How We Teach and How They Learn, Part 2

In order to understand how to teach, learn, or even preach effectively, we must understand how people process information. This is the subject of learning styles. Most teaching and preaching are done according to one’s own learning style. By doing this we miss reaching those who do not learn the same way we do. Did you ever wonder why you were drawn by certain teachers and preachers and not others? It was because they communicated by the same learning style you have.

There are four basic elements to learning that need to be understood. The first two elements deal with perception; the way we take in new information. This is done in either a concrete or abstract way. Concrete learners perceive things by what their senses take in; and if they are heavily concrete, they see little more than what their senses take in. The opposite is true for the abstract learner. This type of learner takes in new information and conceives new ideas from the concrete. For example, I have two sons. The first sees only what is in front of him; he does not understand jokes or puns. When he drives, he sees the sign that says the speed limit is 35; and he will drive 35 mph, no more, no less. The other son sees the same sign and perceives this to mean 35 is the suggested limit. He has the tickets to prove it.

The next part of the process shows how we order new information. Do we put things in sequential order or random order? Most of us know that when we study history we do so from beginning to the present, and we work accordingly. We also know that what happens in history depends on what went before. This is how the sequential learner lines things up. The random learner sees not the sequence as important but the event itself. To this learner, the order is not important, just the event – in any order.

The individual elements are the easiest to understand. Now we put these together and get their combinations. If you get a learner who is abstract random, sometimes called an Imaginative Learner, you get someone who is prone to be very people-oriented, idealistic, learns by talking things through (teachers love that!), dislikes lectures and working alone, and works better in a colorful environment.

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The concrete sequential (analytics) is a detailed person who loves facts. (Just give me a new dictionary and I’m happy.) It doesn’t mean they want to do anything with the facts; they just love to collect them, such as Cliff Claven from Cheers. These are the great debaters who will use these facts to prove you wrong. This is the ONLY category that learns well by lecture! (Preachers take note.) They also love competition and working alone.

Abstract sequentials are common sense people who like to take the facts gathered by the analytics and figure out what they can do with them to put things to work in some useful way. These too do not learn much from lectures. They are goal-oriented, well structured, resent being given answers, and excel in problem solving.

The last category is concrete random. These are the dynamic people who teachers “hate” the most because they want to run the classroom, think outside the box, and are innovators who use a lot of instinct. They demand flexibility. If you give them an assignment, they will ask if there is a way to do it other than the one you required. They might get the assignment done on time but don’t expect it. These people are natural born leaders and great visionaries, but they are not detailed people.

In Part 3, we will begin to develop each of these four learning styles and put together ways to help them learn.

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Having spent the last eight years in Cape Town, South Africa, as academic dean of the Bible Institute of South Africa and serving there as a PCA missionary, Dennis and his wife Cindy, his son Dustin, daughter Bena, and son Innocent have returned to the states to rejoin the staff at Christian Education and Publications where he served for eleven years prior to going to South Africa.

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