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Learning Styles

By Vicki Bentley
HSLDA Early Years Coordinator

Dr. Anthony Gregorc’s model of learning styles is the basis of many studies and approaches to learning:

Perception is how we take in or seek out information to gain knowledge:

The concrete learner utilizes the senses, dealing with what is here and now, the obvious. He may have challenges looking for hidden meanings, subtle clues, or trying to make connections between ideas or concepts. What you see is what you get! The abstract learner visualizes or conceives ideas, to understand what he can’t see. Think: intuition, imagination, intellect.

We use both, but which is dominant? This will influence how your child best learns new information. By the way, almost all young children start out as concrete thinkers, but as they mature, some develop greater abstract thinking abilities than others.

Ordering is the way we use the information we perceive, or how we sort information to reach conclusions:

The sequential learner follows a step by step, logical train of thought and prefers a conventional approach with a plan. He follows the steps. On the other hand, the random thinker organizes information in chunks, skips steps, and still produces desired results. He might even start in middle or end and work backwards. Sometimes he seems impulsive or spontaneous, and doesn’t seem to have a plan!

We are all a bit of both styles, but which is dominant? This will influence what your child does with the information he gathers.

Again, I stress that there is great overlap as we evaluate learning styles because most of us have a combination of learning styles, but we are usually dominant in one style. One of the most fascinating realizations, as I read through Cynthia Tobias’ book, was that the little “synopsis” page for each learning style (at the end of each style chapter) was written in a format that would be attractive to that particular style. I figured that out when I had trouble concentrating on or “following” any of the pages other than that of my dominant style!

How does your child concentrate?

Where should he study? How quiet should it be? What about lighting? Is the temperature okay? What about food? You might have him draw a picture of the ideal study place, then do an experiment: For 2–3 weeks, let him pick where, how, when to study. If he gets his work done well, he’s okay. If not, he goes by your methods. If your child has trouble identifying preferences, try options. Let him study in noisy room and in quiet room, in bright room and dimmer room, etc.

How does he remember?

While we use many of our senses to take in the information, to understand and remember what we are learning, there is usually one that is more dominant. This is called our learning modality. These learning modalities are generally divided into three categories, with sub-categories:

  1. Visual
    1. Pictures
    2. Words
  2. Auditory
    1. Listening
    2. Verbal
  3. Kinesthetic/tactile

Notice that it is possible for your child to be auditory and still have trouble processing things he hears, if he processes by speaking, not hearing (verbal vs. listening). He may need to talk through things to work out a solution for himself.

He may be visual and still not be able to follow a map, but be able to follow written directions well and to remember them by their position on a page. When I had to recollect information for a test, I could often recall the material by visualizing the words on my notebook page.

A kinesthetic learner needs to move to process information. The movement may not be remotely related to the material, but he still needs that motor movement to process (pacing, stepping up steps with each math fact, riding an exercise bike, etc.).

A tactile learner must be touching things, squeezing a ball, building with Legos, coloring, etc. This is the learner who needs sandpaper letters, lots of manipulatives, etc. Kinesthetic and tactile learners are great candidates for lots of hands-on activities (look at Konos for starters, or be sure to incorporate lots of activities into your other curriculum).

How does he understand?

Although some learning assessments include this as a separate part of learning styles, it seems to often run parallel to concrete vs. abstract (or left brained vs. right brained).

The analytical learner is detail oriented, left brained, and tends to prefer to work alone. He is very logical and self motivated. He often finds the facts but misses the main idea. Do you remember having to analyze literature in high school? I never “got it” till someone pointed out the hidden meaning. In an inductive Bible study, I had trouble with the initial overview and was usually the only one who didn’t recognize the big picture without lots of help! For a long time, I just thought I was dense; now I know that I see the details. In other words, an analytical learner “can’t see the forest for the trees.” An analytical person gets frustrated by not being able to complete something before going on to the next task, by having to deal with generalities, and by not feeling prepared for the task at hand.

Global learners are relational, “big picture,” right brained, and tend to be people persons. They see the relationships between things and can “read between the lines.” They often see many options for solutions or processes. They need to be able to relate what they are doing to “real life.”

Our children are unique

The goal in evaluating their learning styles is not to “label” our children or put them in the proverbial education box, but to understand what makes sense to them, what frustrates them (or us!), and how we can best help them to process, understand, and use their knowledge.

Parts of this newsletter were excerpted or adapted from Home Education 101 by Vicki Bentley or adapted from points in Cynthia Tobias’ They Way They Learn. For more detailed information, see Cynthia’s materials at

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