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Have you ever wondered how the mind works? In 1969, Anthony F. Gregorc, Ph.D., founded a theory to explain the ways a human brain processes information.

Let’s take a look at the four categories he devised to describe most learning styles.

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Origin of Learning Styles

Where did the concept of Gregorc learning styles originate? The name of professor and researcher Anthony F. Gregorc is synonymous with the idea of phenomenological research, which is the study of human consciousness and self-awareness. He is best known for his work in learning styles, and in 1984 designed a workable model to explain, or categorize, the ways in which the mind learns.

His Mind Styles Model presents four primary learning styles that explain how an individual thinks and learns best. For example, you might ask yourself: Do I like things to be in order or random? Do I want ideas to be black and white, or would I rather understand them with many levels of meaning? The Mind Styles Model categorizes the ways different people perceive and process information.

How Do You Perceive Information?

The ways we take in or perceive information can be broken into two basic subsets: concrete and abstract.

Maybe you remember way back in elementary school, when you first began to learn about nouns. These could be either concrete or abstract. Concrete nouns like ‘dog,’ ‘cat,’ ‘desk,’ or ‘pencil’ are all things that can be seen and touched. Abstract nouns such as ‘love’ or ‘hope’ were often a little tougher to wrap your mind around because they were not tangible objects.

  • In the same terms, perceiving something in a concrete manner means that you register something in your mind using sensory detail, or your five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell. This is not something that is symbolic or works on many levels – it is what it is right in front of you. Therefore, a concrete learner will soak up information through experiences, often kinesthetic, that involve doing, sensing, and feeling.

  • Abstract is quite the opposite. When you perceive something in an abstract way, you visualize and use your imagination or even your intuition to see something beyond the obvious. Abstract learners are the ones who find it easy to believe in something they cannot necessarily see. They like theories and deductive reasoning, a la Sherlock Holmes.

    This type of learner likes to observe, analyze, draw conclusions, and even speculate on what the right answer may be.

How Do You Process Information?

According to Gregorc’s research, the human brain does indeed perceive things both ways, but often an individual’s brain will have particular strengths. Each of us also tends to have a strength in how we arrange or process this information. This is called ordering. Ordering is also broken down into two basic categories: sequential and random.

  • If something is sequential, it is linear: step 1, step 2, step 3, etc. In thinking sequentially, we use logic to plot things out. Rather than relying on impulse, we follow a plan laid out beforehand.

    Therefore, sequential learners, might excel in taking a written test that relies on working from start to finish on a clear-cut task.

  • If you are thinking in what Gregorc calls a random ordering method, your mind will put the relevant information into chunks. Rather than working through something from start to finish, you can skip steps, work backwards, or begin somewhere in the middle, but you will still achieve the same result. When it comes to the same written test, people who process information this way may not perform as well as a sequential thinker.

Characteristics of Learning Styles

So, we have two subsets for perception, concrete and abstract, and two subsets for ordering, sequential and random. Building on these ideas, Gregorc further developed a theory of four of the most common combinations of these, which he called mind styles or learning styles. If you take the strongest, or most dominant, of each category in a given person, you will end up with these four:

  • Concrete Sequential (CS)
  • Abstract Random (AR)
  • Abstract Sequential (AS)
  • Concrete Random (CR)

Keep in mind that no brain fits one style completely.

Some may be blended between a few, or have a mixed amount of all four categories. When it comes to learning, some styles may work better than others, or it may be that a little bit of each style is key for the best understanding.Over time, research has revealed that each category comes with different characteristics.

Using these as a foundation for learners can be beneficial in helping to convey information or to create a learning environment that meets an individual’s needs. Below are some characteristics associated with each of the four categories:

Concrete Sequential

  • values clear directions and predictable procedures
  • appreciates a structured environment
  • is results- and timeline/deadline-oriented
  • prefers physical or ‘hands-on’ experiences

Concrete Random

  • enjoys doing experiments and taking risks
  • is a creative problem solver
  • prefers working independently and is motivated by competition
  • values opportunities for a trial-and-error approach

Abstract Sequential

  • engages in careful analyzing before making a decision or taking action
  • appreciates having access to experts or references
  • likes to apply logic to solutions
  • prefers verbal forms of instruction and pictures of concepts

Abstract Random

  • likes to build healthy relationships and listens well to others
  • benefits from broad guidelines
  • works well in a group setting
  • values flexibility in both time and environment

Perhaps you have a learner in your classroom that you have identified as fitting into the abstract random group. As an educator, knowing a student’s learning style can help you plan how to best meet this their needs. Relying on the key characteristics associated with the abstract random category, you can help create an environment that encourages collaborative group work and student interactions. As you prepare assignments, you can offer options that include flexible choices for the final product, and loose guidelines that allow for more creativity.

Lesson Summary

The brain can perceive information in either a concrete or an abstract way, and can process information in either a sequential or a random way. Gregorc’s learning styles are a way of breaking the mind’s ability to learn into four distinct categories: concrete sequential, concrete random, abstract sequential, and abstract random. These categories were created by looking at how the brain both perceives and processes information.

In other words, when information comes into the brain, what happens next for understanding and organization?By combining the strengths of the mind into the four learning categories, we can understand how individual people learn best. While not every person matches one style of learning completely, it is a good starting point for understanding how best to convey information so that learners can perceive and process it in a way that meets their individual needs.

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