The basic principle of being a gestalt learner is experiencing the whole as greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, the whole (a picture, a car) carries a different and altogether greater meaning than its individual components (paint, canvas, brush; or tire, paint, metal, respectively). In viewing the “whole,” a cognitive process takes place – the mind makes a leap from comprehending the parts to realizing the whole. We visually and psychologically attempt to make order out of chaos, to create harmony or structure from seemingly disconnected bits of information. The prominent founders of Gestalt theory (developed in the 1920s) are Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler, and Kurt Koffka .
Gestalt learners are right-brain dominant. They are interested in how things work (mechanically), patterns, shapes, and sizes, and see a greater picture than just parts. They have great imaginations and can have artistic talent. Artists from Michelangelo to Rodin to Picasso and Escher exhibit gestalt principles in their work. Michelangelo is famous for saying “I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Most of us look at a block of marble and see only a block of marble, not an angel.
The right-brain dominance of gestalt learners can be at the expense of left-brain activities. This is why some very bright children can be late talkers. Language comes, but at a delay and finding the words to express themselves can be difficult.
Left-brain thinkers are convergent thinkers. A convergent thinker has a systematic approach and plays by the rules. He analyzes everything and reaches a logical conclusion. Such people do very well on straightforward questions and tests with answer choices. Our entire educational system is geared towards this type of student. An example is how students are taught to read. Students first learn the alphabet in sequential order, then the sounds of the alphabet, and finally are taught to put the letters together to form words. Gestalt learners, on the other hand, are considered divergent thinkers. When they problem solve, they start from the big picture and their thinking diverges from there. A gestalt learner may learn to read whole words before learning the individual letters of the words and their sounds. They do not problem solve based on sequence but rather reach a conclusion without being able to verbalize the steps to reach the conclusion (they just see the answer). Gestalt thinkers are creative and tend to throw the rules out the window. They are often artistic and always looking for ways to express themselves. They do much better in exams that require essay-type answers. Sarah Major has a good list of common characteristics for gestalt learners on her website: http://child-1st.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/01/characteristics-of-the-gestalt-learner.html