Kolb’s Experiential Learning Styles

By Nick, posted
The Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) produced by David Kolb in 1984 is regarded as one of the most widely utilised learning styles models within education and training. The model proposes that people learn best from having a direct experience within an activity for the first time, with the opportunity to reflect on the experience.
This action-based model encourages the learner to have a first-hand practical experience and to identify where they can improve on their performance afterwards. Within a classroom environment, your learners are often curious to take part within an activity or ‘raring to go’ to get involved within a practical task. As a teacher, it is often best to allow for learners to get started within an activity and provide little instruction or advice on how to complete the task or challenge. This will not only promote the learners’ independence and problem solving-skills but also promote the pace of the lesson.
Think about purchasing a new mobile phone, many people will discard the written instructions, open up the packaging and begin to experiment with trying to use their new device first hand. After a while of trialling the phone, the person may then revise the instruction manual to understand more about what has worked well and identify any gaps within their knowledge to use the phone to their full capacity. 
Kolb identified 4 key stages of the Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) which learners should follow in order to develop their practice: 


Concrete Experience 

The first stage of the model is the concrete experience, this is where the learner encounters a new experience or task and becomes familiar with the activity. This is often where a teacher will provide a class of learners with a set of instructions and will allow the group time to experiment for themselves to see whether or not they achieve the desired result. The teacher will demonstrate a ‘hands off’ approach to allow the learners the freedom and independence to experience a task. Many learners will relish this opportunity to embark on a challenge without the supervision of an ‘authority’ figure or teacher. This ‘active’ teaching experience is focused on developing the learners’ senses and promotes the feeling of performing an effective task. Taking part in a practical experience will create a strong memory for the learner to replicate their skills again or to think back to the experience.    

Reflective Observation

After the concrete experience stage, the next step within the process is reflective observation. This important part of the model is where the learner will take a step back from the activity and have sufficient time to make sense of their performance. The reflection stage is a chance to identify their own strengths and areas for development based on the practical performance.  It is key for the learner to have sufficient time to analyse their practical task otherwise they learner may replicate the same performance again and may gather the same unsuccessful result. 
The reflection stage can involve fellow peers or classmates who can provide feedback to contribute to the reflection process. Having other people to share their viewpoints can help promote discussion of the performance and help the reflection process further. A paired reflection activity can help foster the interpersonal and communication skills and even strengthen the cohesion of the class dynamics.  

Abstract Conceptualisation 

Once learners have had time to reflect on their practical performance, new ideas can be formulated on how to perform the task effectively or to render better results. During this stage, learners can develop their own problem-solving and creativity skills to plan and seek out new ways to fulfil the task. Learners can visualise how they will embark on the new challenge and see how they can become successful within their challenge. When learners feel confident to return to the task, they will be prepared to trial their new understandings. 

Active Experimentation 

The final stage of the cycle encompasses active experimentation. This is where learners perform their new formulated ideas to see whether or not they can successfully overcome the challenge or task. Within this practical stage, learners can combine their experience of their first attempt of completing the task along with their new strategies and ideas which were formulated from the abstract conceptualisation stage. Even if the learner does not fully achieve the task on their second attempt, they can hopefully recognise that they have shown progression. After this stage, the learner has experienced a new concrete experience which can contribute to the beginning of the next stage of the cycle.  

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