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25 Sep 2017

The Two Broad Types of Learning Methods People Use

Learning to look at problems as a journey from abstract to practical has helped me much. Since learning is a problem, it helps here too. The key has been seeing two broad types of learning methods: conceptual learning and step-by-step.

Two Types of Learning Methods: Conceptual and Step-by-Step

All learning blend these two types of learning methods: conceptual and step-by-step learning. Misusing either of these can predict the potential problems that lie ahead in implementation.

All training blends the two. All people use both. Both have value. The order and emphasis of each will vary though. That’s the challenge. Learning is personal. It reflects one’s personality.

Take cooking. Recipes abound. They reflect step-by-step learning. Follow the formula. Enjoy success. That is until something changes. That’s when cooking concepts come to the rescue.

That means understanding some principles of cooking. It means grasping chemistry. How does heat change things? How does altitude and humidity?

The Great British Bake Off competition is a great example of conceptual learning. It doesn’t give contestants recipes. Most often it just ingredients and assignments. That’s it.

Yes, experience helps. Yet, the show seeks odd assignments with twists. That ensures contestants can’t rely just on past experience or recipes. It tests what they learned from those. How well do they grasp various cooking concepts?

How These Two Types of Learning Methods Show Up In People

People will tend to prefer one learning type over the other. Those who like step-by-step will start here. They’ll then pick up concepts on their own from those steps. It’s like seeing patterns or themes.

Those who like concepts do the reverse. They’ll learn them and then figure out the steps. It’s like working through a project’s details to get some outcome.

Teaching concepts first to step-by-step learners would come across as too impractical, too theoretical or intellectual. Teaching steps first to conceptual learners would come across as too purposeless, too uninteresting or basic. With both they lose motivation to learn.

The Problems These Types of Learning Methods Predict

In some people, they give up one learning method for the other. In those who prefer step-by-step and don’t bother with concepts, they’ll be rote decision makers. Problems will arise with changes or the unexpected. The “recipe” no longer works.

In those who prefer conceptual learning but forego step-by-step, they’ll be visionary decision makers. Steps, even if they do not apply, give a road map of the details one must work through. Thus, this cook will miss key details. These could take the form of tasks, ingredients or techniques.

In the end, all this means two things. First, one’s personality will predict his preferred learning method. Second, how one learns will predict the problems we might see from her decision making.

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