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Perceiving and Processing

INDIVIDUALS LEARN IN DIFFERENT WAYS. These different ways of learning are referred to as learning style. There are numerous learning style theories (Clark, 2000; Fardouly, 1998; Peirce, 2000). For example, the left brain versus the right brain and the seven human intelligences. This article will focus on differences in perceiving and processing information. Specifically, the differences between concrete and abstract perceivers and active and reflective processors.


Since individuals perceive and process information in different ways, learning style is an important component to consider when planning instructional methods. Failure to gear methods to how students learn best can result in students not acquiring skills and knowledge from the instruction.

Abstract and Concrete Perceivers

The first dimension is how a learner perceives information. Concrete and abstract perceivers take in information in very different ways. Although individuals can be a combination of both, they tend to favor one over the other.

Abstract perceivers learn information best by analyzing it. They prefer to watch, observe, and think about the information. This student learns well from traditional lecture style teaching methods.

Concrete perceivers learn information best by having direct or hands-on experience. In other words, they learn by doing, acting, sensing, and feeling. This student would learn better from simulations, using models, and direct experience.

Reflective and Active Processors

The second dimension is how learning is processed. This is what the indivdual does with the new knowledge or skill once it is introduced. Once again an individual can be a combination of both types, but tends to favor one over the other.

Reflective processors prefer to reflect and think about the new information. This helps them to make sense of the information. Traditional instruction methods, such as theoretical readings or reflective thinking, helps this type of student.

Active processors prefer to put this new knowledge to immediate use. They want to further test and process this information through direct experience. Further hands-on type experiences or group work would help this student to process the information.

How Perceiving and Processing Work Together

Although it may seem that concrete perception and active processing always go together, an individual can actually be any combination of perceiver and processor. Therefore, there are four possible types: abstract perceiver/reflective processor (assimilator); abstract perceiver/active processor (converger); concrete perceiver/active processor (acommodator); and reflective perceiver/reflective processor (diverger).

These four types make up what is know as Kolb's Experiential Learning Styles. For more information on Kolb's theory, see the links below. Kolb uses a proprietary 12 item assessment to determine learning style, but similar web based tools can also be used for free (see the links below).


Instructional methods should take into consideration how students perceive and process information, in addition to other learning style theory attributes. For example, if only traditional lecture style instruction is used, those who are concrete perceivers and active processors may not learn the required skills or information.

Therefore, instructors should ideally analyze student learning styles and plan instruction accordingly. If that is not feasible, they should at least vary instructional methods in order to benefit a range of learning styles.

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