Discussion: Mentoring, Knowledge Transfer and Different Styles Of Learning

I’ve been very fortunate that for most of my adult life, even before I got into tech I’ve been “the boss”, and had gobs of mentoring opportunities. I enjoy it and more importantly I know I will have a greater effect for my company’s growth through teaching than I would by solely focusing on my advancement.

My students have been visual learners, “doing” learners, audio learners, those that learn by rote memorization with photographic memories, “theorists” that are fascinated by the theory of things far more than the practice, and those that can’t memorize anything unless they see an entire system in place. Each type or combination needs to have information presented in different ways.

I don’t even remotely pretend to know MOST of the answers here, in fact I’ll frankly admit there are just some types of people I’ve mentored unsuccessfully despite much effort on my part and trying different tactics over many years.

The best results have come with any “system” based learners (theoretical or practical), particularly those of a “doing” bent.  However, that is less me and more them. People like that just need to be thrown into a situation and given small amounts of guidance, encouragement, a gob of reference material (not tutorials, reference only!) and they take off and explode. Really, you just need to give people like these work to do and get out of their way so they feel free to grow.

Visual rote learners, however are the end of me. I’ve had several work for me at this point and I’m at a loss .  I can draw diagrams all day long for them, show them examples, try and give them a number of examples themselves to do, and the minute they get one step off track they’re completely lost.  I’ve tried going into great depth systems wise, answering and demoing any questions they have, teach them the basics of deductive reasoning and troubleshooting, on and on and on.  On average I spend 5 times as long with them and I never get anywhere near the success level I do with other types of learners. 

Now I’m beginning to believe I’m just on a fools errand. If there is a way to inspire visual rote learners into becoming dynamic problem solvers, I certainly do not have the skill set to do so.

Anyone out there have any particular success mentoring those that don’t learn by “trying” things out, and don’t have to understand a whole complete system to begin work?  What tactics did you use? Did you just assume a slower trajectory but take them through the same material as the faster students? Did you have to resort to AgileJoe like Jedi Mind tricks?

I’m convinced there is a way to reach the vast majority of “struggling” technical people and turn them into at least respectable problem solvers and adequate developers/techs/whatever. I had my own struggles with learning until I got into my mid 20’s, and I was able to figure out what worked for me.  Pains me to see others in the same boat I was in and I’ve so far been unable to help a decent percentage of my past students.

About Ryan Svihla

I consider myself a full stack polyglot, and I have been writing a lot of JS and Ruby as of late. Currently, I'm a solutions architect at DataStax
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  • I’m in the middle of both groups. If the task at hand is explained in a manner that I understand, I fly and can even be dynamic. If it isn’t, which seems to be your question, I keep querying the individual giving me the task; a business user, co-worker, boss, etc. You understand that fear is what stops the 2nd set of users. At least in my experience it has been. If they are shown that they are _allowed_ to fail, but learn from it, then you’d be surprised by what they “learn”. They become self-motivated.

    What people forget is that the “leaders” in our industry fail all the time. They just quickly regroup and mark that path as bad and a continue towards completion or a new direction.

    Excellent query to our readers Ryan. I’m curious about other answers.

  • @jason
    The “allowed to fail” is certainly missing from my repertoire and could explain a few cases of people that “got it” about 6 months after I left even though they had no replacement teacher.

    Often they’d finally start doing the things I’d suggested but without the mental blocks they’d previously had.

    Great insight I appreciate it.