Learning Styles: Holistic or Global Learning

Discover Your Best Study Methods

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Are you accused of daydreaming while doing your homework? Do you like to be alone, just to think? If so, you could be a holistic learner.

There are many differences of opinion when it comes to cognitive styles. Some researchers support the notion of two types of processing methods for brains that are called holistic and analytic learners.

What are the Characteristics of a Holistic Thinker?

We sometimes refer to holistic learners as the student type who is deep and contemplative. This type of student—the smart over-achiever who sometimes comes across as scatterbrained and disorganized—can sometimes become annoyed by his or her own brain.

Holistic brains need to take their time when encountering a new concept or a new chunk of information. It takes a while for a holistic thinking person to allow new concepts to "sink in," so it can become frustrating to someone who doesn't understand that this is natural and perfectly fine.

If you have ever read a page and felt like it was all fuzzy in your head after the first read, only to discover that the information slowly begins to come together and make sense, you could be a holistic thinker. Here are a few more characteristics.

  • They dwell on information and make constant mental comparisons when they encounter new material.
  • They like to compare new concepts to concepts they already know, even as they read, using mental pictures, similes or analogies.
  • Because of the constant "thinking about thinking," holistic brain types seem to be frustratingly slow when it comes to answering questions. This is the trait that makes students reluctant to raise their hands in class.

But holistic learners shouldn't get too frustrated with the seemingly slow process of learning. This type of learner is particularly good at evaluating and breaking down information. This is so important when conducting research and writing technical papers like the process essay.

Once you decide you are a holistic learner, you can use your strengths to improve your study skills. By zeroing in on your strengths, you can get more out of study time.

Are You a Holistic or Global Learner?

A holistic (big picture) person likes to start with a big idea or concept, then go on to study and understand the parts.

  • As a global learner, you may be more likely to respond to a problem with emotion first, instead of logic.
  • You can accept an algebra equation without understanding how it works.
  • You may be late for school a lot because you think about everything. And you think while you do everything.
  • You tend to remember faces, but forget names. You may act on impulse. You might be just fine with playing music while you study. (Some students can't concentrate while music plays.)
  • You might not raise your hand much to answer questions because it takes you a while to sort out your answer.
  • When you eventually do come up with an answer, it is much more thorough than the quick answer you heard five minutes ago.
  • You are likely to read and read and become frustrated, and then suddenly “get it.”


Some holistic learners tend to glaze over material to pursue the big idea. That can be costly. Often, those small details show up on tests!

Holistic or global learners can spend so much time thinking they react too late.

Holistic Thinker's Study Tips

A holistic learner may benefit from the following.

  • Pay attention to outlines. If your teacher offers an outline at the beginning of a new term, always copy it down. Outlines will help you establish a framework for "storing" new information.
  • Make your own outline. This is a good way to remember important details you'd otherwise miss. The visual tool helps your brain organize more quickly.
  • Don’t skip introduction or summary. You will benefit from reading these before you read the actual book. Again, it is important for holistic learners to establish a framework early for storing and applying concepts.
  • Look for boundaries. Holistic learners may have trouble discerning where one concept or event ends and another begins. It might be helpful for you to establish the concrete beginning and ending points.
  • Ask for examples. Your brain likes to make comparisons, so the more examples, the better. Write down the examples, but label them as examples so you're not confused later. (Your notes tend to be disorganized.)
  • Use images. Use pictures and charts if they are offered. When reading a long passage or explanation, make your own charts and pictures.
  • Draw timelines. This is another way of creating boundaries. Your brain likes them.
  • Look at sample assignments. Your brain likes to use examples as a frame of reference. Without them, it’s sometimes hard for you to know where to start.
  • Make drawings of concepts. The more you can sketch out and characterize concepts, the better. Using political parties as an example, you could draw circles and label them. Then, fill in sub-circles of beliefs and established ideologies. 
  • Make summaries as you progress. There is a difference between passive and active reading. You need to become an active reader to remember your material. One tactic is to stop after each segment to write a brief summary.
  • Use a time-keeper tool. Holistic learners can get carried away thinking of possibilities and lose track of time.
  • Avoid thinking of all the possibilities. Holistic learners like to make comparisons and find relationships. Don’t get distracted from the task at hand.
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Your Citation
Fleming, Grace. "Learning Styles: Holistic or Global Learning." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/holistic-learners-1857093. Fleming, Grace. (2023, April 5). Learning Styles: Holistic or Global Learning. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/holistic-learners-1857093 Fleming, Grace. "Learning Styles: Holistic or Global Learning." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/holistic-learners-1857093 (accessed May 28, 2023).