Do you have a thinking style? According to research done by Richard Riding, a cognitive psychologist, everyone has a thinking style. A thinking style is your preferred way to process information and experiences. Predictably there are a large number of information processing styles such as Kolb’s (1984) model of … learning styles (converger, diverger, accommodator, assimilator). The (w)holist – analytic dimension (written wholist or holist) as it is discussed in Riding’s research is one way we process information. The label wholist is one who practices wholism, or one who sees a situation as a whole. Wholist types appreciate the overview of a situation. By contrast, analytic types see information in its parts and are able to focus on one or two pieces of the puzzle at a time. Intermediates are people between the two extremes, which allows them to be flexible in the way they process information. A style is the typical way you handle information; a habitual way of thinking. This is a simplified equation:
Wholist or Analytic
(edited from The Nature and Effects of Cognitive Style.)
A thinking style is not the same as a learning strategy. A learning strategy is how you prepare yourself to learn a lesson or a task. If you have a great learning strategy you will be able to retain information and compensate for the limitations of your thinking style, for example notetaking, highlighting, or recording. A learning strategy is helpful for learning information such as time tables, history or a list of irregular verbs. Your thinking style is how your brain processes information to help you learn and understand. A thinking style is your preferences for processing information.
When we focus on what is the difference between analytic thinking and wholist thinking, the analytic style of thinking doesn’t like ambiguous language, or lots of synonyms for one thing. It is the practical approach to thinking within the realm of reason and specificity. The analytic mind takes things apart and works with pieces of information to find the answer. The right answer.
Someone with a wholist style of thinking enjoys trying to understand what a situation or story means more than what a single word means. They look for the “gist” or general idea of the story and don’t worry if they don’t know every word. Think of it as analytic minds have matching furniture while wholist minds have a mix-and-match set of furniture.
If you’ve ever asked someone a question and they think they've answered it, but you don’t see the connection, you may be dealing with someone with a wholist thinking style. Wholists think while they speak. Trying out ideas as they come, “mixing it up”. They can make a connection for you, that you may have never considered.
You can go get a coffee and come back while waiting for an analytic thinker to speak. They have to connect the pieces for themselves first. They think to themselves and learn what they think before they speak. They will not just throw out an unreasoned answer. If you want an answer you may have to wait until they find the correct answer to your question and if they can’t they won’t just throw something out. They will let you know they haven’t had enough time to think about what they think about what you said.
With this in mind, remember that thinking styles are the mental way you process information to solve problems- including how you prefer to learn a language. If you do well on certain types of exercises, you may be primed mentally to understand those tasks more easily. Importantly, you could do poorly on an exercise if the same information were framed in a different context, let’s say as a graph or as a story. Ultimately, your performance in your language learning environment may depend on how the information is presented as much as your capacity to learn. If you find yourself sometimes lost in a lesson, there may be a mismatch of thinking styles.
If you are an analytic thinker with a wholist language trainer, you may think the trainer seems to use “creative” logic, and they are happy to go off on “tangents” and never get to their point. This can be nerve wrecking! They don’t seem to know any of the answers at all.
If you are a wholist thinker dealing with an analytic trainer, you may think this trainer is boring you to tears. The material is dry, and not at all imaginative or engaging. They seem to have all of the answers which can be found at the back of the book. This could seem like a waste of time.
What to do?
Don’t be afraid to push back a little with your language trainer. Ask the trainer to bring in, or better, you bring in, an article, video or lesson ideas that would be interesting to you. Your language lessons should be interactive, not a dictation exercise where you have to passively listen and take notes. You can shape language lessons to fit your need. You can train your trainer in the best way to help you learn.