Kolb's Theory of Experiential Learning

Kolb’s Theory of Experiential Learning suggests that if a teacher is aware of how people learn, he can teach more effectively. It indicates the most effective learning happens when learners are fully involved in the process.

 Kolb’s theory first says people prefer to take in information somewhere on a continuum between Concrete Experience (Learning by Experiencing) and Abstract Conceptualization (Learning by Thinking).


Example of Learning a golf swing:

  • Those that prefer taking in new information by Concrete Experience would go to the back yard and swing a club
  • Those who prefer taking in new information by Abstract Conceptualization would rather read about it or watch a video
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 Second, the theory says that once information is gathered or grasped, people prefer to process or transform that information into something useful on a continuum between Active Experimentation (Learning by doing) and Reflective Observation (Learning by reflecting).

Example of Learning a golf swing:

  • Active Experimentation – When ball flies wrong way, try new ways to swing to get better
  • Reflective Observation – Thinking through what went wrong or what may go wrong and considering various possible solutions.

 Depending where you fall on each continuum, your learning preferences categorize you into one quadrant which represents four different learning styles. This seems to align with the DISC personality test as well.


Accommodating Style Learners Takes in information by experience and keeps experimenting with different ways to accomplish the goal. He doesn’t stop to reflect much.Often have the following characteristics:

  • Visionaries
  • Leading
  • Getting things done
  • Taking risks
  • Adaptable
  • Practical
  • Not always consider all the ramifications

Diverging Style Learners Takes in information by experiencing and reflecting often with friends or in a group. Often have the following characteristics:

  • Understanding People
  • Brainstorming (especially with people)
  • Get everybody’s opinions and ideas
  • Imaginative Open-minded

Assimilating Style Learners Gathers all the facts and reflects on a theory and possible solutions. Often have the following characteristics:

  • Planning
  • Data
  • Creating models
  • Defining problems
  • Developing theories
  • Patient
  • Not act easily (paralysis of analysis)

Converging Style Learners Thinks through solutions to the problem and then experiments to see if it works. Often have the following characteristics:

  • Solving problems
  • Making decisions
  • Deductive reasoning
  • Logical
  • They will think through some of the solutions choose one and try it.

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  Kolb's theory then says that we have a preferred learning style, but we all progress through a learning cycle and follow all four stages of learning as we gain information, experience and expertise. Concrete Experience leads us to Observe and Reflect. From these reflections we develop Abstract Concepts, which are then tested with Experimentation and again lead to Concrete Experience which then begins the cycle over again. No matter where you begin on the cycle in regard to your learning style preference, the theory of Experiential Learning says that the process of learning will cycle through each stage.


Example of Learning a golf swing

Let’s start at “Choose a Model or Goal”. The goal is to learn to swing a golf club properly. You begin to swing the club in the backyard, but it doesn’t seem right. So, you compare it with Tiger Woods as you watch him on the TV. You identify what is different between your swings. Next you choose one of the differences and consider ways you might correct your swing. Maybe it will be to get an instructor, or watch an instructional video. Next you evaluate the solutions and then choose one. You choose to watch an instructional video. Finally you go back to the backyard and try what you have seen on the video. At this point, depending on your success, you will then choose another goal. This might be to correct another part of your swing. Here the process begins over again.

  Practical Example in Teaching
  John is the leader of a newly formed ministry to unwed mothers. He has chosen his staff carefully and prepares for the orientation phase of their training. John considers his presentation of the vision of this new ministry to the new staff. He wants to communicate the vision in order for the staff to wholeheartedly embrace it. For the Diverging style learners, he includes in his presentation information about how this ministry will serve not only the mothers but the children. For the Assimilating learners, he prepares data that supports the effectiveness of this vision. Next, John gathers information on practical aspects of service this organization will give to help these unwed mothers for the Converging learners. He also develops some role play scenarios which include future possibilities for the ministry to communicate with the Accommodating style learners and plans a field trip to another similar ministry. Finally, John prepares some detailed stories of women who have been helped by similar ministries in order to connect the vision with previous knowledge or experience of the new staff.

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