angele.'

'My first two interns were given the opportunity to work with other areas in the building to see what other types of work was performed elsewhere in the department.  Both of the interns took on the challenge in spite of leaving the comfort zone of what had become familiar. Angele was given the opportunity to work in a different position within our own office as the EA to the RDG. As a francophone, Angele came to us hoping to improve her English skills, this opportunity allowed her to work in a completely bilingual manner so she was able to practice English and also work in the language of her choice. She would not have been ready for this challenge at the beginning of her internship, Angele was very shy and lacked confidence in her ability to communicate but the experience she gained gave her the confidence to face her fear and deal with new people, ask questions and explore the variety of work she might want to continue in.' 

Unexpected Challenges

  • Learning disabilities, identified and unidentified - ADHD, Slow processing speed, dyslexia are only a few
  • Some signs of learning disabilities - Difficulty in retaining information, in writing skills, basic problem solving, mixing letters in words, appearing overwhelmed by disorganization or noisy environments are possible indicators
  • ADHD - inability to organize, prioritize, or be punctual despite best efforts, difficulty in focusing, easily distracted are a few signs that someone may have these challenges
  • A learning disability is not an indicator of intelligence, but a challenge that requires working around barriers
  • Encourage self-advocacy

'One of the things I am able to share with those I am teaching are some of the challenges I have faced in my own career development and the steps I have used to over come them. Disclosing my own challenges with ADHD and those of having a child with a learning disability allowed one of my interns to disclose that she too had a learning disability, something she felt quite ashamed of and hid from others.  It took a great deal of courage for her to come forward with that information for many reasons.'

'I encouraged her to seek out resources and to self-advocate by stating her needs (such as instructions in writing) in order to meet the needs of her employer. I encouraged her to never give up and reminded her that each person has strengths and challenges to face and that I was confident that she had the motivation and determination to work through or around her personal challenges.  I suggested she seek out resources specific to enabling and training people with disabilities.  The first training session we attended together was a workshop on Equity and Diversity where we were given an agenda written in brail.  What we discovered together was that not everyone can be treated equally but should be treated equitably.'


We are mentoring young people who face barriers to employment and we have to acknowledge that some of those barriers may include learning disabilities, including disabilities such as Attention Defecit Disorder that can be frustrating and challenging to those who live with it and those who teach others.  Many adults live their entire lives with learning disabilities that are never identified. Some learn to hide their challenges and work around them.  Others don’t learn how to work around their challenges and avoid situations that cause them difficulty.

As mentors in the public service we have the unique opportunity to encourage diversity and self identification when applying for jobs in the public service.  However there are still many barriers to overcome such as identifying and obtaining testing for adults is a challenge. It is available to those who can afford to pay for it, but very difficult to obtain for those who can’t. Despite months of searching various organizations Michelle was unable to find an affordable resource to evaluate her current learning disabilities and had to rely on an assessment done when she was seven years old.  She was fortunate to have been able to obtain a copy of her early assessment so at the very least she would be able to request accommodation based on a documented disability.

I encouraged her to seek out support services such as employment agencies that specialized in assisting people with disabilities, to look at employers with equity programs as well as other programs through various levels of government.   Determined to succeed Michelle sought out resources, made numerous calls and appointments to explore her options.  Michelle called me yesterday and asked for assistance in finding french language courses that would best suit her needs.  We reviewed her challenges and came up with a list of criteria and questions that would help her determine the best school and class for her.  You can’t imagine how impressed I was that Michelle had decided to work towards becoming bilingual despite the challenges of having an auditory learning disability.

Originally written by Paige Gilmore from Environment Canada and adapded for the YMCA of Greater Toronto