Linear & Global Learners

2 Learning Approaches

Each person has a different way of storing information in the brain. The two main organizational preferences are global and linear. Read on to discover what type of learning approach describes you best.

Global Learners

Global learners need to see the overall picture first. They need to understand the relevance of the information being presented. Without this, they feel lost and bored. If they are not given a sense of direction regarding where the learning is headed, they feel uncomfortable and quickly lose interest. Such learners also share other distinguishing characteristics:

  • able to work on theory and practical application at the same time
  • can multi-task and work on a number of problems simultaneously
  • are generally right-brain thinkers
  • take a broad look at the subject rather than a narrow view of the individual parts
  • find it easier to generate ideas around a given topic because of their broader focus

From this perspective, it is important for teachers, trainers, and professors to provide the big picture at the start of any training program, and also at the beginning of each day or session. Global learners themselves will benefit from creating a learning map of the entire process, session or course in order to put the information into a meaningful context.

Linear Learners

Linear learners need a step-by-step exposition of the topic. They need a specific, orderly flow of information, or they lose their focus. They prefer to concentrate on a single task at a time, though they can multi-task if the tasks are put in an orderly sequence. The special features of linear learners include:

  • are analytical by nature
  • compare and contrast facts to understand them
  • are usually more verbally oriented
  • are usually left-brain learners
  • need structure and logical progression
  • relate to written materials with a traditional outline format
  • dislike surprises such as pop quizzes, spot role-plays, etc.

How you assimilate information

You remember information by making connections. After you take in new information, your brain needs to store it in the long-term working memory. To do so, your brain will first try to remember it by making an association with some prior knowledge. However, if there has been no previous exposure to the new knowledge, you must create a connection. This process, called assimilation, gives real meaning to the new information, making long-term retention possible.

The six assimilation preferences below describe different ways in which information is remembered by various learners.

Preference Characteristics
Associative Associates new learning to things already known, using analogies and stories. Looks for consistencies in how information fits together.
Contrary Challenges and questions what is being learned, to determine what is wrong, different, missing, or inconsistent.
Argues, tests and explores variations.
Impulsive Dives into action without too much thinking or planning. Throws self into task and reads the directions as a last resort.
Systematic Follows a scientific approach: Observes, organizes data logically, then analyses and finds solutions.
Social Discusses information with others in order to learn more.
Is influenced by peers or subject matter experts. Assimilates by comparing information to societal norms.
Independent Works on information independently; reaches own conclusions by comparing & contrasting information; not influenced by what others think.

So, what kind of learner are you — global or linear? And how do you relate to new information — in an associative, contrary, impulsive, systematic, social, or independent way? How can you use this information to help you become a better learner?