How to support the learning process of a volunteer

MuC MeetUP #2 [Dave Hoefler via unsplash]
MuC MeetUP #2 | Dave Hoefler via

The content of this blog post has been created in the context of Mentoring under Construction. Mentoring under Construction is a community for mentoring practitioners within the European Solidarity Corps programme.

“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.”

— Peter Drucker

One of the core tasks of a mentor is supporting the learning and development of volunteers. It’s all about guiding the volunteers’ learning journey and supporting them to learn and grow both personally and professionally. How does this look practically? What are your experiences with supporting learning? What approaches and non-formal methods do you use?

Challenges in Supporting the Learning Journey of a Volunteer

Facilitating learning is one of the first topics that comes up asking mentors what competence they would like to develop and improve. And it was one of the top request for our MeetUPs in 2024.

What are the challenges and difficulties when we support the learning process of our volunteer(s)?

Here are a few answers of MeetUP participants:

  • How to deal with resistance to learning or talking about learning
  • How to find a good rhythm for mentoring sessions
  • How to keeping track of the learning progress
  • How to manage with limited resources
  • How to address the more personal insights and learnings
  • How to address specific training needs of volunteers

The Learning Value of European Solidarity Corps Projects

Are your volunteers ready for learning? – Most volunteers are open for new adventures and learning experience. At the same time a lot of them just left the formal education system and about to enter life-long learning. Are they ready for the non-formal and informal learning experience that their voluntary journey offers?

„Inner Readiness includes aspects such as personal motivation, desires and passions, memories, past experiences, emotional states, beliefs and values. … Our Inner Readiness influences how and why we act in a certain way – and these patterns are developed throughout our lifetime. It is hard to change patterns of behaviour, especially if we are left to our own devices. That is why we need other people to support us.”

– Monika Kėžaitė-Jakniūnienė and Mark Taylor, 2018

One way of increasing inner readiness is raising awareness about the learning value of volunteering: The video What can you learn from that? – The learning value of European youth projects(Youthpass Heart Corps – Guiding the Learning Journey Online Course) is showing this.

Key points of the video

  • A European Solidarity Corps project gives various opportunities to learn, develop personal and social competences and gain valuable professional experience,
  • The learning journey ideally begins before the project starts and continue after it finishes which helps volunteers to give their learning a certain direction,
  • Volunteers as learners are at the heart of the process, receiving inspiration to make the most of their achievements, challenges, but also mistakes.
  • Learning helps volunteers to grow and increase the impact of their project.

“What can you learn from that?” – a simple question that can be a good starting point for reflection on learning. It might help you to overcome a negative image of previous formal learning experience and allow a different perspective on learning and (re-)discover the value of learning in everyday life situations. Once volunteers discovered their spark for learning you might start to support the planning of their learning journey more intentionally and systematically.

Key Moments of a Volunteers’ Journey

What are key moments of a volunteer’s journey? Which memorable moments and challenges do volunteers meet and overcome? Which moments are important in their learning and development? – If you think of a timeline, from the very first idea of doing a voluntary service abroad and returning after being abroad, which key moments of a volunteer’s journey would you identify.

The landscape of a learning journey | Zedem Media, Youthpass Heart Corps Online Course
The landscape of a learning journey | Zedem Media, Youthpass Heart Corps Online Course

Here is a list with key moments (feel free to extend it with your notes!)

Key Moments | Screenshot Worksheet
Key Moments | Screenshot Worksheet

Download the worksheet Key Moments and Learning Opportunities

Key Moments in European Solidarity Corps

I. Before leaving

  • “Birth” of ESC (getting the first idea for ESC)
  • Decision and being accepted
  • Preparations and goodbyes

II. Arrival

  • Arriving and first impressions
  • Transition crisis (Culture shock)
  • Growing independence

III. In-between

  • Mid-evaluation
  • Unfolding the full potential
  • Change of one’s role within the organisation
  • Confronting the future

IV. Ending Summarizing and closing

  • Final Happening (initiative, project)
  • Reflection and evaluation
  • Planning the future
  • Departure and goodbyes

V. After ESC / Follow-up ESC

  • Transition crisis (Re-entry shock)
  • Returning or starting over

anytime Unexpected incidents

Download the worksheet Key Moments and Learning Opportunities

The Tasks of a Mentor: Facilitating learning and development

Facilitating the learning journey of a volunteer is a mentoring task that is mentioned both in the ESC Programme Guide and in the Mentoring and Coaching under Research (MCuR) research. It can be described as following:

Facilitating learning and development is about guiding the volunteers’ learning journey and supporting them to learn and grow both personally and professionally. Non-formal approaches and tools can be used to set individual learning goals, identify learning opportunities during their stay, encourage reflection of the volunteering experience, and assess learning outcomes. Acknowledging the volunteers’ learning progress, their efforts and successes boosts their self-esteem and motivation.

