What’s your favorite thing to do with a watermelon? Here are some ideas: watermelon popsicles, watermelon ice cubes, a watermelon salad boat—or even watermelon pizza. (Check it out!) Eating aside, you could make an art project out of the seeds or carve smiley faces into your slice. My neighbor never eats watermelon, but loves to grow them in his garden for everyone else.
What would be your favorite summer camp activities—or memories? Wateringskiing? Canoeing with friends? Crafts? Hiking? Telling stories around the campfire? I know a city kid who once signed up for advanced horseback riding just
because . . . (it didn’t turn out especially well).
Summer usually involves family vacations. Who in your family would enjoy a back road excursion? jeeping in the mountains? visiting historical sites? meeting with friends? lying around on the beach with a good book? white-water rafting? Summer’s choices should be as diverse as the people who choose them. Research on learning styles (also called “cognitive” styles) indicates that families, schools, churches, communities—even summer camps!—should offer choices that reflect individual uniqueness.
Communication networks depend on it. So do lifestyle balance, mental and emotional health, and spiritual well-being. After all, diversity is God’s formula for wholeness.
“Learning style” describes an individual’s consistent pattern of learning that indicates a unique bent toward selecting, acquiring, and processing information. Whether eating watermelon, signing up for camp activities, or choosing vacation destinations, learning styles should figure into the many options.
In recent decades educational research has taught us that learning can be explained in terms of the ways people perceive and process information. Perceiving, or taking in new information, occurs in a variety of ways that range between experience and conceptualization (see Figure 1). “Experience learning” is personal engagement through sensations, emotions, and physical memories directly involving the learner.
By contrast, “conceptualization learning” is abstract and detached: it translates experience into conceptual forms involving ideas, language, hierarchies, and naming systems. Some learners “hang around” longer in their experiences and delight in them. Others go more quickly into thinking about them, creating ideas about them. Both ways of perceiving are equally valuable; they are just different.
Processing (see Figure 2), what people do with new information, occurs in a variety of ways that range between reflection and action.
Reflection is transforming knowledge by structuring, ordering, intellectualizing. Some of us need to reflect longer than others. Others jump right in and try things, and it works for them because we process in the doing. Action is applying ideas to the external world: testing, doing, manipulating. Schools ask learners to move more and more to the watching end of this line as they leave primary grades, making it comfortable for learners who are willing to be watchers. But what about the doers?
Together, perceiving and processing describe the whole range of the learning experience (see Figure 3). Those who
perceive through experience and process reflectively are called “imaginative learners”: they seek personal meaning, and evaluate content in relation to values. For them, learning social interaction is important. Those who perceive through conceptualization and also process reflectively we call “type 2 learners.” These learners are analytic, seeking intellectual competence and evaluating things by factual verification. “Type 3 learners” perceive through conceptualization and process actively. They are the commonsense type, individuals who seek solutions to problems and evaluate content by its usefulness. “Type 4 learners” perceive through experience and also process actively. They are a more dynamic kind, individuals who seek hidden possibilities and evaluate things by gut reactions.
Research aside for a moment, let’s return to our reflections on summer.
Some learners are happiest when sharing experiences with others. These “imaginative” learners typically sign up for group activities at camp, invite friends along on a vacation, and take a lot of pictures for a summer scrapbook. Social interaction is important to them, which is why they’ll happily share their watermelon.
The learners called “analytic” thrive on research, information, learning, and fact-finding. At camp they’ll gladly collect and label items found in the woods or by a lake. They usually enjoy asking questions to experts on wildlife and the environment. On a summer vacation they appreciate going to a museum, reading books about the travel sites, doing research at various locations, and possibly taking notes. Before a picnic, these folk might survey everyone about their favorite dessert. And after a watermelon feast, they could be found discussing the benefits and features of all kinds of melons.
While imaginative and analytic learners are typically watchers, “common-sense” learners are definitely doers. When it comes to sailing—or mountain climbing or putting up a tent or planning a menu for a large crowd—get out of the way and let them figure it out themselves. At camp they might blaze a new trail or build the bonfire. On a summer vacation these people will crave action—and won’t even mind doing it on their own. If you are forming a team to accomplish a task, this learner will gladly participate and make sure the job gets done. They also love to take chances and experiment. So if you see this learner hauling a huge watermelon up a flight of stairs to the roof . . . well, making a fruit salad probably isn’t the plan.
Our fourth type, the “dynamic” learner, is also a doer. On vacation, at church or school or home, this person thrives on trying new things and seeking hidden “possibilities.” At camp they will make up new songs or create skits. On vacation they’ll want to try something they’ve never done: the term “bucket list” comes to mind. In school they’ll design posters, be on student council, or form new clubs. Church boards and school boards need dynamic learners for planning and vision. And, of course, this person might wonder how watermelon would taste in soup!
There is no right or wrong learning style. Each has strengths, and each has weaknesses. Each learning style is equally intelligent. There is no hierarchy. They are just different—and different is not bad. They approach experience and make judgments, and they reflect and act in different ways.
In summary, imaginative learners are cooperative, thoughtful, friendly, supportive, team-oriented, and responsive. Cooperative learning was a godsend for them. However, we do question their softhearted nature, slowness to act, dependence on details, and lack of initiative. They avoid conflict.
Analytic learners are logical, accurate, dependable, and conservative in nature. But we question their lack of decisiveness, lack of risk-taking, dependence on facts and figures, and their impersonal nature or approach to things. They avoid involvement.
Commonsense learners are efficient, task-oriented, independent, and decisive. They accomplish a lot. You need a number 3 on your team to get the job done! We do, however, question their hastiness, impatience, bossiness, bottom-line orientation, and critical nature. They avoid inaction.
Dynamic learners are energetic, have a thought-provoking nature, and are outgoing, enthusiastic, and personable. We could question their lack of follow-through, impulsiveness, “rah-rah” approach, and often an inability to perform as stated. They avoid isolation.
Have you identified your own learning style? Great. Then humbly celebrate the way God made you, realizing that those who have different learning styles need to be celebrated as well. Chances are, if you are a parent of several children you notice that each child has unique preferences; which, of course, is why your family activities—including worship, vacations, chores, holiday celebrations—should offer something that appeals to each member.
Wherever you go and whatever you do, being around people with differing learning styles can be complicated, as we all know. Our all-wise God gives good reason for creating humans with so much variety: “Each person is given something to do that shows
who God is. Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. . . . The variety is wonderful!” (1 Cor. 12:6, Message).* Understanding how others learn and process information, as important as understanding ourselves, inspires our deeper desire and prayer to better know the God who makes and rules all this diversity—the Creator of imaginative, analytic, common sense, and dynamic learning styles, the one in whom I can discover new aspects, and because of whom you and I can be constantly discovering elements of His varied genius in ourselves.
Our Creator-God loves and expresses Himself in diversity. We see it in the seasons; we experience it in ourselves. Honoring each other’s learning style is just one more way to
taste and see that He is good.
So tell me again: What’s
your favorite thing to do with a watermelon?
The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
W. Eugene Brewer, now retired, served in the Seventh-day Adventist education system for 48 years.