Learning Styles 1

by Jim Ferguson


There are many theories about how we learn. There have been many educational formats developed to address these ideas. When trying to develop a fly tying course you need to consider who the instructor will be and who the learners will be. More than likely, the instructor chosen for the course will be someone that has not had a lot of formal educational training in educational theory. They still can be a very effective fly tying instructor. What I hope to relate thru this article is the fact that there are different ways people learn - we call this a learning style. There are also different ways to present material to be learned - we call this a teaching style. What seems to work best in the student /teacher interaction is the situation in which both the learning style and the teaching style are matched. This is not allways the case and so we get to the dilemma, does the student adjust to the teachers style? or doe the teacher adjust to the learners style? Hopefully both can make appropriate adjustments to facilitate the learning process.

Most introductory fly tying courses involve about 4 to 5 classes of approximately 2 hours duration. There are tests that can be administere to students to identify what kind of learner they are, but, we usually don't have the time nor the resources to administer and evaluate these tests. Each educational theory has its own way of assessing the learner. What would be helpful would be an instructor willing to adapt to the learning styles of their student and having an instructor able to recognize the different styles from observing the behaviors of students while they are teaching. We call this "monitor and adjust."

One system, that I have found helpful in developing teaching approaches to different learning styles looks at what are called four channels. These channels are a summary of the way in which we react or deal with out world. This is not the place to start a learning theory course. We can, however, consider some of the findings or summaries of these four ways of dealing and learning to cope with our world.

The Gregorcic system identifies four dominant channels or styles of our looking at and interacting with the world. The names of these channels are

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

Remember, humans get information from the world around them thru their senses -- sight, hearing, touch, taste, smelling. It is what we do with the input from these five senses that allows us to learn as we process this information. For whatever reason, we can all be exposed to the same data and come up with different assessments. In the above list of channels, think of the word "concrete" as something that is stimulating one or more of our senses, think of "abstract" as a mental thought or idea, think of "sequential" as being in a definite order, and think of "random" as not being bound by any order. Listed below are some categories and some key or dominant style characteristics of the channels. (synopses condensed from An Adult's Guide to Style)

The World Of Reality

CS -----Concrete world of the physical senses. What is real is what I can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.

AS -----Abstract world of the intellect based upon the concreste world. I don't necessarily have to see it to believe it at the time if I have seen this before.

AR ----- Abstract world of feeling and emotion. Feelings and emotions dictate how I react to the stimuli in the world aroung me.

CR ----- Concrete world of activity and abstract world of intuition. I can often predict what is going ot happen based on what I have seen happen in similar


Ordering Ability

CS ----- Sequential step-by-step linear progression. I can't go to step 3 until I have done step 2. I cannot skip ahead.

AS ----- Sequential and two-dimensional; tree-like. While on step 3 I can add some embelishments or think of other ways of doing this.

AR ----- Random non-linear and multidimensional. I can jump in or out anywhere in a process. I can also jump ahead (and find my way back if needed.)

CR ----- Random three-dimensional patterns. I can see the whole picture and approach it from multiple directions.

View of Time

CS -----Discrete units of past, present, future. I will be there at 6:30PM sharp.

AS ----- The present, historical past, and projected future. I will get there pretty close to 6:30 PM, within 10 minutes.

AR -----The moment: time is artificial and restrictive. I will try to get there at 6:30ish. or7 ish.

CR ----- Now: total of the past, interactive present, and seed for the future.

Thinking Process

CS ---- Instinctive, methodical, deliberate, structured.

AS ----- Intellectual, logical, analytical, rational. Think of a lawyer working out a case.

AR ---- Emotional, psychic, perceptive, critical.

CR ----- Intuitive, instinctive, impulsive, independent. Think of an architect putting a circlular doorway in to a room or a glass wall for a bearing wall.

Validation Process

CS ----- Personal proof via the senses; accredited experts are believed. If I see it I believe it.

AS ----- Personal intellectual formulae; conventionally accredited experts

AR ----- Inner guidance system. It feels ok to me!

CR ----- Practical demonstration; personal proof; rarely accepting outside authority.

Focus of Attention

CS ----- Material reality: objects of value.

AS ----- Knowlege facts, documentation. These people really like a text book or a collection of books.

AR ----- Emotional attachments, relationships, and memories. People are more important than ideas.

CR ----- Applications, methods, processes, and ideals. Where else could I use this technique?


CS ----- Product oriented, proof via the senses, refinement, duplication.

AS ----- Synthesis, theories, models, and matrices

AR ----- Imagination, the arts, refinement, relationships.

