What are the differences?

Everybody is active sometimes and reflective sometimes. Your preference for one category or the other may be strong, moderate, or mild. A balance of the two is desirable. If you always act before reflecting you can jump into things prematurely and get into trouble, while if you spend too much time reflecting you may never get anything done.

  • Active learners tend to retain and understand information best by doing something active with it--discussing or applying it or explaining it to others. Reflective learners prefer to think about it quietly first.
  • "Let's try it out and see how it works" is an active learner's phrase; "Let's think it through first" is the reflective learner's response.
  • Active learners tend to like group work more than reflective learners, who prefer working alone.
  • Sitting through lectures without getting to do anything physical but take notes is hard for both learning types, but particularly hard for active learners.

Active Learner:

How can active learners help themselves?

If you are an active learner in a class that allows little or no class time for discussion or problem-solving activities, you should try to compensate for these lacks when you study. Study in a group in which the members take turns explaining different topics to each other. Work with others to guess what you will be asked on the next test and figure out how you will answer. You will always retain information better if you find ways to do something with it.

Strengths of Active Learner:

  1. Likes classroom discussion-stay involved and offer opinions and ask questions.
  2. Likes group work-form study teams to learn information or review for tests.
  3. Likes lab work in the sciences-follow directions carefully and stay within the limits of experimentation.
  4. Likes hands-on experiments
  5. “Let’s try it out and see how it works” is a way of thinking.

Stretching to become more balanced Active/Reflective learner:

  1. Take time to think through lectures and readings-ask, “What is it that I do not understand?”.
  2. Prioritize what needs to be done. Set deadlines and stick to them.
  3. Have a solid system to manage time.
  4. Compare notes with other students.
  5. Practice predicting essay test questions and answering them sequentially.

Reflective Learners:

How can reflective learners help themselves?

If you are a reflective learner in a class that allows little or not class time for thinking about new information, you should try to compensate for this lack when you study. Don't simply read or memorize the material; stop periodically to review what you have read and to think of possible questions or applications. You might find it helpful to write short summaries of readings or class notes in your own words. Doing so may take extra time but will enable you to retain the material more effectively.

Strengths of a Reflective learner:
1. Strong critical thinkers who like to analyze course content.
2. Tends to organize material in a sequential, logical way.
3. Can handle library work effectively.
4. Can debate points of view.
5. Tends to do well with lectures.

Stretching to become more balanced Active/Reflective learner:
1. Look for the humor in situations-see the lighter side of life.
2. Look for ways to build creativity in papers and projects.
3. Use a partner or a group to assist in the learning process.
4. Make flashcards to assist in remembering the details within subjects.


What are the differences?

Everybody is sensing sometimes and intuitive sometimes. Your preference for one or the other may be strong, moderate, or mild. To be effective as a learner and problem solver, you need to be able to function both ways. If you overemphasize intuition, you may miss important details or make careless mistakes in calculations or hands-on work; if you overemphasize sensing, you may rely too much on memorization and familiar methods and not concentrate enough on understanding and innovative thinking.

  • Sensing learners tend to like learning facts, intuitive learners often prefer discovering possibilities and relationships.
  • Sensors often like solving problems by well-established methods and dislike complications and surprises; intuitors like innovation and dislike repetition. Sensors are more likely than intuitors to resent being tested on material that has not been explicitly covered in class.
  • Sensors tend to be patient with details and good at memorizing facts and doing hands-on (laboratory) work; intuitors may be better at grasping new concepts and are often more comfortable than sensors with abstractions and mathematical formulations.
  • Sensors tend to be more practical and careful than intuitors; intuitors tend to work faster and to be more innovative than sensors.
  • Sensors don't like courses that have no apparent connection to the real world; intuitors don't like "plug-and-chug" courses that involve a lot of memorization and routine calculations.

Sensing Learners

How can sensing learners help themselves?

