Kolb - Learning Styles
Saul McLeod, updated 2017
David Kolb published his learning styles model in 1984 from which he developed his learning style inventory.
Kolb's experiential learning theory works on two levels: a four-stage cycle of learning and four separate learning styles. Much of Kolb’s theory is concerned with the learner’s internal cognitive processes.
Kolb states that learning involves the acquisition of abstract concepts that can be applied flexibly in a range of situations. In Kolb’s theory, the impetus for the development of new concepts is provided by new experiences.
“Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience”(Kolb, 1984, p. 38).
The Experiential Learning Cycle
Kolb's experiential learning style theory is typically represented by a four-stage learning cycle in which the learner 'touches all the bases':
1.Concrete Experience - (a new experience or situation is encountered, or a reinterpretation of existing experience).
2.Reflective Observation of the new experience. (of particular importance are any inconsistencies between experience and understanding).
3.Abstract Conceptualization (reflection gives rise to a new idea, or a modification of an existing abstract concept).
4.Active Experimentation (the learner applies them to the world around them to see what results).
Effective learning is seen when a person progresses through a cycle of four stages: of (1) having a concrete experience followed by (2) observation of and reflection on that experience which leads to (3) the formation of abstract concepts (analysis) and generalizations (conclusions) which are then (4) used to test hypothesis in future situations, resulting in new experiences.
Kolb (1974) views learning as an integrated process with each stage being mutually supportive of and feeding into the next. It is possible to enter the cycle at any stage and follow it through its logical sequence.
However, effective learning only occurs when a learner can execute all four stages of the model. Therefore, no one stage of the cycle is effective as a learning procedure on its own.
Kolb's learning theory (1974) sets out four distinct learning styles, which are based on a four-stage learning cycle (see above). Kolb explains that different people naturally prefer a certain single different learning style. Various factors influence a person's preferred style. For example, social environment, educational experiences, or the basic cognitive structure of the individual.
Whatever influences the choice of style, the learning style preference itself is actually the product of two pairs of variables, or two separate 'choices' that we make, which Kolb presented as lines of an 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 we approach a task), and the north-south axis is called the Perception Continuum (our emotional response, or how we think or feel about it).
Kolb believed that we cannot perform both variables on a single axis at the same time (e.g., think and feel). Our learning style is a product of these two choice decisions.
It's often easier to see the construction of Kolb's learning styles in terms of a two-by-two matrix. Each learning style represents a combination of two preferred styles. The matrix also highlights Kolb's terminology for the four learning styles; diverging, assimilating, and converging, accommodating:
|Active Experimentation (Doing)||Reflective Observation (Watching)|
|Concrete Experience (Feeling)||Accommodating (CE/AE)||Diverging (CE/RO)|
|Abstract Conceptualization (Thinking)||Converging (AC/AE)||Assimilating (AC/RO)|
Learning Styles Descriptions
Knowing a person's (and your own) learning style enables learning to be orientated according to the preferred method. That said, everyone responds to and needs the stimulus of all types of learning styles to one extent or another - it's a matter of using emphasis that fits best with the given situation and a person's learning style preferences.
Here are brief descriptions of the four Kolb learning styles:
Diverging(feeling and watching - CE/RO)
These people are able to look at things from different perspectives. They are sensitive. They prefer to watch rather than do, tending to gather information and use imagination to solve problems. They are best at viewing concrete situations from several different viewpoints.
Kolb called this style 'diverging' because these people perform better in situations that require ideas-generation, for example, brainstorming. People with a diverging learning style have broad cultural interests and like to gather information.
They are interested in people, tend to be imaginative and emotional, and tend to be strong in the arts. People with the diverging style prefer to work in groups, to listen with an open mind and to receive personal feedback.
Assimilating(watching and thinking - AC/RO)
The Assimilating learning preference involves a concise, logical approach. Ideas and concepts are more important than people. These people require good clear explanation rather than a practical opportunity. They excel at understanding wide-ranging information and organizing it in a clear, logical format.
People with an assimilating learning style are less focused on people and more interested in ideas and abstract concepts. People with this style are more attracted to logically sound theories than approaches based on practical value.
This learning style is important for effectiveness in information and science careers. In formal learning situations, people with this style prefer readings, lectures, exploring analytical models, and having time to think things through.
Converging (doing and thinking - AC/AE)
People with a converging learning style can solve problems and will use their learning to find solutions to practical issues. They prefer technical tasks, and are less concerned with people and interpersonal aspects.
People with a converging learning style are best at finding practical uses for ideas and theories. They can solve problems and make decisions by finding solutions to questions and problems.
People with a converging learning style are more attracted to technical tasks and problems than social or interpersonal issues. A converging learning style enables specialist and technology abilities. People with a converging style like to experiment with new ideas, to simulate, and to work with practical applications.
Accommodating(doing and feeling - CE/AE)
The Accommodating learning style is 'hands-on,' and relies on intuition rather than logic. These people use other people's analysis, and prefer to take a practical, experiential approach. They are attracted to new challenges and experiences, and to carrying out plans.
