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Dyslexia, Learning Styles and Recognition of Prior Learning

Mining industry expert Shannon Mavin recently achieved a Diploma of Leadership and Management through Recognition of Prior Learning. This is an impressive achievement for anyone. For Shannon it was a long time coming, because first he had to get over the lifelong belief that he was ‘dumb’ because he had dyslexia.

In the following case study, Shannon takes us through his career from the frustration of high school, through many years of hard work and dedication to a growing sense of self belief. This is an inspiring story about different learning styles and the beauty of recognition of prior learning when it comes to gaining qualifications based on what you’ve done on the job, not learnt in a classroom.


Listen to Shannon's Interview

Read Interview Transcript


High School and Dyslexia

Shannon says, “When I went through school I was always classed as dumb. Not so much by the teachers, but the students. One of the worst times was dictation because my reading and writing wasn't very good. Remember Footrot Flats comics? That’s what my writing looked like. If the correct spelling didn’t sound like the word, it didn’t work for me.”

These days there is a much better understanding of different learning styles, and support for things like dyslexia and Asperger’s. But back when Shannon was at school it was very much a one size fits all approach to education. Shannon tried his best to keep a low profile, which at six foot four and 115kgs was not easy!

It was very important to his mum that he finish high school, so he hung in there and concentrated on subjects that were more visual and hands-on like graphics, woodwork and metalwork.

With hard work and dedication Shannon fulfilled his mum’s wishes and finished high school.

From there his dad’s advice was, "You're either learning or earning boy."

So Shannon started at TAFE.

A career begins…

During his time at TAFE he had the opportunity to become a trades assistant. Which he says basically involved, “Digging trenches underneath a wash plant for 12 hours a day, knee-deep in slurry and coal.”

When the other tradies asked why he was smiling, he’d say, "Mate, I got my first paycheck. I'm 18 and I made $850 a week.”

The willingness to get in, work hard and not think any work is beneath you is a superpower that can take you far in life.

Before long, Shannon was accepted for an Apprenticeship in Heavy Earth Moving Equipment / Diesel Fitting at a mine site in Curragh – inland from Rockhampton. Shannon says it was a great start as it gave him a wide range of skills from machining, hydraulics, pneumatics and electronics to troubleshooting.

Shannon worked hard and finished his apprenticeship six months early.

“Because of my dyslexia, reading is quite challenging for me and doesn't really sink in. If the tradesman said we were going to take the final drive apart, or the transmission out of a dozer or re-doing a cooling system, I would take the parts manual home and have a look at the pictures and the expanded view.”

With his apprenticeship complete Shannon worked on a number of projects, had a family, and continued to be the guy who could always be relied upon to get in and get the job done without complaint, to high standard.

“They really did enjoy my work ethic, because some tradesmen don't like doing work that's beneath them, let's say. So I was a fitter and I had dragline experience and all the rest of it, but I would help with anything that needed doing.”

Shannon says he would do anything, so it gave him a good name. And it worked in his favour. He always had work, while many others struggled.

Some relief work he was doing in one mine lead to the opportunity to become an operator/maintainer which turned into 12 years.

Open Mindset - New Challenges

Up to this point Shannon had not told anyone he had dyslexia. Instead, he overcompensated by working hard and saying yes to anything. Which is a skill in itself, but it stemmed from his lack of self-belief.

Since his high school days Shannon had continued to think he was “dumb”.

A big turning point came during some leadership training. His trainer, Susan talked about having an open mindset. She said, "If you think you're dumb, you will be dumb for the rest of your life. But, if you take it as a challenge, you can basically do anything."

It was the first time he had told anyone in his professional career that he was dyslexic.

It made Shannon realise he’d had a closed mindset, which is why he believes he had been content to stay in the same role for 12 years.

After that conversation he was ready to take on a new challenge.

Continual Improvement

Shannon was talking to a friend who he had worked with at the beginning of his career, and who had worked his way up to the position of site senior executive. His friend had started as a storeman and it got Shannon thinking, “What's he got that I haven't got?”

Shannon looked into studying in order to work towards a promotion. But the only feasible option was for him to study by correspondence which he knew would not suit his learning style.

Then he got talking to one of the trainer assessors. Shannon told him he’d like to do more training but was stumped by correspondence seeming to be his only option.

The trainer said, "No, no, I know this organisation, Churchill Education.”

He explained that he could achieve a diploma through Recognition of Prior Learning. “If you've got the runs on the board, and you can show it, they can do the mapping for you."

"So I don't have to go to uni? That’s fantastic!”

Recognition of Prior Learning

Shannon says he contacted Churchill that day and, “Spoke to this wonderful lady, Amanda.”

He says Amanda walked him through how the process worked and what evidence he would need to provide. Shannon says it was, “Seamless and painless.”

He gathered as much information as he could, including things like old mud maps, flowcharts, mining reports, and anything else he could think of that evidenced the work he’d done and the skills he had.

And then he describes the call Amanda made to let Shannon know he was successful:

"I really want you to take a moment and just appreciate what you've gone through to achieve this. You've done really well because it's a hard diploma to get."

Shannon says, “I'm getting a bit emotional now. When you're told or shown that you're dumb, and uni's not for you, then a fantastic company like Churchill tells you you’ve achieved a diploma, it’s a special feeling. This is going to help set me and my family up for a great future.”

The truth is there are many different forms of education and styles of learning. The classroom and textbooks are just one road to gaining qualifications. Here at Churchill, we have a saying, “Graduates of real life.”

Many of our graduates have done it both ways. They’ve been to university, and they have achieved qualifications through Recognition of Prior Learning. Most of them will say that they value the qualifications they've gained through RPL far more than the ones that they've studied in a classroom. Because it's the knowledge that has come from life, from being on the ground, and from being part of a team with people relying on you, so it's testament to your ability and your capability when you receive qualifications through Recognition of Prior Learning.

Whatever your career pathway has taken, whatever your learning style is, whatever your skills are, we always encourage everyone to take a look at how their skills, knowledge and experience could map over to nationally-recognised qualifications.

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