Of course, nobody fits neatly into any one learning style category. But being aware of ways in which people are different does help us better understand each other, and makes communication easier! The primary ways in which people differ are in how we take in information about our world, and how we use that information. I'll be using Dr. Anthony F. Gregorc’s model as the basis for this blog.
Quite simply, people have two very different ways in which they take in information (perceive the world): concrete and abstract. Concrete perception means acquiring information using our five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. This kind of information is factual and tangible. We directly experience this information. Abstract perception allows for “reading between the lines” and intuiting meaning that is not directly experienced through the senses. It allows for visualization, imagination, inferences, and so forth. While some people largely rely on their senses to take in information, others have sharply tuned intuition and trust their ability to pick up on subtle nuances. It is pretty easy to see how conflict could arise between a person who is dominantly concrete in her perception and one who is heavily abstract in his perception. The abstract person might say, “I’ll betcha anything…” while the concrete person would likely reply, “You don’t KNOW that for sure!”
If a concrete and an abstract are listening to another person speak, the concrete will listen to what is literally said, while the abstract will be paying a lot of attention to the speaker's facial expression, tone of voice, and gestures.
There are two primary ways in which we order the information we receive: sequential and random. Those who are dominantly sequential prefer to organize in a step by step, linear manner. Furthermore, strongly sequential people also prefer to have steps to follow, feel most comfortable with a plan to follow. Finally, strongly sequential people trust a plan that was designed by an expert and in many cases refuse to budge from that plan. Random ordering is just that. Random. Dominantly random people might hop around and follow no sequence of steps, but as long as they understand the goal, they will arrive at it. To them, the steps that someone designed for them to follow are viewed as a merely a suggestion; their complete focus is on getting the job done.
The first time I went to a bank to apply for a loan so I could buy a house, I had just moved to the community and did not yet have a job...but I needed a place to live. I found a seller who was willing to hold back a second mortgage, so what I needed from the bank was far less than what the property was worth. I remember sitting in front of the concrete sequential banker’s desk with my application. He glanced at it quickly and then lifted his glasses to pierce me with a glare. “You want me to lend you money, and you don’t have a JOB yet?” The banker had a list of criteria handed down to him from the home office that each borrower had to measure up to. This list was his guide, his rulebook. I did not measure up on many counts. Undaunted, I replied, “Yes. I do.” The banker responded by enumerating all the many ways in which I did not qualify for a loan. To him, the conversation was over.
But to me (abstract, random) we were just beginning to talk. I said, “What is it you really want more than anything when you lend someone money?”
Blink, blink. Wide-eyed stare.
“Isn’t it that you want the loan repaid?”
“So, would you please check my credit and see if you don’t think I'll be a good risk for you to take?”
Banker checked my credit, found it clean as a whistle and offered me the loan with a few cautions to have anything paid off I owed before closing.
To me, the goal was to get a loan, and while I knew perfectly well that I did not qualify according to the normal standards, I persisted anyway. To the banker, the goal was to find applicants that matched the criteria, but he was willing to take a chance on me because he saw concrete evidence when he checked my credit that I would be good for the loan.
The main thing to learn here is that we each trust our own ways of perceiving. A dominant concrete person relies most on hard evidence. A dominant abstract person trusts their instincts heavily. In many cases, it comes down to process versus final outcome. When it comes to the classroom, many problems can arise if there is a dominant concrete sequential teacher with a handful of abstract randoms. She will be intent on teaching the steps to solve a math problem and if a child simply cannot do the work in that way, a breakdown will occur. If, however, the teacher is able to let the child come up with his own steps for solving the problem, peace will reign.
In subsequent blogs, we'll take a look at differences in the way people concentrate, remember, understand, and the ways in which people are smart! Our focus will be to look at how these things impact a child’s ways of learning.