Sensors remember and understand information best if they can see how it connects to the real world. If you are in a class where most of the material is abstract and theoretical, you may have difficulty. Ask your instructor for specific examples of concepts and procedures, and find out how the concepts apply in practice. If the teacher does not provide enough specifics, try to find some in your course text or other references or by brainstorming with friends or classmates.

Strengths of a Sensing Learner:
1. Usually strong at memorizing facts.
2. Able to follow detailed instructions and get the correct results.
3. Can create real, practical products.
4. Likes to have an orderly, quiet environment.
5. Able to plan and organize their time.

Stretching to become more balanced Sensing/Intuitive learner:
1. Consider alternatives before jumping to conclusions.
2. Work with others to connect theoretical material with the real world.
3. Predict and practice writing essay test questions and answers.
4. Use other people for ideas in writing assignments
5. Create concept maps to see the big picture of a particular subject.

Intuitive Learners

How can intuitive learners help themselves?

Many college lecture classes are aimed at intuitors. However, if you are an intuitor and you happen to be in a class that deals primarily with memorization and rote substitution in formulas, you may have trouble with boredom. Ask your instructor for interpretations or theories that link the facts, or try to find the connections yourself. You may also be prone to careless mistakes on test because you are impatient with details and don't like repetition (as in checking your completed solutions). Take time to read the entire question before you start answering and be sure to check your results

Strengths of an Intuitive learner:
1. Able to grasp new concepts quickly.
2. Likes to brainstorm possible answers to questions.
3. Can think quickly “on their feet.” These folks would be good on an improv team!
4. Likes to use the trial and error approach.
5. These folks tend to be self-directed and are able to work independently.

Stretching to become more balanced Sensing/Intuitive learner:
1. Understand terms-use note-cards.
2. Take time to read questions carefully and answer them completely.
3. Work at using outlines to help write papers.
4. Practice taking objective tests (multiple choice) from study guides.


What are the differences?

Visual learners remember best what they see--pictures, diagrams, flow charts, time lines, films, and demonstrations. Verbal learners get more out of words--written and spoken explanations. Everyone learns more when information is presented both visually and verbally. In most college classes very little visual information is presented: students mainly listen to lectures and read material written on chalkboards and in textbooks and handouts. Unfortunately, most people are visual learners, which means that most students do not get nearly as much as they would if more visual presentation were used in class. Good learners are capable of processing information presented either visually or verbally.

Visual Learners:

How can Visual learners help themselves?

If you are a visual learner, try to find diagrams, sketches, schematics, photographs, flow charts, or any other visual representation of course material that is predominantly verbal. Ask your instructor, consult reference books, and see if any videotapes or CD-ROM displays of the course material are available. Prepare a concept map by listing key points, enclosing them in boxes or circles, and drawing lines with arrows between concepts to show connections. Color-code your notes with a highlighter so that everything relating to one topic is the same color.

Strengths of a Visual learner:
1. Able to use pictures, diagrams, flow charts, timelines, films, and demonstrations in the learning process.
2. Learns effectively from demonstrations.
3. Learns effectively when the overhead or Power Point presentations are used.

Stretching to become more balanced Visual/Verbal learner.
1. Compare notes with other students to make sure you are hearing everything and writing down the important things in class.
2. Work with other students to review for tests in classes that focus on the lecture method.
3. Color code notes to break down and organize key information.

Verbal Learners:

How can Verbal learners help themselves?

Write summaries or outlines of course material in your own words. Working in groups can be particularly effective: you gain understanding of material by hearing classmates' explanations and you learn even more when you do the explaining.

Strengths of a Verbal learner:
1. Able to listen attentively to lectures.
2. Works well in group discussions.
3. Able to receive verbal instructions and follow through.
4. Usually are able to communicate ideas verbally in effective ways. Able to present oral reports.

Stretching to become more balanced Visual/Verbal learner.
1. Working on “hands-on” projects may be a challenge. Get help early if needed.
2. Art classes may be difficult. Be willing to practice different techniques.
3. Use diagrams and flow charts to understand course material more clearly.


