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What it Means to be a Mentor to an Adult Learner


Hi, my name is Spencer Mathews and I am an adjunct instructor in Midland University’s Master of Science in Learning and Talent Development (MS-LTD) program. Today, I’d like to talk about mentoring adult learners and the top five skills mentors need to possess. 

An effective mentor pushes adult learners out of their comfort zones to foster growth and development. To accomplish this, a mentor needs to create trusting relationships with their students through open communication, accountability, and competency. The mentor versus adult learner relationship transcends the traditional teacher versus student exchange. 

As a result, the mentor takes on a more dynamic and integral role that requires a holistic approach to the relationship; the mentor pays special attention to the personal and professional facets of their lives. Although it may seem contradictory at first, an effective mentor must allow the adult learner to take the lead in the relationship.  

A good mentor realizes the focal point of the relationship isn’t the mentor, rather it’s the adult learner. Therefore, ego and control must take a backseat to insightful questions, careful listening, collaboration, and unwavering support. 

5 Must-Have Skills For Mentors

When it comes to being a mentor, it is not only important to tailor your approach to your adult learner, but you also need certain skills to support your approach. Below, I’ve listed five skills mentors should be able to do:

  1. Determine the why – Effective mentors are able to uncover an adult learner’s motivation. Is the motivation intrinsic or extrinsic? Does the motivation center around family responsibilities or career aspirations? What role does quality of life and curiosity play? The answers to these questions will help both the mentor and adult determine the direction of the relationship. 
  1. Insightful questions and active listening – Similar to a professional counselor, effective mentors listen more than they talk. When it comes to adult learners, I truly believe the best answers usually come from within. 
  1. Ability to let go of control – Unlike the traditional classroom setting, the mentor is not the “sage on the stage” talking to students. An effective mentor must encourage the adult learner to lead.  
  1. Value life experience and prior knowledge – Whether it’s career-related activities or family responsibilities, all adult learners bring some level of prior learning and life experience to the table. Effective mentors view this a valuable commodity and capitalize on it.  
  1. Flexibility – There is no “one size fits all” mentoring style; tailor and target your mentoring approach to the individual. No adult learner is the same, so effective mentors must act accordingly. 

At the end of the day, mentors who practice these skills will be able to provide support and allow their mentee to take leadership in the experience. If you are passionate about mentoring and you want to learn how to become an effective mentor, you should consider joining our MS-LTD program. 

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