Kolb’s Model of Experiential Learning essay

According to what the history dictates, David A. Kolb was an American educational theorist born in 1939, focusing his publications and interests on experiential learning. Learning is the process through which knowledge is created, coupled with transformation of experience to fit the current scenario. Experiential learning concerns structured sequence of learning that is usually guided by cyclical model of experiential learning. Experiential learning is the learning through experience or else learning from experience.

Experiential learning incorporated aspects such as executive and professional education, career development and individual and social change. In early 1970s, Kolb developed the experiential learning model which comprised of four main elements. These elements were concrete experience, observation and reflection on such experience, abstract concepts formation based on the above reflection and finally testing of the new concepts. In the spiral learning experiment, it is accepted that the process can start with any of the above elements but concrete experience is mostly admired when starting the process.

According to him, this model was to be applied in adult education programs but it has currently received overwhelming pedagogical applications in institutions of higher learning around the globe (Brookfield, 1983, p. 10). The whole idea of the model is that learning experience can be disseminated through two continuums; abstract conceptualization concrete experience and active experimentation reflective observation. The result of this kind of learning cycle is four learners, depending on the adoption and internalization of the various types of elements.

It may result to diverger (reflective observation concrete experience), accommodator (active experimentation concrete experience), converger (active experimentation abstract conceptualization) and assimilators (reflective observation abstract conceptualization). The model is used in establishing individual’s preference in learning. As stated above, the model is used in theory, discussions and practice in informal education, adult education and lifelong learning. On one hand, the model describes a scenario in which students are granted the opportunity to apply and acquire feelings, knowledge and skills in relevant and immediate setting.

Form this description, it can be comfortably argued that experiential learning involves encounter with the real phenomenon under study and not a mental thought of the encounter or an estimation of a certain level of probabilistic occurrence of the encounter. These kind of learning are institutionally sponsored towards professional training programs encompassing teaching, social work or field study programs such as geographical courses or social administration (Borzak, 1981, p. 21).

Additionally, experiential learning can be instilled through active and direct participation in everyday life events. In this kind of learning, the process is sponsored by the people themselves and not nay institution. It is a way through which most of us learn, since it is achieved by reflecting everyday experience in life. Although the model has received high levels of diversification, a lot has been done and appreciated in the sense of learning through experience, entirely excluding secondary experience.

The element through which experiential learning is based is very much calculative and reflects real life scenarios and procedurals. For one, learning is basically started through accrediting and assessing it from work and life experience. Secondly, the basis for impacting change in structure of post school life lies upon experiential learning. Thirdly, experiential learning emphasizes and strengthens group consciousness and finally, this nature of education creates self awareness and thus promotes personal growth.

Before the recent modifications of this model, the basic and original arguments reveal that learning process should start after someone carries out a particular action and critically analyses the effects of such actions. The same person should go ahead to understand why the effects happens the way they do, so that if a similar or comparable event takes place at the same time, speculations can be done concerning the immediate outcomes of the same. After this, the person should be in position to categorize the instance in one general principle under which it is supposed to follow.

Generalizing the category is very vital because it should involve an analysis of a range of circumstances, as experience should be gained beyond that particular instance. After understanding the principle, it should not be necessarily be put into writing or symbolic medium since it only implies a close connection between effects and actions over a wide range of circumstances, all of which are prone to vary with time. An educator who goes through this process may come up with generalizations or rules of thumb on what to expect and how to react during different instances and situations (Borzak, 1981, p.

22). In psychodynamic or sociological terms, such people may not verbalize their actions because they know what to do in times of tensions between individuals and even groups. This is because the kind of education required to handle this state is gathered out of experience and multiple analysis of events. This kind of learning is also hardly transferable to different settings and situations, since it is mostly a personal adoption and judgment. According to David Kolb, the last step is applying the principle in a new circumstance which lies within the brackets of the generalization range.

Experiential earning has been described spiral because as an action takes place in various sets of circumstances, the learner gains the ability to anticipate the effects of such actions in different settings. Kolb’s coverage highlights the use of feedback to change theories and practices and the use of concrete here and now experience in testing ideas. The model therefore appreciates cognitive development and emphasizes developmental nature of the learning exercise (http://www. skagitwatershed. org/~donclark/hrd/styles/kolb. html).

Because of the above experimentations and speculations, David Kolb believed effective learning process must entail four different abilities including active experimentation abilities, reflective observation abilities, concrete experience abilities and abstract conceptualization abilities. This model is considered universal because it explain a cycle of experimental learning that applies to us all and at the same time understand peoples different learning styles. The model incorporates a cycle of experiencing, reflecting, thinking and acting to various events in daily life.