CR ----- Intuition, originality, inventive, and futuristic

Approaach to Change

CS ----- Slightly adverse; speculative, hesitant and slow

AS ----- Notoriously indecisive, cross-checks, deliberation, fence-straddler.

AR ----- Subject to emotions, level of interest; critical or impressionable.

CR ----- Open and amenable, often instigator, "rolling stone", "trouble shooter."

Approach to Life

CS ----- Realist; patient, conservative, and perfection-oriennted.

AS ----- Realist; serious, determined, logical, and intellectual.

AR ----- Idealist; emotional, exuberant, transcendent, and intense.

CR ----- Realist/idealist; telescopic attitudinal, inquisitive, and independent.

Environmental Preference

CS ----- Ordered, practical, quiet, stable.

AS ----- Mentally stimulating, ordered and quiet, non-authoritative.

AR ----- Emotional and physical freedom; rich ; active and colorful

CR ----- Stimulus-rich, competitive, free from restriction, amenable.

Use of Language

CS ----- Literal meaning and labels; succinct, logical.

AS ----- Polysyllabic words; precise, rational, highly verbal

AR ----- Metamorhic, uses gestures and body language; colorful

CR ----- Informative, lively, colorful; "words do not convey the true meaning."

Primary Evaluative Word(s)

CS ----- Good

AS ----- Excellent

AR ----- Super, Fantastic, Out-Of-Sight, Dynamite

CR -----Superior, Great

What is most important, in my mind, is the necessity of learning to read your students body language and their emotional reactions to your teaching style. The instructor that develops a talent for "reading" their students will adjust to the student's needs and will be more successful in getting their students actively involved in the learning process. When you actually take the test to determine your Style Profile, you quickly learn we all have blends of each of these channels. When I took the test I was very high in CS (31 out of 40) and AS (30 out of 40), low in AR (15 out of 40), and moderate in CR (24 out of 40). Quite often we find someone high in CS attracted to someone high is AR. We are often attracted to our opposites. In other words, we are blends and use these channels to a different extent. Some will dominate.

Someone predominant in CS takes great notes and thoroughly enjoy objective and short answer questions. ARs tend to wander a lot. While you are talking they seem to be looking at the surrounding walls, or talking to their neighbor. Thinking you will catch them you ask them a direct question about what you have been saying and they turn right to you and answer the question correctly. Abstract Randoms like to have noise (radio, tv) around them when they are studying. They do tend to be distracting to others in the class that need the quiet and structured approach.

Concrete Sequentials like work books, generally pay close attention to details, and like to know the exact answer. They want to know exactly how many centimeters of body silk to cut off the spool. They want someone to be a leader, do not consider themselves emotional, tend to give and expect to receive a lot of constructive criticism. To help a CS, give them an outline, give them a check list, summarize frequently, use concrete examples, and remember, they really like the step-by-step tying direction sheets. Sometimes a CS will have trouble in the class with other students since it is hard to get them to understand others may have a different way of learning.

ARs tend to be touchy-feely people. Sometimes you need to get behind them and take their bobbin hand in yours and actually go thru the actual process of putting on a thread base for them to get the idea of thread control and thread tension. They learn to use the whip finish tool fast using this method but will have a real problem with the diagram page. The CS and AS learner will do very well with the written and picture sheet. AS students will be pressing you for titles of good books for them to buy if they get serious about learning to tie. ARs may have emotional responses to criticism, be careful. They can attach their love for their pet bird to the bird skin you are plucking for hackle material.

CR learners are like computer programer trouble shooters that can picture the whole program diagram in their head and if you describe a glitch someplace, they can follow the circuit right to the problem area. When working with a CR, don't be surprised to look at their fly and see they used a material in a new and unusual manner on purpose.

Instructors need to realize and always keep in mind what the student goal is for being in your class. They want to tie a fly. Especially at the beginning, you need to be aware of the need to get them physically involved with the tying process. In fact, try to involve as many of the senses as possible. Be aware of your pacing to keep the class on task. Be aware of the CS that is still on step 3 when you are pushing ahead to step 4 or 5. Do not hold everyone up for the slowest. Be creative and start them off but give some individual attention the the CS to get them up to speed.

Remember, much of this discussion involved a study of learning theory taking over several weeks in an course designed for a formal education course in learning theory. I doubt very much if the sponsor of the fly tying course is going to expect that level of expertise. Just try to be aware that each of your students will have a learning style. Hopefully, you will be willing to try and recognize their style, no matter what name you hang on it. You have a teaching style, hopefully it is evolving and will include adjusting to your student's needs. You still must be comfortable in your instructor role. Make sure you students are also comfortable in the learning environment.

One other piece of advise...........

Be A Guide At The Side Rather Than A Sage On The Stage