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Building Bridges: Creating Effective Communication in Advising
Authored by: J.D. Chase and Melissa Chase

Effective communication is a continuous and significant task for academic advisors. Advisors work with students on everything from finding open classes, to career planning, to life issues and must do so within the context of numerous policies/procedures and curriculum requirements. The method by which advisors communicate with others is influenced by the way information is perceived and processed, which can occur multiple ways or dimensions. The combination of learning is also know as learning style (Felder & Silverman, 1988). When advisors can determine their own dominant dimensions of learning, communicating can improve considerably with advisees. 

Researchers, including Gregorc (1982), have described the dominant dimensions of learning in different ways. Felder and Silverman (1988) delineated these dimensions as: Sensing versus intuitive (the type of information perceived); visual versus verbal (the method in which information is perceived); active versus reflective (how information is processed), and sequential versus global (how the learner makes sense of the information). Felder and Silverman's research also employed Kolb's Theory of Experiential Learning (Kolb, 1984) and Jung's Theory of Personalities (Adler, Fordham, McGuire, and Reed, 1971). This article describes the dimensions of learning style and the impact on communication with advisees is explored. Recommendations for an advisor training activity are also illustrated.

The Use of Learning Styles Inventories
While several researchers have crafted learning styles inventories, one particular instrument is based upon Felder and Silverman's research (1988). The Index of Learning Styles © instrument (Felder & Soloman, n.d.)assesses four possible dimensions of a learner's style of learning. This self-reporting, self-scoring instrument consists of 44 questions. The questionnaire canbe completed in approximately 15 - 20 minutes online (or in printed version) with scores to determine the more dominant aspect of each of the four dimensions of this learning style model (Felder & Soloman, n.d.). The researchers emphasize that although a learner will most likely exhibit stronger tendencies toward one aspect or characteristic of each dimension of learning, it is possible to exhibit characteristics of both depending on the learning situation. However, a balance of the two dimensions for each style is preferred. Additional information is available to participants to further describe these characteristics (Felder & Solomon, n.d.). This instrument has been used extensively in the classroom and can also be used effectively in advising meetings.

The sensing learner focuses more on facts, details, and does not handle distractions well. Advisors with the dominant sensing dimension of learning will most likely be able to provide specific, written instructions, organized plans, and logical steps. They are best able to assist their advisees in interpreting and understanding policies/procedures and degree requirements but may not be able to help students understand the 'big picture' as it relates to their academic career.


The intuitive learner prefers to focus more on abstract concepts and ideas and deals well with situations that require problem solving. Advisors with the dominant intuitive dimension of learning can easily grasp concepts, theories, and ideas, with less attention to details. This individual will better assist the advisee with matters that may emphasize discussion with a focus on critical thinking and understanding the 'big picture.' However, this advisor may not be able to focus on the detailed aspects of helping students understand and interpret policies, procedures, and degree requirements.


Visual Versus Verbal

The visual learner perceives information best through such methods as pictures, diagrams, illustrations, and graphs-anything they can see. Advisors who are more dominant with visual modes will be better able to assist students through drawings, diagrams, and charts when explaining policies, procedures, and degree requirements rather than through mere discussion.


The verbal learner focuses more on discussion and what is being said rather than visual demonstrations of charts and pictures. Advisors who are more verbal will be better able to help their advisees understand polices and procedures through discussing the implications of policies, procedures, and degree requirements.

Active Versus Reflective
The active learner will focus more on what is happening in the external world versus what is occurring internally. Active learners prefer hands-on activities that help them understand through scenarios, group discussions, and group-led creative problem solving. Advisors who are active learners may be more effective in relaying policies and procedures through real-world examples and influencing students to become more involved in their academic careers through experiential learning experiences, job opportunities, and other ways they can acquire hands-on learning opportunities.


Reflective learners will focus more on what is happening internally and require time to think before responding to situations. Reflective learners tend to prefer working more independently and thinking more critically about their learning experiences. Advisors who are predominantly reflective will best assist advisees by helping them to concentrate more fully on their plans of study (rather than using real-life scenarios) and consider the 'big picture' regarding implications of academic policies, procedures, and degree requirements.