Concrete or immediate experiences lead to reflections and observations. The reflections are then assimilated, a process that involves absorption and translation into abstract concepts. According to Kolb naturally, people of different kinds prefer a certain single but a different learning style (Borzak, 1981, p. 24). Personal preferred style is influenced by several factors. There are three stages in experiential learning which leads to successful integration and reconciliation. The developmental stages include acquisition, specialization and integration.

A specialized learning style is shaped by organizational, educational and social socialization. Such specialization can be instilled through experiences of adulthood, early work and schooling programs. Regardless of the style choice, preference of the learning style is produced by two pairs of variables, considered as lines of axis conflicting at the end. This implies that concrete experience is considered as a feeling, alongside abstract conceptualization, considered as a thinking process.

At the same time, active experimentation, considered as a doing, is considered alongside reflective observation, considered as watching. In this combination, Kolb felt that both of these activities can not be done at the same time in the learning exercise (Brookfield, 1983, p. 11). If an attempt is made to do both of them, then a conflict ensue and this is usually resolved through choice making when a new learning situation confronts. Ultimately, we decide internally whether to watch, do, feel or think. The result of this process gives a suitable or else a preferred learning style.

Our approach is defined by choosing the way to grasp the experience and transforming the experience into something usable and meaningful through our emotional response to the experience. Experience can thus be grasped through doing or watching. Emotional response to experience is vault through feeling or thinking and thus transforming the experience. Reflective observation or else watching is the result of watching others reflecting and experiencing different events at times. Active doing or experimentation is obtained through straight away jumping in and just doing it.

Emotional transformation takes into account other types of considerations. Abstract conceptualization or thinking is arrived at by obtaining new information through planning, analyzing and meditation. When the learning style of someone is established, the learning process becomes oriented according to the most preferred method possible. This implies that many people needs and responds to stimulus of learning types, the best fit style and personal learning style preferences. According to David Kolb, diverging people act with respect to watching and feeling at the same time.

These individual observe things and make generalizations using different perspectives. Far much significant, they are sensitive. Because they tend to watch rather than doing, they use and gather information to solve problems. Given several viewpoints, they are the mostly proffered in viewing and analyzing concrete situations. Kolb called this behavior diverging because such people perform excellently at times when idea generation or brainstorming is required. People with this kind of learning like to gather information and also possesses broad cultural interests.

They are strong in arts, imaginative and emotional and are generally interested in people. They emphasize receiving personal feedback, listen open mindedly and prefer to work in groups (Borzak. 1981, p. 23). The second group of learners uses assimilation, by incorporating both thinking and watching. This learning practice is considered a logical as well as concise approach. They value people less than concepts and ideas. This group of people does not value practical opportunities and experiences more as compared to a good and a clear explanation off events.

They also excel in organizing and understanding information that is wide ranged in a clear and logical format. Possessors of assimilative learning capacity give potential focus to abstract concepts and ideas as compared to people. They do not value many approaches that are based on practical significance as compared to logical and sound theories. This group of people has been found worth in ensuring effectiveness especially in science and information careers. In environments of formality, people equipped with this style prefer having time to think things through, readings, exploring analytical models and lectures (Brookfield, 1983, p.

12). According to David Kolb, the third category is considered converging, applying both thinking and doing concepts. This is a group of individuals who use whatever they learn to solve problems in practical phenomenon. They are less concerned with interpersonal and people’s aspects but prefer tasks that are technical in nature. They convert ideas and theories into practical uses and applications. They perform very well in making decisions when questions, complications, challenges and problems occur. Converging learning style nurtures the development of technological and specialist abilities.

They like to make experiments and stimulate with practical applications and new ideas. Kolb suggested that the fourth group of persons learn through accommodating, meaning doing and feeling. This kind of learning relies on intuition or hands on, rather than logic. After using approaches of other peoples approach and analysis, they then prefer experimental and practical approach. They are at all times attracted towards carrying out plans, new experiences and new challenges. They do not commonly act on logical analysis but on gut instinct.

