Learning Styles: Concrete, Abstract, Random, and Sequential


image“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” — W.B. Yeats

Wanna learn more effectively or be a better teacher, or how to communicate and connect with people better, or how to influence more effectively?

Learn to match or bridge learning styles.

It’s one of those things you do everyday, but you might not be aware of.  It’s about how you sequence information and how you relate to it.

The key is to first know your own preferences, and then  understand others.

Concrete, Abstract, Random, Sequential

Here are the parts that make up the styles:

  1. Concrete – You’re dealing with the here and now and processing information based on what you see, hear, think, feel, and taste.  “It is what it is.”  You want a real example.
  2. Abstract – You’re looking for the patterns.  You’re more cerebral in your analysis.  You’re using your intuition and imagination. “Things aren’t always what they appear to be.”  You abstract from the examples.
  3. Random – You’re processing chunks of information in a random way.  You can hop around with ease.
  4. Sequential – You processing chunks of information in a linear way.  You prefer a plan or set of steps to follow.

If you prefer random, you might have bounced around or skimmed the bullets.  If you prefer sequential, you may have read that line by line, building up on what you know.

If you were looking for the example each time, you might prefer concrete.  If you were saying, ah, I can use this to improve my approach to learning or sharing information, you might prefer abstract.

Concrete Sequential, Concrete Abstract, Abstract Sequential, Abstract Random

Here’s the learning styles in a nutshell:

  1. Concrete Sequential – You want your information presented sequentially with concrete facts and data.  What I’ve seen with concrete sequential learners is they learn well when one example or concept follows another in a linear way.  Hopping around is a problem and can create frustration and confusion.
  2. Concrete Random – You don’t care what sequence the information comes your way, as long as it’s concrete and you can relate to it.  What I’ve seen with concrete random learners is, they can skip around pretty quickly, but they need examples to latch on to.  They’re pretty effective at cutting through fog and finding where the rubber meets the road.
  3. Abstract Sequential – Abstractions are great as long as they follow a sequential flow.  What I’ve seen about abstract sequential learners is
  4. Abstract Random – Abstractions are great and it doesn’t matter what sequence.  What I’ve seen is the abstract random learners have the simplest time learning because the sequence doesn’t matter, but can have a hard time sharing what they know.  I’ve also noticed they get bored when information is sequential and detailed.

We’re all a mix of styles, but we have preferences. It’s a also a continuum.

The important point is to know yourself and to realize that other people may not be processing information the same way you do.  If they don’t like hopping around, create a path for them.

If you are going too slowly for them, try jumping to the main points, even out of sequence.  Basically, test what works for you.

Now, you have to ask yourself — is was it ever really ADD or just a different learning preference?

Back at Work

It’s a simple gathering of the minds and exchange of ideas, but the team was clearly talking past each other.  The one architect was painting a picture of a wonderful castle in his mind.  The other architect wanted specific examples he could relate to.

It was a deadlock.

The interesting thing I noticed is they were both sequential in how they were going through their logic.  It was one logical point followed by another, and one logical question after another, but they missed each other.

The real difference was, the one architect prefers abstractions, while the other prefers concrete.  If they would have known this, or if I would have known this at the time, then I could have spotted it and bridged the gap.  In fact, not knowing this, I hopped from point to point, not realizing they were both operating in a sequential way.

It was a mismatch of three styles simply by a lack of awareness.

It’s a lot easier to solve a problem, when you can see what’s really going on!

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • Know yourself first.  Figure out your own learning preferences.
  • Figure out if you prefer concrete or random.
  • Figure out if you prefer random or sequential.
  • Adapt your approach for others.
  • Test what works for you.
  • Explore other styles.

What surprised me is when my colleague first pointed these styles out to me, I had a hard time figuring out what my preferences were.  Partly it had to do with how the information was presented, but is also had to do with my job context.

What I realized is that I adapt my style a lot because as a team leader, I have a lot of different styles to match all the time.

I also realized that it depends on the scenario and context, so the next trick for me was learning to optimize how I learn in certain scenarios.  For example, in a lot of cases, I cut to the chase and get an example and abstract from there.

I don’t waste time trying to connect fuzzy dots up front.  This saves me a lot of time.

Additional Resources

Applying What We Know, Student Learning Styles

Concrete Sequential

Concrete Random

Abstract Random

Abstract Sequential

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5 Thinking Styles

7 NLP Meta-Programs for Understanding People

6 Styles Under Stress

Meta-Programs and Intrinsic Values in NLP


  1. It’s an interesting way to break it all down J.D., I’ve never put much thought into how I teach someone to do something before.

    It’s not like I’m a teacher or anything, so it doesn’t happen that often. The closest I can come to relating is some of the inhouse training that I’ve had to do at various companies for other members of staff on the use of the database we were working on. There I found that the best way for something to sink in was first to take the person through the steps slowly while I do it and they make notes, and then to let them do it themselves while I watch at least three times, each time giving them less and less clues about what comes next.

    It also helps with some people to know what the effects are, or could be, if they fluffed it. Others just prefer to take things at face value without knowing how it all integrates.

  2. @ Louisa

    I like your walk them through approach and then test their results. It’s funny how much the view changes just switching from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat.

  3. I had done an exercise with my company to find out the combination of what I am (Abstract Random). Do you know of any quizes that I can do with my employees such as the one I did to find out what each employee is?

    After the group took the quiz and found out what they were from the four choices (Abstract Random, Abstract Sequential, Concrete Random or Concrete Sequential) they had us do another exercise. It was amazing to see how we worked together and how all four of our presentations from the exercise matched to our category. It was also funny because there were about 60 of us doing the exercise and only 2 of the 60 were Concrete Sequential.

  4. @ JohnnyG

    I don’t know of any quizzes, but one approach might be to survey your employees. I think by letting folks know the benefits, they’ll be open to it. The key to stress is that there is no right or wrong answer … it’s simply preferences.

  5. JD,
    this might seem small but this was a big take away for me! Another great reminder! Know yourself first.
    can never be reminded of this too much in the world we live in – looking outward before we learn to trust our own first! 🙂
    blessings to you,

  6. @ Sharmila

    I like to think of it as building your own best driver’s guide. It’s how you make the most of what you’ve got.

  7. JD, I am definitely an abstract! I do switch between both types and can sense it when I’m caught off guard or out of the flow! I need routine, structure and a few rituals to keep me on track, then I find the abstract works fine! I must stay grounded or that’s when it gets a little ‘dreamy!’ 😉
    Thanks for sharing this post! I found it thoroughly interesting! 😉
    Great Advice: ‘Know yourself first. Figure out your own learning preferences.’
    thankfully, I know how I learn best; I need visuals, and practice work! Also I am trusting my own instincts more and leaning into who I am on the inside!
    Have a great weekend! 😉

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