Learning Styles

by Melba Taylor

from Inquiry, Volume 1, Number 1, Spring 1997, 45-48

Copyright 1997 Virginia Community College System


Brief Abstract

The four learning styles identified by the Gregoric Style Delineator - concrete sequential, abstract random, abstract sequential, and concrete random - are discussed; and suggestions for teaching students with differing learning styles are offered.


We perceive and process information in various ways according to our perceptual and sensory strengths. This combination of perceiving and processing forms our unique learning styles. A learning style is a way in which a learner begins to concentrate on, process, and retain new and difficult information (Dunn & Dunn, 1987). To identify a person's learning style pattern, it is necessary to examine the individual's multidimensional characteristics.

According to Sternberg (1994), “A style is a preferred way of using one's abilities. It is not in itself an ability but rather a preference” (p. 36). For teachers to be successful, Sternberg believes they must systematically vary teaching and assessment methods to reach all the different thinking and learning styles of the students. Curtis and Winsor (1993) contend that “the adult learner generally is more culturally diverse and often presents a diversity of learning styles” (p. 15).

Carbo and Hodges (1988) state that “matching students' learning styles with appropriate instructional strategies improves their ability to concentrate and learn” (p. 48). If mismatching occurs, students feel anxious and even physically ill when trying to learn. “Most teachers are best at teaching children who match their own styles of thinking and learning” (Sternberg, 1994, p. 39). Sternberg reports that students tend to receive higher grades when their styles are the same as those of their teachers. If this is true, teachers must learn to be flexible and exhibit different styles in their classroom.

Pogrow (1994) suggests three principles for teachers to use in developing students' understanding. They are:

1. Create a learning environment that is consistently intriguing;
2. Combine visual and interactive experiences with Socratic forms of conversation that help students create mental models and generalize their experiences; and
3. Develop cognitive architecture (a system of thinking activities) that unifies learning experiences. (p. 62)

At the VCCA convention in October, the Virginia Master Teachers Seminar sponsored a concurrent session on Learning Styles. During this session, the Gregorc Style Delineator was administered and analyzed. This tool was selected because of the extensive research conducted by Anthony F. Gregorc on children, adolescents, and adults in various learning environments. The research shows that most individuals learn easier in certain environments and under certain conditions than others (Gregorc, 1979a). Under different conditions, these students felt varying degrees of comfort ranging from pleasure to pain.

Gregorc (1979a) addresses two sets of qualities which form distinctive learning patterns and styles: Concrete/Abstract, and Sequential/Random. He separates these into four learning styles: Concrete Sequential (CS), Abstract Random (AR), Abstract Sequential (AS), and Concrete Random (CR). Although every individual he tested demonstrated use of all four styles, 95 percent expressed a preference in one or two areas.

The following represents a brief description of each of the four learning styles (Gregorc, 1979b).

Concrete Sequential (CS) learners prefer direct, hands-on experience. They exhibit extraordinary development of their five senses. They like touchable, concrete materials, and orderly presentations. CS’s actually enjoy faculty meetings! They are adverse to change and do not oppose tradition. They are habitual, punctual, and desire perfection. You would not see a CS wear flashy colors or mismatched outfits. They are organized, desire perfection, and give “practical” gifts.

Abstract Random (AR) learners have a capacity to sense moods, and they use intuition to their advantage. They prefer to learn in an unstructured environment such as group discussions and activities. Faculty meetings are viewed as a time to socialize! They prefer not to be restricted by unnecessary rules and guidelines. Because AR’s continuously discharge energy, they may appear “hyper” when indeed they are not. AR’s use hand and body movements when communicating. They dislike routine activities and cold, unemotional people.

Abstract Sequential (AS) learners have excellent abilities with written, verbal, and image symbols. They like to read, listen, and use their visual skills. They are highly verbal; therefore, you will never have a short conversation with an AS. They prefer a sequential presentation that is rational and substantive or they consider meetings a waste of time. AS’s are “fence straddlers” and highly skeptical.

Concrete Random (CR) learners like to experiment using trial-and-error approaches. They tend to jump to conclusions and prefer to work independently or in small groups. They are gamblers and risktakers. CR’s may arrive late to meetings and leave early if they feel the meeting is boring or going nowhere. CR’s are leaders, not followers. They love to take charge and be in charge. They refuse to accept the words “don’t” or “can’t.” They thrive in a competitive atmosphere. CR’s are not overly concerned with making impressions or going out of their way to win over people. They are often the prime movers of change.