Sequential Versus Global
Sequential learners tend to focus more on understanding information as they receive it. Step-by-step instructions are important to this type of learner and problem solving must occur in a logical, step-by-step manner. Sequential advisors will be able to best assist students in understanding the specific steps needed to understand, interpret, and apply academic policies and procedures.


Global learners tend to not focus on immediately processing information as it is presented, but rather by spending additional time to consider the underlying theories first. Likewise, the global advisor may need extra time to consider and think about information before assisting students in understanding and interpreting policies and procedures. Additionally, such advisors can help students in better understanding long-term implications of decisions based on academic policies, procedures, and degree requirements.


Although it may not be possible to administer a learning styles inventory to all students in advising meetings, an understanding of learning dimensions can help advisors better understand how their own dominant dimensions can influence communication with advisees.


Application of Learning Styles in Advisor Training

To further illustrate the types of challenges an advisor may face in communicating with their advisees (based on their dominant dimensions of learning), advisor training can incorporate the use of children's toys to demonstrate how the breakdown in communication can create problems. The foundation of this activity is derived from a leadership training exercise 'Bridge It' from Silver Bullets (Rohnke, 1989). The learning styles inventories can be administered and a short presentation conducted to discuss the role of the different dimensions of their learning style and their impact on how advisors communicate with others. The group is then divided into four smaller groups(selected randomly) with each group building part of a bridge using building blocks. Because there are multiple dimensions to each participant's learning style, it is not feasible to attempt to divide the group by specific dimensions. However, the discussion at the conclusion of the activity should focus on how these dimensions of learning may have influenced their participation.


Once the activity begins, communications between the groups are severely constrained. The activity is divided into five-minute segments with a one-minute period of communication at the end of each segment. In the first five-minute segment, the requirements of the bridge are explained and each group opens their container of building blocks to explore the resources they have available. In the first communication period, representatives of each group come to the center of the room and our allowed to write and/or draw in order to communicate with each other for one minute.


The representatives then return to their groups for the second five-minute segment where the groups attempt to make progress building their portion of the bridge. In the second one-minute communication period, representatives come to the center of the room and are allowed to speak. They then return to their groups for the third five-minute segment where the groups again attempt to make progress building their portion of the bridge. In the third communication period, representatives come to the center of the room and are allowed to gesture. They then return to their groups for the final five-minute segment where the groups attempt to finish building their portion of the bridge. At the end of this segment, the groups bring their portion of the bridge to the center of the room where it is assembled.


Once the activity is completed, a debriefing should occur to spark discussion on what did and did not work. The participants are asked to provide feedback on how to use the skills learned to communicate more effectively when working with diverse student populations, based on the learning styles and modes of communication.


Areas for possible discussion:

  • How did your dominant dimensions of learning impact your participation in constructing this bridge?
  • Did a leader emerge in your group? What were the leader's dominant dimensions of learning? How did this person's learning style impact the communication and planning within the groups?
  • How do you think your own dominant dimensions of learning impact how you communicate with your advisees on a daily basis? How can you improve communication based on what you have learned?
  • Would it have helped to have a documented design or documented plan of action?
  • How does the constrained communication mirror what we encounter in the real world?

An academic advisor's style of learning can strongly influence how h/she communicates with advisees. Using self-assessment learning styles inventories can vastly improve how an advisor communicates with advisees on a daily basis.Such assessment instruments can also be quite effective in advisor training situations and provide opportunities for ongoing professional and personal development.


Authored by:

J.D. Chase

College of Information Science and Technology

Radford University

Melissa Chase

College of Arts and Sciences

Radford University


Adler, H., Fordham, M., McGuire, W., & Read, H., Eds. (1971). Psychological types. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.


Felder, R. M. and Soloman, B.A. (n.d.). The Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire. Retrieved from

Felder, R. M. and Soloman, B.A. (n.d.). Learning Styles and Strategies. Retrieved from

Felder, R. M., Silverman, L. K. (1988). Learning and teaching styles in engineering education. Engr. Education, 78 (7), 674-681.

Gregorc, A. F. (1982). An adult's guide to style. Columbia, CT: Gregorc Associates, Inc.

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.


Rohnke, K. (1989). Silver bullets : A guide to initiative problems, adventure games and trust activities. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

Cite using APA style as:

Chase, J.D. & Chase, M. (2007). Building Bridges: Creating Effective Communication in Advising.Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site

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