From the Horse’s Mouth: Kolb on ELT

284007ab16c6d4b4982db55c8da01c9eBut even if I’ve read a couple of articles about experiential learning, how can I say I know Kolb’s theories unless I’ve read his words?  It would be like knowing Paris from photos rather than going there!

So, time for another e-resource:-

‘Experiential Learning Theory and Learning Styles’ / David A. Kolb

In: Encyclopedia of Management Theory  / Ed. Eric H. Kessler (Sage publications, 2013)


This is just a five-page pdf of the encyclopedia entry (print pp.277-9), so it’s enough to give me a quick overview.  First, the fundamentals – learning is a process, continuous, involving re-learning and adapting as we create knowledge.  There are a couple more propositions that confuse me a bit: ‘Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically opposed modes of adaptation to the world’, and ‘Learning results from synergetic transactions between the person and the environment.’  The second of these seems to concern learning by doing.  But the first?!

All becomes clear when we next read about the cycle of experiential learning. There are two ‘dialectically related modes of grasping experience’ and two ‘dialectically related modes of transforming experience’, which boils down to doing versus thinking in the abstract, and observing versus actively trying something out: –

  • Grasping experience: CE (concrete experience) versus AC (abstract conceptualization)
  • Transforming experience: RO (reflecting observation) versus AE (active experimentation)

And experiential learning involves all four modes cyclically. As we reflect, we conceptualize and can apply this to the next stage of our learning.

The Kolb Learning Style Inventory (KLSI) describes how we each prefer to learn, everyone having preference for one of the four ‘learning modes’ described above, and how we move between them.  Learning style is said to be a ‘dynamic state’ rather than part of our psychological make-up, and how we choose to learn affects our personal development.  The four learning modes are combined to result in nine distinct learning styles, and it seems logical that these may make people suited to different career paths, whether entrepreneurial, strategic or whatever.

a8c99e958f2df0b7e481ea0a740d6aa1Although this is interesting, and is a good justification for ensuring that learning activities are sufficiently varied to appeal to different ‘types’ (particularly since I’m catapulted into one-off classes to deliver teaching on a variety of topics, and have no knowledge of individual learners and their styles) – it doesn’t inform me about the learning cycle as Korb sees it, so I next need to look for it elsewhere.

Chris Jeffs, ‘Reflective Learning’ (print pp.135-139) in Strategic Management

(London: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2008)

Print ISBN: 9781412947695
Online ISBN: 9781446216446


The article seems to be aimed at university students, but since my main concern is to check out Kolb’s learning cycle, that is the section I’ll look at.  Kolb seems to have first outlined his theory ca. 1984.  The order of the different learning modes is first, Active Experimentation (AE), followed by Concrete Experiences (CE).  This means that the experiences have led to feelings about them, which will help future learning.  Reflective observation (RO) comes next, and then Abstract Conceptualisation (AC), where we create new concepts and try out new theories – and that’s where the loop begins again.

These four learning modes, then, aren’t quite the same as the three stages as described by Clawson and Haskins, although you can see how they reduced Kolb’s theories to something a little simpler and easier to put into practice.  Kolb’s original theory is thought-provoking, but I think I find Clawson and Haskins of more practical use to the teacher.


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