David Kolb’s Learning Styles & Experiential Learning Cycle
David Kolb ’s learning styles model was developed from his experiential learning cycle theory in 1984. These theories have largely to do with the inner cognitive processes of one’s mind. Similarly, the full lead assessor course teaches how a learner or apprentice should be assessed or marked on the basis of their ability to apply concepts to real situations at work. Kolb believes that effective learning occurs by a cyclic process of experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting; which he elaborates through his 4-stage experiential learning cycle theory (1974):
- Concrete Experience – (CE): A new experience or a new meaning from a previous situation is experienced. This acts as a stimulus to actively engage in a task rather than merely reading or watching.
- Reflective Observation – (RO): reflection on the new meaning/experience, especially on the discrepancy and gap between learner’s understanding and the experience.
- Abstract Conceptualisation – (AC): new ideas or modified existing abstract thoughts stem from this reflection of own knowledge. It includes interpreting and updating experiences from new knowledge.
- Active Experimentation – (AE): learner applies this to the outer world. It is also known as the testing stage where one applies one's own conclusion to new experiences.
How does learning happen according to Kolb?
Learning is an integrated process. According to Kolb, each stage of this cycle is dependent on its predecessor and follows a logical pattern. Also, individually, none of the stages are an effective learning tool. In simple terms, it follows a step-by-step process. For instance, you must have prior knowledge about assessment methods or assessing learners before actually doing it in your workplace. The steps, in this case, are to first know the background of assessment methods and then actually conduct and apply those. The full Lead Assessor course (Units 1,2,3) can help you follow the logical pattern required to conduct assessments.
Learning Styles described by Kolb:
Kolb defines four distinct learning styles in his Learning Styles theory. Individuals favour a certain learning style based on inner cognitive process, social influence, and educational background. No matter what the choice is, the learning preference is the product of two conflicting variables known as the Processing Continuum and the Perception Continuum (University of Leicester, 2002).
Processing Continuum is a way to approach or tackle a task. Perception Continuum is the range of what is the emotional response to the task, including the thoughts and feelings. The learning styles are highlighted in the following matrix:
Doing (Active Experimentation – AE)
Watching (Reflective Observation – RO)
Feeling (Concrete Experience – CE)
Thinking (Abstract Conceptualisation – AC)
Kolb Learning Styles explained:
Accommodating (CE/AE): This 'feel and do' style is a hands-on approach. It is suitable for people who are intuitive rather than logical. Such people rely on others' analysis and thinking rather than their own. They are proactive and are eager to take on and complete new challenges. They have good people’s skills and they prefer the following:
- Activities that encourage independent exploration and thinking
- Instructor support to answer ‘why not?’ and ‘what if?’ questions to theories
- Tasks that allow them to actively participate and engage.
Diverging (CE/RO): The 'feel and watch' style is for imaginative and emotional people. These people view a situation from several different perspectives and generate a lot of ideas. They are more people-oriented and are deep thinkers. They prefer the following:
- Hands-on experience
- Instruction based approach where the trainer gives them a set of instructions along with some details about the topic
Converging (AC/AE): This is a 'think and do' style. People who are technical-minded prefer this. They are accepting of new ideas and like to rely on their learning and thinking to find a solution to practical situations. They also bring up doable practices of theories and ideas. These individuals have great problem-solving skills and preferring application of ideas, experiences in their learning and prefer the following:
- Computer-based tasks
- Collaborative activities and tasks
- Worksheets that contain problem sets
Assimilating (AC/RO): The 'think and watch' style is apt for people who are more interested in logical-sounding theories and clear explanations over practical approaches. They value conciseness, logic and assessing the process. They prefer the following:
- Independent tasks from start to finish
- Lectures supported by a variety of resources (audio, video and graphics)
- A detailed instructional tutorial along with answers to FAQs.
Kolb Learning Styles favoured by distinctive individuals
Kolb clarifies that distinctive individuals actually favour a specific learning style. Different variables impact a favoured style: prominently in his experiential learning theory (ELT), Kolb characterised three phases of an individual’s advancement and proposes that our affinity accommodate and effectively incorporate the four diverse learning styles enhanced as we advance through the development stages. The stages that Kolb defined are:
- Acquisition – birth to the pre-teenage – improvement of essential abilities and cognitive capabilities.
- Specialisation – tutoring, early work and individual encounters of adulthood – the improvement of a particular learning style is formed by social and educational socialisation.
- Integration – mid-career through to later life – articulation of non-prevailing learning style in work and individual life.
How to identify different Learning Styles?
Knowing one’s learning style makes it easier for the correct method to be applied. Although, as stated before, everyone has their own learning preferences, everyone needs a stimulus or they respond to all four learning styles to varying degrees. The major idea is to find the method that fits best as per one’s preference. Assessors are recommended to apply this theory to develop appropriate formative and summative assessment methods that engage learners to systematically go through each stage of the learning cycle. Similarly, each stage of assessment is important when you assess apprentices or learners in your own special area as a lead assessor. It is important to highlight each point of appreciation as well as of improvement.
Generally, teachers are able to identify learning styles by observing their students in the classroom. Students begin to show their preference for particular styles through presentations, discussions, and collaborative activities. When delivering courses online, it is important for the assessor to engage with the students throughout the entire learning cycle in order to reveal their preferences. Collaborative activities help learners become adaptive, responsive and well-rounded. You must have a wide range of activities planned throughout the session for students to engage.
In conclusion, all the learning styles mentioned above may or may not apply to your learners. It completely depends on how your learner prefers to seek knowledge and what suits them best. These are a set of general learning styles that are commonly found in learners. The lead assessor course can aid in understanding your learners / apprentices preferences and ways to assess their work practices