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David A. Kolb with Roger Fry created this famous model out of four elements: concrete experience, observation and reflection, the formation of abstract concepts and testing in new situations. The principle of Kolb’s learning cycle is that we all follow the following four stages of learning as we acquire knowledge, experience and skill. He represented these in the famous experiential learning circle that involves (1) concrete experience followed by (2) observation and experience followed by (3) forming abstract concepts followed by (4) testing in new situations. All this may happen in a flash, or over days, weeks or months, depending on the topic, and there may be a “wheels within wheels” process at the same time.
Forms of Knowledge and the Learning Cycle
The four quadrants of the cycle are associated with four different forms of knowledge, in Kolb’s view. Each of these forms is paired with its diagonal opposite.
Four kinds of knowledge located in Kolb’s scheme
Kolb’s model therefore works on two levels – a four-stage cycle:
Concrete Experience (doing/having an experience)
The ‘Concrete Experience’ is the ‘doing’ component which derives from the content and process of the programme – through attending the workshops or, in the case of the on-line module, your reading of the on-line learning materials – together with your actual experience of teaching in the classroom plus your other teaching duties and practices. It may also derive from own experience of being a student.
Reflective Observation (reviewing/reflecting on the experience)
The ‘Reflective Observation’ element stems from your analysis and judgements of events and the discussion about the learning and teaching that you engage in with your mentor and colleagues. This might be termed ‘common-sense reflection’.
For example this might be through your own self-reflections or evaluations after the event through keeping a log or journal. It may also include student feedback, peer observation of teaching (e.g. comments made by your mentor or colleague), moderation of assessments, external examiner comments, and discussions with your mentor. All of these can be brought together to give an overall reflection on your practice.
Reflection in itself, though, is insufficient to promote learning and professional development.
Abstract Conceptualisation (concluding/learning from the experience)
In order to plan what we would do differently next time, we need – in addition to our reflections on our experience – to be informed by educational theory e.g. through readings of relevant literature on teaching and learning or by attending staff development or other activities. Reflection is therefore a middle ground that brings together theories and the analysis of past action. It allows us to come to conclusions about our practice – ‘Abstract Conceptualism’.
Active Experimentation (planning/trying out what you have learned)
The conclusions we formed from our ‘Abstract Conceptualisation’ stage then form the basis by which we can plan changes – ‘Active Experimentation’. ‘Active Experimentation’ then starts the cycle again when we implement those changes in our teaching practice to generate another concrete experience which is then followed by reflection and review to form conclusions about the effectiveness of those changes.
Four-type definition of learning styles, (each representing the combination of two preferred styles, rather like a two-by-two matrix of the four-stage cycle styles, as illustrated below), for which Kolb used the terms:
Combination of Concrete Experience and Reflective Observation
Feeling and Watching
Like to gather information, good at brainstorming, interested in people, see different perspectives, prefer group work, open minded.
Combination of Abstract Conceptualization and Reflective Observation
Watching and Thinking
Concise logical approach, ideas and concepts more important than people, prefer lectures, reading, time to think
Combination of Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experimentation
Doing and Thinking
Solve practical problems; prefer technical tasks, like experimenting and simulation, less interested in interpersonal issues.
Combination of Concrete Experience and Active Experimentation
Doing and Feeling
Hands on, attracted to new challenges and experiences, rely on others instead of doing own analysis, action oriented, set targets work hard in teams to achieve tasks.
Kolb’s learning styles – matrix view
It’s often easier to see the construction of Kolb’s learning styles in terms of a two-by-two matrix. The diagram also highlights Kolb’s terminology for the four learning styles; diverging, assimilating, and converging, accommodating:
- Doing (Active Experimentation – AE)
- Watching (Reflective Observation – RO)
- Feeling (Concrete Experience – CE)
- Accommodating (CE/AE)
- Diverging (CE/RO)
- Thinking (Abstract Conceptualization – AC)
- Converging (AC/AE)
- Assimilating (AC/RO)
Thus, for example, a person with a dominant learning style of ‘doing’ rather than ‘watching’ the task, and ‘feeling’ rather than ‘thinking’ about the experience, will have a learning style which combines and represents those processes, namely an ‘Accommodating’ learning style, in Kolb’s terminology.
The Kolb Model and Subject Disciplines
Broadly speaking, David Kolb suggests that practitioners of creative disciplines, such as the arts, are found in the Divergent quadrant. Pure scientists and mathematicians are in the Assimilative quadrant. Applied scientists and lawyers are in the Convergent quadrant. Professionals who have to operate more intuitively, such as teachers, are in the Accommodative quadrant.Â There are also differences in the location of specialists within the more general disciplines
This would suggest that different subject areas call for different learning styles, and raises the usual chicken and egg question as to whether the discipline promotes a particular learning style, or whether preferred learning style leads to adoption of a discipline, or of course, both. (All of the above assumes that there is some validity in this conceptualisation of “learning styles”.)
Simply, people who have a clear learning style preference, for whatever reason, will tend to learn more effectively if learning is orientated according to their preference. My learning style is the converging and accommodating one. I think I have the ability to find solution to practical issues. I can solve problems and make decisions by finding solutions to questions and problems. I like challenges and carry out plans. I like experiment with new ideas and work with practical application.
Studying is not just gaining greater knowledge and understanding of subjects but also more confidence, broader interests and more purpose in life. Well I’m studying because I do have an objective in life which I want to achieve at any cost. It is very hard to study and to work at the same time which unfortunately I have to do, no choice! Kolb learning cycle is actually very effective way to study which just need to be followed. I like groups’ works, when discussing with other people I get different point of view for the topic discussed.
One of the main problems I have is how to manage my study time. In fact I have two kinds of problems with time: finding enough of it and using it effectively. I do make plan about my time but it’s hard to stick to it, almost impossible. The only thing I need is to improve my time management skill and should take it serious now.
Kolb’s learning cycle is a key model in current use relating to adult learning and development. Knowing your own and your team’s learning style allows you to grow and develop more effectively, building skills and experience which allow you to meet your life goals. Thus the learning cycle can begin at any one of the four points and that it should really be approached as a continuous spiral. However the learning process depends on how the person is carrying out a particular action and then seeing the effect of the action in this situation.
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