What are the differences?

Many people who read this description may conclude incorrectly that they are global, since everyone has experienced bewilderment followed by a sudden flash of understanding. What makes you global or not is what happens before the light bulb goes on. Sequential learners may not fully understand the material but they can nevertheless do something with it (like solve the homework problems or pass the test) since the pieces they have absorbed are logically connected. Strongly global learners who lack good sequential thinking abilities, on the other hand, may have serious difficulties until they have the big picture. Even after they have it, they may be fuzzy about the details of the subject, while sequential learners may know a lot about specific aspects of a subject but may have trouble relating them to different aspects of the same subject or to different subjects.

  • Sequential learners tend to gain understanding in linear steps, with each step following logically from the previous one. Global learners tend to learn in large jumps, absorbing material almost randomly without seeing connections, and then suddenly "getting it."
  • Sequential learners tend to follow logical stepwise paths in finding solutions; global learners may be able to solve complex problems quickly or put things together in novel ways once they have grasped the big picture, but they may have difficulty explaining how they did it.

Sequential Learners:

How can sequential learners help themselves?

Most college courses are taught in a sequential manner. However, if you are a sequential learner and you have an instructor who jumps around from topic to topic or skips steps, you may have difficulty following and remembering. Ask the instructor to fill in the skipped steps, or fill them in yourself by consulting references. When you are studying, take the time to outline the lecture material for yourself in logical order. In the long run doing so will save you time. You might also try to strengthen your global thinking skills by relating each new topic you study to things you already know. The more you can do so, the deeper your understanding of the topic is likely to be.

Strengths of a Sequential learner:
1. Able to gain information from linear steps.
2. Uses logical stepwise paths to solve problems.
3. Able to understand details about a particular subject.
4. Use charts and lists to build understanding. The SQ3R method could be quite helpful for this type of learner.

Stretching to become more balanced Sequential/Global learner:
1. Look for places to apply the material you are learning in other areas. For example, try to take the material from a history class and use it in the American government class.
2. Use study groups to explore “big picture” type of learning. Look for cause and effect situations in the material that you are studying.
3. Predict essay questions and practice outlining the answers to the questions.

Global Learners

How can Global learners help themselves?

If you are a global learner, it can be helpful for you to realize that you need the big picture of a subject before you can master details. If your instructor plunges directly into new topics without bothering to explain how they relate to what you already know, it can cause problems for you. Fortunately, there are steps you can take that may help you get the big picture more rapidly. Before you begin to study the first section of a chapter in a text, skim through the entire chapter to get an overview. Doing so may be time-consuming initially but it may save you from going over and over individual parts later. Instead of spending a short time on every subject every night, you might find it more productive to immerse yourself in individual subjects for large blocks. Try to relate the subject to things you already know, either by asking the instructor to help you see connections or by consulting references. Above all, don't lose faith in yourself; you will eventually understand the new material, and once you do your understanding of how it connects to other topics and disciplines may enable you to apply it in ways that most sequential thinkers would never dream of.

Strengths of a Global learner:
1. Able to learn in large jumps, absorbing material almost randomly without seeing connections, and then suddenly “getting it.”
2. Able to solve complex problems quickly.
3. Able to put things together in novel ways-able to creativity come up with diverse thinking.
4. Likes to understand the big picture of a learning situation rather than the specific details.

Stretching to become more balanced Sequential/Global learner.
1. Use flashcards to learn the terms, vocabulary, and concepts of a particular discipline.
2. Compare notes with other students to make sure you are getting everything down.
3. Try to practice taking objective tests (multiple choice) by using study guides.
4. Have other folks carefully proof-read your papers.


Content providers:

Richard M. Felder
Hoechst Celanese Professor of Chemical Engineering
North Carolina State University

Barbara A. Soloman
Coordinator of Advising, First Year College
North Carolina State University


Randy Buursma
Communication Arts and Science
Calvin College

Rob Bobeldyk
Computer Information Technology
Calvin College