The Way They Learn

When our twins were born, I was amazed to see how different these two “identical” babies were from each other. They were unique from the very beginning. Our friends often ask, “How do you tell them apart?” My standard reply is “Just watch them-you’ll know,” When you listen to them speak and watch them interact with people, you will have little doubt that these boys, who share the same birthday, are very much individuals.

If you are a parent with more than on child, you’ve already discovered that eve children growing up in similar circumstances and environments can have dramatically dissimilar approaches to life. These individual bents often bring an overwhelming challenge to parents. It is not enough to simply decide how to raise children and then apply the same techniques to each child. Parents need to get to know their children, as no two will be the same.

Getting to know each of our children as individuals is an exhausting but rewarding proposition. Areas of conflict and frustration between parent and child can often be attributed to differences in the way we learn. With an understanding of individual learning styles, the parent can find positive ways of building on the child’s strengths without sacrificing desired bottom-line outcomes. Believe it or not, it can be done

What Is a Learning Style?

According to the research of Dr. Anthony F. Gregorc, the mind perceives in two ways-through concrete perception and abstract perception.

Concrete perception lets us register information directly through our five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. When using our concrete abilities, we are dealing with what is here and now-the tangible, the obvious. The key phrase is “It is what it is.”

Abstract perception allows us to visualize, to conceive ideas, to understand or believe that which we cannot see. When using this abstract quality, we are using our intuition, our intellect, our imagination. We are looking beyond what is toward the more subtle implications. The key phrase for the abstract is “It’s not always what it seems.”

Although everyone uses both concrete and abstract perceptual abilities every day, each person is more comfortable using one over the other. This becomes his or her dominant ability. For example, the person whose natural strength is concrete may prefer to listen in a direct, literal, no-nonsense manner. The person whose natural strength is abstract may pick up the more subtle cues from others as they communicate.

Using What We Know

According to Gregorc, once we’ve taken in the information, we all use two methods of ordering what we know: sequential and random.

When using sequential ability, we are following a logical train of thought, a step-by-step approach to dealing with information. These persons prefer to have a plan and follow it, rather than relying on impulse. Their key phrase is “Follow the steps.”

Random ordering lets our minds organize information by chunks and with no particular sequence. We may often skip steps in procedure and still produce the desired result. We might start in the middle or begin at the end and work backward. The child with a strong random way of ordering information may seem impulsive or more spontaneous. Their key phrase is ‘Just get it done.”

Dominant Learning Styles

From perception and ordering come four dominant learning styles: concrete sequential (CS); abstract sequential (AS); concrete random (CR); and abstract random (AR). By understanding some of the common characteristics of each learning style, we can recognize and value what our children do best and what comes naturally for them. (Remember, no individual is only one style.)

Concrete Sequential (CS)

Concrete sequential parents almost always have high expectations for their child’s behavior and academic success. These parents probably had little trouble adapting to traditional learning methods, since most tend to be concrete and sequential. Part of the CS nature is to do what needs to be done, whether you feel like it or not.
It is common for CS parents to:

Expect instruction to be followed without question or procrastination.

Clearly lay out the rules for children to follow and the consequences for disobedience.

Become frustrated when they have to repeat themselves.

When children don’t do what they’re told the first time, a favorite CS method for getting quick action is the “countdown.” Although the countdown works for many children, it does not work for all. For example, my mom would say to my sister, “Sandee, I want you here by the time I count to three: One… two. . . . ” And Sandee was there.

Not so with me. My strong-willed nature (I’m a CR) compelled me to ride out the threat-and suffer the consequences!

Like their parental counterparts, CS children are very good at dealing with the facts, but they have to work at seeing the abstract, bigger picture. Some common characteristics are:

They are very organized.

In doing chores, CS children respond best to a schedule or checklist on the refrigerator with rewards for a job well done.

Consistency is important. CS children may have to remind a random parent of a promise or a missed routine.

CS children tend to be very literal in their communication; more abstract parents may find themselves misunderstood because they assumed their CS children understood what was meant, not just what was said.

