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Non-Sequential and Sequential Learning
Understanding Non-Sequential Learners
There are two types of learning: 1) Sequential (one step after another along a described path), and 2) Non-sequential (steps forward and backward as needed).  Understanding how people learn is critical to helping our communities thrive. Updated Sept. 2023.

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Sequential (one step at a time) or non-sequential (checklist).

The non-sequential option is usually used when learning content and objectives do not build on one another and the order in which the learner experiences them doesn’t matter.

In the non-sequential option, a learner could cheat and check off the action in which they don’t actually participate and any gaps in their learning would show on a final exam or project/paper.

This method is very useful for self-led courses such as Master’s level courses, Capstones, and the like.

Note: There is very little tracking on this option as the LMS has no idea how long a learner spent on a particular step, just how long they spent on that particular lesson.

Agents can still be set up to trigger notices and unfold content based on a percentage of the lesson that has been checked off.

The sequential option displays each “piece” of learning content in a step, tracks how long the user spent on each step, where they are in the sequence of steps, triggers notices and unfolds content using Agents based on steps accomplished or encountered in the lesson, require learners to mark the step complete before progressing to the next step. It can even require the learners to actually complete the lesson step before moving on (e.g. force the video to play all the way to the very end or a passing score on a test or completion of the SCORM file). Each step can also open up based on dates (such as when an ILT or webinar has been hosted). This method is, by far, the more preferred method as most learning modules build concept upon concept, objective upon objective.

Note: If you are using Lessons inside Communities to detail processes (e.g. graduation process or preparation to attend a user conference), either approach is used.


A person who is a sequential learner approaches learning and problem solving in a “systematic” manner.  Systematic means that their approach is to use a series of logical steps. It is analogous to writing a program for a computer—first, do this then do this, etc.  Sequential learners can help themselves learn by asking the instructor to fill in any missing steps and to reorganize their class notes into a logical order.  Another way they can help themselves is to try to relate the subject material to a topic they already know.

Global learners will absorb information at random and then suddenly understand. They do not necessarily need all the individual steps laid out and they may have trouble explaining their process from start to finish. This type of learner needs the big picture explained in order to understand. Global learns can help themselves learn by always asking the instructor to provide an outline of the big picture and trying to relate the subject to something they already understand.  Another method is to skim the chapter ahead of time to get an idea about the big picture.

A key difference between the two styles is that the sequential learn will understand and be able to complete the individual steps but may not fully understand the big picture. In contrast, a global learner will understand the big picture, but may not be able to explain how to get from start to finish.

Designing a class around Sequential and Global Learners

The class topic is producer surplus.  I would begin the class with a discussion covering what how the topic fits into the field of economics. The discussion will begin with a broad generalization and end with how the topic fits into our story (i.e. how it links to future and previous classes).  For example, I’d start with a statement like “Economics is about how society deals with the allocation of scarce resources” and end with discussing how producer surplus along with consumer surplus can be used to calculate society’s total welfare.

After the broad discussion, I’d provide an outline to the class.  The general outline I’d follow would be (1) overview of topic, (2) producer surplus definition, (3) graphical representation, (4) graphing lines/finding area, (5) finding producer surplus, (6) examples, (7) finding changes in consumer surplus, (8) examples, and (9) conclusion.

For parts (4), (5) and (7) step-by-step directions will be given to assist sequential learns. The examples will follow these steps. The conclusion provides the opportunity to recap what we have done in the class and provide another big picture explanation which will help students learn.