Gregorc contends that strong correlations exist between the individual's disposition, the media, and teaching strategies (Gregorc, 1984):

Individuals with clear-cut dispositions toward concrete and sequential reality chose approaches such as ditto sheets, workbooks, computer-assisted instruction, and kits. Individuals with strong abstract and random dispositions opted for television, movies, and group discussion. Individuals with dominant abstract and sequential leanings preferred lectures, audio tapes, and extensive reading assignments. Those with concrete and random dispositions were drawn to independent study, games, and simulations. Individuals who demonstrated strength in multiple dispositions selected multiple forms of media and classroom approaches. It must be noted, however, that despite strong preferences, most individuals in the sample indicated a desire for a variety of approaches in order to avoid boredom. (p. 54)

With the variety of styles found in his research, Gregorc (1979a) makes three inferences:

First, we must reassess our individual and collective viewpoints on the nature of learning. The “average child concept” is wrong! Second, we must consider multiple approaches in our teaching presentations. There are indeed “different strokes for different folks.” Thirdly, we need to talk with students and verify differences within ourselves. (p. 34)

Gregorc concludes that most successful students in a classroom happen to possess learning preferences that match the instructional method preferences of the teacher. He also contends that many students who refuse to accommodate to different styles may sometimes be labeled learning disabled (Gregorc, 1984).

Gregorc and Ward's (1977) research showed the following:

The instructional materials and techniques used by teachers have a direct effect on many students...If the approach fit the preferred learning mode, the learner usually reacted favorably. If, on the other hand, the methods were mismatched, the student “worked hard to learn”, “learned some and missed some material”, or “tuned out.” (p. 5)

Gregorc (1979b) also writes:

Learning styles emerge from inborn, natural predispositions or proclivities. An obvious implication of this finding is that individuals are capable of using their minor proclivities to varying extents and that development of these proclivities is necessary because of the multivariate demands from our environment. (p. 22)

All teachers should use various teaching methods in their classroom. A teaching style consists of the teacher's personal behaviors and the media used to transmit or receive data from the learner (Gregorc 1979b). Although it is difficult to custom design lessons to benefit all students, it is important not to use only one teaching style in the classroom. Instruments such as the Gregorc Style Delineator can enable classroom teachers to become more aware of the differences in their students.

Gregorc (1979b) contends that all teaching approaches appear to cause learners some degree of stress. However, students should be required to broaden their learning styles in all areas. Individuals can use their specific learning style strengths to complement other learners who have different characteristics. If this is clearly understood and is deemed acceptable, individuals should try to adapt to other learning styles whether they fully understand them or not.


References

Carbo, M., & Hodges, H. (1988, Summer). Learning styles strategies can help students at risk. Teaching Exceptional Children, 48-51.

Curtis, D. B., & Winsor, J. L. (1993, November). Communication and social change: Appropriate Adaptations for Adult Learner Diversity. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication Association, Miami Beach, FL.

Dunn, R., & Dunn, K. (1987). Understanding learning styles and the need for individual diagnosis and prescription. Columbia, CT: The Learner's Dimension.

Gregorc, A. F. (1979). Learning styles: Differences which the profession must address. Reading through content, 29-34.

Gregorc, A. F. (1979) Learning/teaching styles: Their nature and effects. Student learning styles: Diagnosing & prescribing programs, 19-26.

Gregorc, A. F. (1984). Style as a symptom: A phenomenological perspective. Theory into Practice, 23(1), 51-55.

Gregorc, A. F., & Ward, H. B. (1977, February). A new definition for individual. NASSP Bulletin.

Pogrow, S. (1994). Helping students who “just don't understand.” Educational Leadership, 52(3), 62-66.

Sternberg, R. J. (1994). Allowing for thinking styles. Educational Leadership, 52(3), 36-40.


Melba Taylor is a facilitator of the Virginia Master Teachers Seminar held each summer on the campus of Hampden-Sydney College. She also is the President-elect of the VCCA. Melba is Professor of Administrator Support Technology at Virginia Highlands Community College and is currently pursuing her doctorate at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee, in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.