Abstract Sequential (AS)

When it comes to making decisions, the dominantly abstract sequential person feels compelled to explore virtually all the options. They are gifted with a natural sense of logic and reason, and they may assume that everyone has the same need for extensive information.

Abstract sequential parents insist that their children demonstrate at least some semblance of logical thought and analysis. Because of a natural intellectual bent, AS parents tend to forget they are dealing with young children and not their own peers. A simple request from a child, such as “Could I have a puppy?” could bring about a barrage of detailed analytical questions.

Abstract sequential children are usually as systematic and deliberate as their parental counterpart. They often appear quieter and more withdrawn because their minds are working through the analytic and evaluative process. It’s not likely they will say what they are thinking until they understand it.

Abstract Random (AR)

The abstract random individual has a sixth sense for reading people or understanding others needs. Nonverbal cues that escape the more sequential person can speak volumes to the AR.

By nature, AR parents are unstructured and free-flowing, and they often struggle when it comes to keeping a consistent schedule or detailed routine. They are a “soft touch” in the family because they avoid conflict and confrontation.

Likewise, the abstract random child, more than any learning style, cares about pleasing people. For the AR child, all of life and learning is an intensely personal experience.

The AR child may have difficulty in a classroom when other children are unhappy or when they feel the teacher does not take a personal interest in them. it is almost always the AR child who will come up to the teacher and say, “Susie’s dog got run over this morning, and she’s crying. Can I talk to her?” The CS or AS children may also point out Susie’s distress, but usually they will say something like, “Susie’s crying. Do you think someone should talk to her?”

Concrete Random (CR)

The concrete random person is least likely to take your word about anything. These people, more than any other style, strive not to be ordinary. They are notorious risk takers.

CR parents often make great playmates for their children, actively participating in many adventures. You would think that CR parents and CR children, by their very nature, would get along well; but often, in times conflict, neither wants to back down.

The concrete random child is usually full of energy, curiosity and new ideas. Example: A kindergarten teacher gave her class a creative art assignment. “I want you to draw a picture of someone you really she said. Then she drew of someone she most admired, so the children could see her example. When the teacher gathered the assignment, she discovered that most children had copied her drawing. But one boy-a CR-was still working on his paper.

When the teacher asked who he was drawing, he proudly replied, “This is a picture of God.”

She smiled a bit uncertainly and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.”

The CR boy just beamed. “They will when I get through!”

I frequently tell parents of strong-willed, CR children that those kids are going to change the world. It’s not likely the world is going to change them.

Adding Insight to Our Family Each of these learning styles adds another dimension to our insights about ourselves and others in our family. Remember, no single style is any smarter than another, nor is there any style combination that is automatically good or naturally bad.

The key lies in how you use your natural style strengths and in how willing you are to learn or communicate in a way that may be more difficult for you.


Describe what you prefer most of the time. Place a check mark beside every phrase under each section that describes your preferences. Check as many as you feel strongly describe you. Concrete Sequential (CS) I almost always: prefer doing things the same way. work best with people who won’t hesitate to take am more interested in obvious facts than in finding hidden meanings. prefer a neat and orderly environment. ask first, “How do I do it?”

Concrete Sequential (CS)

I almost always:
—–prefer doing things the same way.
—–work best with people who won’t hesitate to take immediate action.
—–am more interested in obvious facts than in finding hidden meanings.
—–prefer a neat and orderly environment.
—–ask first, “How do I do it?”

Abstract Sequential (AS)

I almost always:
—–want as much information as possible before making a decision.
—–need enough time to do a thorough job. prefer to get directions in writing.
—–am interested in where a person got the facts. ask,
“Where do I find more information?,,

Abstract Random (AR)
I almost always:
—–prefer to check with others before making final decisions.
—–try to be sensitive to other people’s feelings. Work well with others.
—–am not bothered by a cluttered environment. Ask the advice of others when in doubt.

Concrete Random (CR)
I almost always:
—–solve problems creatively.
—–act on the spur of the moment.
—–work best with those who can keep up.
—–like frequent changes in the environment.
—–prefer to learn only what’s necessary to know.