I once attended a business workshop that dealt with learning styles. The presenters proposed that learning styles could be divided into four basic types or quadrants defined by four aspects: whether a learner likes to deal with the concrete or the abstract and whether he or she likes to proceed in an active or a reflective way.
If accept the that thesis, I would make the following statements and predictions:
Those who are concrete and active like to tinker with the elements of what is being learned. They like “doing” and “experimenting” for themselves. They prefer doing the form, doing applications, and practicing free push hands, rather than talking, listening, or reading about them. They want to externalize their learning first. Learning proceeds from outside to inside and back to outside.
Those who are abstract and reflective like to understand the theory of what is being learned. They want to understand how to think about what needs learning. They need to understand the why in order to organize their learning. They want the form, applications, and push hands explained in a consistent and complete fashion, rather than “guessing randomly” at what might be right. They want to internalize their learning first. Learning proceeds from inside to outside and back to inside.
Those who are concrete, but reflective like to understand how to apply what is being learned. They want to know what it is for and like working toward a goal and experimenting with different approaches to achieve the goal, rather than wandering around “aimlessly.” They want to figure out how to make the form feel right, to learn what approaches are useful to make applications successful, and to know what you can do with push hands. They want to internalize the rules in order to externalize the application of them. They want a system and want to apply it. Learning proceeds from inside to outside.
Those who are abstract, but active in their approach like to gather data and get the right information to understand what is to be learnt. They like to listen to varying viewpoints, probing for the useful parts, and seeking out all the relevant material. They like learning all that there is to know about the form, applications, and push hands. Learning proceeds from outside to inside.
Imagine you are just about to learn how to do a one-handed Rollback that will launch your partner. What part of the teaching and learning will you focus on most? Will you want to experiment with the technique? Will you want to think over the parameters and how they interrelate? Will you want to hear it discussed and observe it done several times? Will you want to hear the parameters and just see if you can find a way to apply it?
On a forum like this, it is hard to accommodate those who want to be concrete. We cannot do form, applications, or push hands over the Internet. We are mostly left with gathering data and theorizing, although sometimes it is possible to suggest simple physical experiments that people can do by themselves to see how things feel or to try to address specific goals.
I feel that good progress in Tai Chi requires some of all four of the learning approaches I described above. For me, this is part of what makes it a unique and interesting art. You must combine concrete with abstract, and active engagement with calm reflection to fully appreciate the art. Relying on only one approach can mislead or slow down progress.