“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 every day, 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.
Here are key takeaways:
- 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.
Concrete, Abstract, Random, Sequential Learning Styles Explained
Concrete thinking focuses on tangible, specific details and practical realities, while abstract thinking involves more theoretical, conceptual, and general ideas.
Random thinking favors spontaneity and flexibility, often involving a non-linear approach to problem-solving, whereas sequential thinking is methodical and logical, following a structured, step-by-step process.
Here are the parts that make up the styles:
- 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.
- 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.
- Random – You’re processing chunks of information in a random way. You can hop around with ease.
- Sequential – You process 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.
Learning Style Patterns: Concrete Sequential, Concrete Abstract, Abstract Sequential, Abstract Random
Here’s the learning styles in a nutshell:
- Concrete Sequential Thinkers – 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.
- Concrete Random Thinkers – 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.
- Abstract Sequential Thinkers – Abstractions are great as long as they follow a sequential flow. What I’ve seen about abstract sequential learners is
- Abstract Random Thinkers – 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?
A Concrete Sequential thinker is someone who prefers dealing with tangible, real-world situations and processes information in a structured, logical, and linear way.
This type of thinker excels in environments where details matter and tasks require a methodical approach.
They are typically very organized, follow procedures closely, and are adept at handling tasks that need step-by-step planning or execution.
Their thinking is grounded in reality, and they excel in roles where clear, sequential processes are essential, such as in project management or data analysis.
For example, consider a project manager who plans a product launch.
This individual will meticulously organize each phase, from development to marketing, ensuring every detail is accounted for and executed in a specific, logical order.
Their strength lies in handling projects that demand precision, structured planning, and a clear sequence of actions, making them invaluable in roles where order and methodical approaches are key.
A Concrete Random thinker is someone who excels in hands-on, experimental problem-solving.
They are adept at dealing with tangible tasks but prefer an innovative and non-linear approach.
This type of thinker often thrives in situations that require quick thinking, flexibility, and the ability to devise unique solutions to practical problems.
They are valuable in roles where creativity and adaptability are key, such as in design, entrepreneurship, or any field that benefits from out-of-the-box thinking and a willingness to explore uncharted paths.
A Concrete Random thinker in the workplace is someone who thrives on innovation and creative problem-solving.
For instance, consider a software developer tasked with creating a new application.
Rather than strictly following a predetermined set of procedures, they might experiment with various coding approaches or explore unconventional solutions to enhance the app’s functionality.
This thinker’s strength lies in their ability to adapt, think on their feet, and approach challenges with a fresh perspective, making them particularly valuable in roles that require creativity and adaptability.
An Abstract Sequential thinker is someone who excels in logical reasoning and abstract thought.
They are skilled at understanding complex theories, developing strategies, and analyzing information in a structured, logical manner.
This type of thinker thrives in environments where they can engage in deep thinking, strategize, and plan, often excelling in roles that require analytical skills, strategic planning, and the ability to conceptualize and understand abstract concepts.
In the workplace, an Abstract Sequential thinker is someone who excels in theoretical, strategic planning, and analytical tasks.
For example, consider a data analyst who examines market trends to forecast future business opportunities.
This individual approaches their work through a lens of abstract reasoning and logical analysis, often enjoying the challenge of deciphering complex data sets to derive meaningful insights.
They are skilled at thinking through problems in a systematic, logical manner and are typically drawn to roles that require deep analysis, strategic thinking, and long-term planning.
An Abstract Random thinker is someone who excels in intuitive, empathetic understanding and thrives in unstructured, people-oriented environments.
They are adept at seeing the big picture and making connections between diverse ideas and people.
This type of thinker is often highly creative and skilled in understanding and managing complex interpersonal dynamics, making them well-suited for roles that require emotional intelligence, teamwork, and a holistic approach to problem-solving.
An Abstract Random thinker in the workplace is someone who excels in environments that require empathy, teamwork, and intuitive decision-making.
Picture a human resources manager who is great at understanding employees’ needs and concerns.
They excel in creating a supportive and collaborative team environment, often relying on their intuition and interpersonal skills to resolve conflicts and boost team morale.
Their strength lies in their ability to connect with others and navigate complex social dynamics, making them highly effective in roles that require strong people skills and emotional intelligence.
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!
Adapt Your Style by Knowing Yourself and Others
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.
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