Stages of Learning LO22005 -was Learning Style Inventory

John Gunkler (
Sun, 27 Jun 1999 10:10:44 -0500

Replying to LO21978 --

John Dentico asked, "Do we all learn by doing?"

The shallow answer, of course, is "Yes." But I would suggest that it IS

Perhaps it would be helpful to those working on this issue to go to the
works of the "stages of development" theorists and researchers, beginning
with Jean Piaget, and look at how humans learn through different stages.

The message you will get, I hope, is NOT that age = stage of development
(although there seems to be a strong correlation up through adolescence.)

Once a person advances beyond the first (concrete-operational) stage of
development, it does not mean that everything new will be learned in a
higher way. Not at all. In fact, some of the best teaching methods begin
even very advanced, highly abstract (or formal) subjects by taking
students back all the way to the concrete operational stage. Here's one
example I experienced:

In a mathematics class on "Group Theory" (a mathematical group is a highly
abstract concept -- more fundamental than an "algebra" and you don't have
to understand anything about it for the rest of this to make sense!) my
professor began an early lesson period by giving each of us one die (a
cube with the numbers one through six its faces.) We "played" with the
dice, turning them in one direction and the other, in one plane and in the
other and in the other, and recording what happened to the number showing
on the upper face. As it turned out, some of these physical manipulations
of a die followed the rules for a mathematical group.

What's important about this? I found that later, when trying to prove
very abstract theorems or even to understand more advanced concepts, that
my mind would go back to the feelings and other memories of physically
manipulating the die. This sensory experience helped form my "intuition"
for higher level learning.

Does this speak to "learning by doing?" I hope so. But the nature of
"doing" is the issue I'm trying to raise. Late in the semester, "doing"
was manipulating highly abstact concepts using only my mind (and sometimes
symbols on paper.) Early in my learning processes, "doing" was physical
manipulation. In between was a stage of "rules" and testing them; etc.

I have always found, in my tutoring and teaching, that it behooved me to
remember to start with concrete operational learning -- no matter how
"advanced" the student. And only move toward rules and other abstractions
when I was sure the students were ready. And I've worked almost
exclusively with adult students.


"John Gunkler" <>

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