Specific tasks

  • Support the volunteer to view volunteering as a learning experience,
  • Raise awareness of oneself as a learner,
  • Initiate planning and documenting the learning process,
  • Support volunteers in approaching organization for identifying and planning relevant activities according to their learning goals,
  • Facilitate ongoing reflection and self-assessment of learning outcomes,
  • Recognize and acknowledge progress and achievements in the learning process,
  • Encourage volunteers to see learning opportunities (“lessons learnt”) in difficult moments and challenges,
  • Assist volunteers in the final self-assessment, formulating competence development and Youthpass writing,
  • Encourage volunteers to connect their learning journey with future plans after the project, offering a variety of non-formal methods, tools and activities to make reflection fun and exciting.

Make planning activities & learning attractive

Values are a matter of what guides you through every day, every task, every encounter with another human being.”

– Richard N. Bolles, What Color is Your Parachute?

How do you make sure that you stay on track? – Once the volunteer align actions with their values the motivation increases and they are more likely to reach their learning goals. Here is suggestions how to work on values and use them for setting goals and planning activities.

Step 1: Identify your values

In order to identify your values, please follow these steps:

  • Read through a list of values (you find a choice of different value lists below)
  • Mark the values that resonate with you and add values that are important to you.
  • Narrow down your list to 5-10 values that are most important to you.


  • Why are those values important to you?

Step 2: Create ideas on how to incorporate them into your daily life

Now it is time for a reality check:

  • In what way (or to what extend) are those values present in my life right now?
  • How can you make these values more present?
  • How can you incorporate them (more) into your daily life?
Value Identification | Screenshot Worksheet
Value Identification | Screenshot Worksheet

Step 3: Make space for your value-based activities in your calendar

If you talk about it, it’s a dream, if you envision it, it’s possible, but if you schedule it, it’s real.” – Tony Robbins

Our calendar reflects what we give importance and priority in our life’s. And what is written in our calendar is often not negotiable. So, make sure to incorporate your value-based activities in your daily calendar.

Your calendar should not just be a list of tasks and appointments; it should reflect what you truly value and prioritize in life, e.g. if you value friendship, ensure that you have dedicated quality time blocked out for friends. If personal growth is important to you, block some time for reading, online courses, workshop or other self-development activities.

Download the Value Identification Worksheet

Calendar example

A personal domain

  • Value: Health and well-being.
  • Calendar Entry: “7:00 AM – 8:00 AM: Morning jog and meditation.”
  • Value: Continuous learning.
  • Calendar Entry: “6:00 PM – 7:00 PM: Read a chapter from ‘Book Title’.”

A professional domain

  • Value: Skill development
  • Calendar Entry: “3:00 PM – 4:00 PM: Online workshop on ….”
  • Value: Networking.
  • Calendar Entry: “12:30 PM – 1:00 PM: Lunch with colleagues from the organisation.”

A social domain

  • Value: Building and maintaining relationships.
  • Calendar Entry: “7:30 PM – 9:00 PM: Dinner with friends home.”

Recommended resources

Youthpass resources on learning

What can you learn from that?– The learning value of European youth projects, Youthpass Heart Corps – Guiding the Learning Journey Online Course

Youthpass Heart Corps. Guiding the learning journey | Online Course

Youthpass Videos, Videos on Learning | Youthpass Website

Inner Readiness for Learning

One to one. Supporting learning face to face by Monika Kėžaitė-Jakniūnienė and Mark Taylor (2018)

Key Moments of a Volunteering Journey

Meant to be a Mentor. Workbook for EVS Mentorsby Kimmig, Michael (2015); Foundation for the Development of the Education System / Fundacja Rozwoju Systemu Edukacji, Warsaw, Warszawa

Working with values

Living Into Our Values by Brene Brown

Brené and Barrett on Living Into Our Values, Unlocking Us

Identifying your Values Worksheet, The University of British Columbia

Working with a calendar

How to Get the Most Out of Your Calendar by Nir Eyal via

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