As far as information sourcing is concerned accommodating learners seek information from other persons and then carry their own analysis on the whole phenomenon. Since the time Kolb developed this line of thought, accommodating learners have performed excellently in and prevalently in roles demanding initiative and action. In completing tasks, accommodating learners prefer to work in groups. Their first mission is setting up goals, after which they engage in field work, trying different means in the struggle to achieve the objectives

(http://www. skagitwatershed. org/~donclark/hrd/styles/kolb. html) By reflecting the way Kolb perceives, the process of experiential learning is very procedural physically and psychologically. Actions can only be performed logically if mental logic is also present. The earliest stage for any learner in the process is actively experimenting and conceptualizing the abstract. At this early stage, main focus is in hypo deductive reasoning on various problems, there are narrow interests and approaches to events are unemotional.

In concrete experience and reflective observation, there exists a very strong imaginative ability, applying a broad cultural perspective in generating ideas and viewing aspects from different perspectives. Strong capability to create theoretical models arises in times of abstract conceptualization and reflective observation. At this time too, inductive reasoning also bears fruits with high abstract concept concentration. Lastly, we usually have concrete experience and active experimentation holding the greatest strength in doing things.

Being risk takers, responses to problems are reacted to immediately and therefore solved intuitively (Brookfield, 1983, p. 21). The process starts at stages when no learning is progressing, stages classified as non learning times. Here, several individuals interact with one another by even saying hello to one another. The interaction reaches a non consideration point, where persons rarely respond to potential learning situations. A time reaches when one is reinforced but doesn’t change his or her mentality because of reject or simply ignorance. This describes a common mood of being non reflective.

After induction forces, because of experiences, pre consciousness takes place, with every person skimming across the surface because of an experience they have never had. Practice proceeds after acquiry of technical skills, the language itself or being trained for manual occupations. Memorization of the experience drives people away from non reflective to non reflective learning. Through the process of contemplation, persons consider the ideas and makes intellectual decisions upon them. Reflective practice follows, that is closely linked to reflection in and on action.

What now comes about after all the above psychological encounters is the experiential learning, the way by which pragmatic knowledge is gained. As per what Kolb’s model on experiential learning depicts, it is the role of the trainer or lease the teacher to find out corresponding types of learning that can befit each and every person in the class or the exercise. Improper understanding of the nature of ones understanding leads to a wrong mode of disseminating information and thus an information gap is created (Borzak, 1981, p. 23).

Regardless of the above advantages and positive issues about the Kolb’s model on experiential learning process, there do exist some critics about the model. The model has been criticized by academicians, time related aspects and diversity in the world happenings of every day life. It has been argued that the four learning stages have never been proved to hold for all people. This comes after the realization that some stages can be missed out completely, jumped or even occur once in peoples lives. The research base of the study was very narrow the area left a very small area for further studies.

If the model was very sound and applicable, it could then take into account other ways through which people can learn, rather than experiential learning alone. The model has thus been described by revolutionists as very simplistic and narrowly ranged. The assumptions and inventories that have been made regarding this model are culturally very limited. This is because it ignores cultural models of selfhood and concentrates on western culture alone. In another perspective, learning involves decision making, purposes, goals, choice and intentions.

Kolb’s model does not clarify where all these fundamental elements lie in its learning cycle. Academicians have proposed that we have different kinds of learning, each bearing its own learning styles. The model does not rate its preference in learning style in relation to personal style inventories, behaviors or standards. Instead, it gives relative strength within an individuality context, making the results dubious (Brookfield, 1983, p. 14). From a philosophical perspective, the model is underdeveloped and too narrow, with too much restricted phenomenal base in psychological modes.

Philosophers have classified the model philosophically unjustified and thus invalid. The model still does not demonstrate how transfer of learning process from one context to another can be done. To ascertain the arguments and recommendations of the model it would have been better for the research to be conducted by persons from different gender, education, culture, age and socio economic backgrounds. Mass adoption of this model can lead to dogmatic thinking and mental laziness, a state which does not allow people to explain change and new experiences using the theory.

Regardless of the critiques upon this model by some people around the globe, the fact remains that it serves as a real life explanation of how and why different people have varying abilities in different environments. It is a satisfying theory to dictate the best instruments that one can use to make sure every group of people in the society is exposed to and enjoys learning, regardless of age and the type of institution.

If the model is applied in all institution of learning the dissemination and instilling of knowledge process can very well be accomplished, through a fair system that pays attention to all.The model is therefore real to an extent (Brookfield, 1983, p. 15).


Borzak Leonard, (1981). Field study: A source book for experimental learning. Beverley Hills: Sage Publications Brookfield Douglas, (1983). Adult learning, adult education and the community. London: Milton Keynes Open University Press Kolb’s Learning Styles and Experiential Learning Model. Retrieved on 11th February 2008 from, http://www. skagitwatershed. org/~donclark/hrd/styles/kolb. html