David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory | Dev Degree

David Kolb's

Learning Theory

The most well known and widely accepted theory on experiential learning comes from American educational theorist David Kolb. In his book, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, he describes experiential learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combinations of grasping and transforming the experience." In experiential learning, students learn by doing, and it’s the experience of “doing” that gives them new knowledge. Students reflect on these new experiences, solidify their knowledge, and develop new skills, new attitudes, and new ways of thinking.

Kolb’s theory presents a cyclical model of learning, where learners encounter, reflect, and transform new experiences. The results are most impactful when the learner progresses through the full cycle. The learner can enter the cycle at any stage but must follow the other stages in sequence:

  1. Concrete Experience: the learner encounters a new experience or reinterprets an existing experience.

  2. Reflective Observation: the learner reflects on the new or reinterpreted experience.

  3. Abstract Conceptualization: the learner comes up with a new idea, based on reflection.

  4. Active Experimentation: the learner implements the new idea and monitors the results.

Related to this cycle, Kolb identified learning styles to explain the conditions under which people learn most effectively. These styles are:

  • Assimilators: learn best when considering logical theories. They are skilled in the areas of Abstract Conceptualization and Reflective Observation. Assimilators are interested in abstract ideas and enjoy creating theoretical models, though they are not usually interested in the practical applications of those theoretical models.

  • Convergers: learn best when working with practical applications of concepts and theories. They are strong in the areas of Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experimentation. They think about ideas first, then implement them to see if their ideas are feasible in practice.

  • Accommodators: learn best through hands-on experiences, and thrive in the areas of Concrete Experience and Active Experimentation. Accommodators enjoy performing experiments and take a trial-and-error approach to their learning.

  • Divergers: learn best when observing and collecting a wide range of information, and are strongest in the areas of Concrete Experience and Reflective Observation. Divergers think deeply about their experiences, and tend to draw multiple conclusions from a single experience.

When individuals understand their own learning style, they can absorb knowledge most effectively. For students in WIL programs, knowing their own learning style can help them work better with their teams. Students can share their learning style with their teams during on-boarding so information can be conveyed to them in the most productive way.