They commonly act on 'gut' instinct rather than logical analysis. People with an accommodating learning style will tend to rely on others for information than carry out their own analysis. This learning style is prevalent within the general population.
Both Kolb's (1984) learning stages and cycle could be used by teachers to critically evaluate the learning provision typically available to students, and to develop more appropriate learning opportunities.
Educators should ensure that activities are designed and carried out in ways that offer each learner the chance to engage in the manner that suits them best. Also, individuals can be helped to learn more effectively by the identification of their lesser preferred learning styles and the strengthening of these through the application of the experiential learning cycle.
Ideally, activities and material should be developed in ways that draw on abilities from each stage of the experiential learning cycle and take the students through the whole process in sequence.
Kolb, D. A. (1976). The Learning Style Inventory: Technical Manual. McBer & Co, Boston, MA.
Kolb, D. A. (1981). Learning styles and disciplinary differences. The modern American college, 232-255.
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Kolb, D. A., & Fry, R. E. (1974). Toward an applied theory of experiential learning. MIT Alfred P. Sloan School of Management.
Kolb, D. A., Rubin, I. M., & McIntyre, J. M. (1984). Organizational psychology: readings on human behavior in organizations. Prentice Hall.
How to reference this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2017). Kolb - learning styles. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html
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Experiential education describes a didactic model which is based on the assumption that only a direct and practical examination of the learning content allows for a effective and meaningful learning. In this concept the learner takes the centre stage. David Kolb’s ‘Experiential Learning Cycle’ is a concept within this approach which describes the ideal relation between experience and future action. According to this model learning is a circular process with the subsequent elements: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation.
This essay is aimed at reflecting my personal process of learning, acquisition of skills and career development in a specific learning situation that I experienced throughout the unit ‘Human Resource Development’ (HRD) during Semester 2, 2009 at Swinburne University of Technology. It follows the elements of the Experiental Learning Cycle in order to evaluate my ideas and learn about further actions.
I met my facilitation partner Andrew in front of the library for our first meeting. Since it was a windy and cool day he suggested to look for a warmer place where we could discuss our ideas. I agreed and followed him to an empty class room in the EN-Building where we sat at a table together. I did not really feel warmer in there but I did not want to complain either. Andrew started to pull his laptop out of a bag which seemed to me to take hours. There was an awkward silence in the room. The sound of the booted up laptop was a relief for me because it was the sign that we could actually begin with our work. We started to brainstorm different topics which were eligible for our facilitation session. Andrew described all of his ideas in detail and he used a lot of English or specific Australian expressions I did not know. I asked a few times “Sorry, could explain that to me?”. He always answered, “Sure. No worries.”, and tried to use other words to explain his thoughts to me. But nonetheless, I did not want to ask him every single time I did not know a word because I thought he might be annoyed.
After having collected a few ideas on a sheet of paper, we went over the list again in order to make a decision for a topic. For me it seemed clear that we were going to pick the “Behavioral Interview” topic but Andrew wanted to evaluate all the other ideas as well. That was why we balanced a few reasons for and against various themes and we both expressed our personal opinion. But whereas I always clearly stated which idea I like and which one not, I did not really understand Andrew’s point of view because he found positive aspects about every single topic. I felt like this discussion would lead to nowhere. After a while I said “In order to start with an acutal session plan, we should make a decision soon.” Although he seemed a bit irritated he agreed and we finally worked out to pick the “Behavioural Interview” topic. I had a look on my watch and noticed that I had to go to a class in five minutes. I suddenly felt stressed and uneasy because of that time pressure. Andrew noticed my look and I explained the situation to him. We decided to collect quickly some tasks that had to be done for the facilitation session and divided these tasks. After that we arranged another meeting for the following week and then I had to hurry up to my other class leaving Andrew behind in the room.
In thinking back on the meeting, I started to realize to what extent my behaviour and reactions had an impact on this situation. Due to the fact that I was feeling cold in our meeting room I did not take off my jacket and fold my arms around myself. For Andrew this type of body language probably looked like I would be uneased or introverted. In addition I did not bring my laptop with me which might have also seem to him like I am uninterested or I do not want to play a part in our meeting.
I also considered my discomfort concerning the language barrier to have an influence on the meeting. Resulting from that I lost the plot several times during our conversation which is why I could not give Andrew appropriate feedback to everything he said. Moreover, I think that our discussion was heavily influenced by our different way of decision making and accordingly by our manner to express our personal opinion. Maybe I was a little bit too brisk in bringing our meeting forth? Should I have given Andrew some more time to think about his personal view instead of calling for a fast decision? In thinking back of the situation, I really feel like our communication was disturbed at that moment. In addition to that I feel like my lack of time at the end of the meeting caused even more discrepancy. Since I did not tell Andrew in advance that I had a class immediately after our meeting he was most likely surprised about my sudden rush. It might have been better for our group work to leave the room together or even go and have a coffee together so that we could get to know each other on a more personal basis.