Kolb Model of Experiential Learning

David Kolb is an American educational theorist who made significant contributions in the field of experiential learning. He published his learning styles model in 1984, which was later used by him to develop the Experiential Learning Style Inventory. Kolb’s model works on two levels. Level one consists of the four stage cycle of learning, and level two consists of four separate learning styles. As per Kolb, new concepts of learning in children developed when they had new experiences.

Experiential Learning Cycle

Kolb’s experiential learning cycle is based on four basic points. According to him, all learners go through these stages in their learning process.
The four stages can be described as below:
  • Concrete Experience (Feeling) - In this stage, the learners deal with actual specific experiences and relate it to people. This can also include debunking existing experiences.
  • Reflective observation (Watching) - This stage deals with the mental capabilities of the person wherein he/ she is searching for the essence of things. The learner observes his surroundings from different perspectives before arriving at a conclusion.
  • Abstract conceptualization (Thinking) - A learner in this stage analyses the situation he is in logically, and acts upon it accordingly.
  • Active experimentation (Doing) - In this stage, the learner applies the concepts learnt to the world around and observes the results.
A learner can enter the learning cycle at any stage, and learn as per his surroundings or the situation he/ she is in. However, Kolb believes that a learner learns best when he has experienced all the four stages.

As per Kolb, the effectiveness of the learning process relies on the ability of the learner to balance the modes of concrete experience (CE), abstract conceptualization (AC), reflective observation (RO), and active experimentation (AE) competently. He views the learning process in the context of people moving between these modes.

Learning Styles

Kolb’s learning theory consists of four distinct learning styles that are based on a four-stage learning cycle.

He says that different people prefer different learning styles. And that a learner’s personal experiences, such as educational background and social environment influence his learning style. But, whatever learning style a person may choose, it is always a product of two pair of variables, or two separate ‘choices’, which Kolb presented as lines of axis, each with ‘conflicting’ modes at either end.

A typical presentation of Kolb’s two continuums is that the east-west axis is called the Processing
Continuum (how a task is approached), and the north-south axis is called the Perception Continuum (learner’s emotional response, or how he feels about it).
Kolb’s Learning Styles – Matrix View

Kolb’s learning models can be easily represented in a two-by-two matrix. The diagram also highlights his terminology for the four learning styles; diverging, assimilating, converging, and accommodating.

Kolb Learning Styles – Definitions and Descriptions

All learners need the stimulus of all types of learning methods to one extent or another. The emphasis that a person places on a particular learning style preference ultimately shows his learning style. The knowledge of a person’s learning style enables it to be method-orientated.
  • Diverging (feeling and watching – CE/RO) - The diverging learning style, learners are able to look at situations from different viewpoints. They are sensitive to their surroundings, and prefer to learn by watching rather than doing stuff. They believe in gathering the required information and using their imagination to solve problems. They are best at looking at all situations objectively. Kolb called this style ‘Diverging’ because these people perform better in situations that require idea-generation, for example, brainstorming. They prefer gathering information and have varied interests. These learners have a strong interest in people, tend to be artistic and sensitive, and have a natural preference for the arts. They prefer to work in groups, to listen with an open mind, and to receive personal feedback.
  • Assimilating (watching and thinking – AC/RO) - Learners with this approach have a compact, coherent approach. For them, ideas and concepts are more important than people. These learners prefer a good interpretation of the task at hand rather than a chance to actually do it. Their skills lie in having a good grasp on the information provided to them and organising it in a logical manner. They have a keen interest in ideas and concepts rather than people. For them logical theories are more appealing, rather than approaches based on practical value. For people with this learning style, lectures, advanced readings, analytical models, and having time to think is preferred.
  • Converging (doing and thinking – AC/AE) - Learners with this learning approach prefer solving problems on their own, and use their experience to find solutions. Interpersonal communication is not of their strong points, and they love tasks that test their learning. Give them theories and they would find practical uses for it. Their decision-making depends on finding solutions to problems and questions, and have a penchant for solving problems. A converging style learner facilitates specialist and technological abilities. He/ she likes to experiment with new ideas, invent, and work on practical problems.
  • Accommodating (doing and feeling – CE/AE) - For the accommodating style learners, a hands-on approach is the best. They rely on intuition rather than logic. These learners use others’ experiences and prefer to have a practical, experiential approach. They like to implement plans, and get excited about new challenges and experiences. They are guided by their gut feeling, rather than logical analysis. These learners work best in roles requiring action and initiative. These people prefer teamwork to complete tasks. They have a target-based approach and use different ways to achieve their objectives.

Kolb’s learning stages and learning cycle can be used to critically evaluate the learning provisions available to students. And, it can even be used by educators to develop relevant learning tasks.

Activities should be designed in such a way that each learner is able to adapt it according to the learning manner that suits him the best. What can be even more helpful for the learners is that their lesser preferred learning styles are identified, and through the use of the experiential learning style these are strengthened.