What is Kolb’s Learning Model or Learning Cycle?

David Kolb has been a pioneer in experiential learning, visualising his theory in his Learning Model (1984). His model depicts a cycle. The following is a visualisation of his model:

what is kolb's learning model or learning cycle?

This diagram depicts that Kolb’s learning model has four learning types. According to Kolb, most people have a predilection for at least one learning style, although they can achieve proficiency in others through exposure. The four styles are, in a nutshell:

  • Diverger: Enjoys seeing things from many viewpoints, is imaginative and enjoys working with people
  • Assimilator: Likes the world of ideas and abstract concepts; does not necessarily need to relate them to real-world situations
  • Converger: Enjoys working to solve abstract problems using logic and analysis but enjoys applying solutions to real-world situations.
  • Accommodator: Likes solving problems in a hands-on fashion and enjoys taking action

This diagram also illustrates Kolb’s learning model or learning cycle. The cycle represents the individual’s journey of learning. To learn, a person must, according to this view, move beyond concrete experience through a process of reflection, analysis (conceptualisation), and testing (experimentation) – essentially a scientific process.

Based on the individual’s prefered learning approach, a person can begin at any point on the wheel. We do not have to begin with concrete experience; sometimes, we begin by thinking about something, reading and researching it, or experimenting with information.

This is crucial: when considering your experiential learning, remember your learning style and potentially begin at that point in Kolb’s Cycle. However, keep in mind that circumstances might influence your learning style, and depending on your studies, you may begin at a different point in the cycle.

To illustrate the various starting points within this cycle, we will use the example of someone constructing a birdhouse.

Elements of Kolb’s Learning Model

Keep in mind that, according to Kolb’s theory, a single concrete experience is insufficient for learning. To have learned something, one must have a concrete experience followed by the thought, analysis (conceptualisation), and testing (experimentation).

Here are a few examples of how someone could enter the Kolb cycle at various points:

Active Experimentation

This individual, an Accommodator, might one day conclude, “You know, birds are sort of cool. I wish there were more birds surrounding my home.” So they devise a method to make this a reality. They go out to their workshop and hammer together some little boards without extensively examining other birdhouses; there are no instructions or YouTube videos. They immediately implement what they have witnessed.

When they place the birdhouse out, it is possible that no birds use it. This is the Concrete Experience element: the individual has created something and is suffering failure. Therefore, people must engage in Reflective Observation: why are the birds not using the birdhouse? After generating some ideas, students move on to Abstract Conceptualization, where they create new and improved birdhouse designs, and then they return to Active Experimentation to construct their second birdhouse version.

Abstract conceptualisation

This student begins with thoughtful questions: “Bird houses are intriguing. I’m curious as to what makes the best birdhouse. How can I make it better?” They then proceed to the workshop and commence the phase of Active Experimentation. After constructing various prototypes, they place them in the yard. This is the Concrete Experience phase, in which they test the effectiveness of their concepts and ideas.

Perhaps in this instance, far smaller birds than anticipated began utilising the birdhouses. Therefore, our builder begins to ask, “Why?” This is the phase of Reflective Observation. They observe the birds for some time, seeing how they utilise the birdhouse, when they arrive and depart, etc. On the basis of what they observe, they begin to speculate: “I wonder how I could construct a different birdhouse, perhaps for different species of birds?” Based on everything they’ve learnt throughout the cycle, they’ve returned to the Abstract Conceptualization phase and are currently sketching ideas and plans for the next edition of their birdhouse design.

Concrete Experience

Possibly while standing in a friend’s backyard, this individual observes how many birds are flying and is amazed by the way they are transporting nesting materials into a birdhouse. Being the curious type, they approach the birdhouse and study it closely. They take note of its composition, construction, durability, ability to withstand the elements, etc.

They return home and enter Reflective Observation; they continue to ponder the birdhouse’s design and why it was successful. But of course, they want to build their own birdhouse to learn more about birdhouses and birds, so they begin by adding to or altering their friend’s design based on their observation of their friend’s birdhouse. This is an example of Abstract Conceptualization. Then they enter Active Experimentation and create their own birdhouse prototype in the workshop. In order to enter the next iteration of the Concrete Experience phase of the cycle, they construct it in their own garden.

Reflective Observation

This person begins by recalling their enjoyable time watching birds, such as at a zoo. At the zoo, they were simply enjoying the moment; it wasn’t until they returned home that they began to wonder why the birds lingered. What do birds require for safety? How is the habitat of birds comparable to that of humans? They enter the Abstract Conceptualization phase by utilising these queries. They begin to imagine what a small birdhouse would look like, as if they’ve never seen one before. They sketch designs that attempt to address their first concerns.

En route to the workshop, they enter Active Experimentation and construct their prototype of a birdhouse, which should attract and reassure birds. They set it up in their backyard and then sit back to enjoy the Concrete Experience of their learning cycle. Were their Abstract Conceptualizations accurate? Did the Active Experimentation of their prototype birdhouse succeed? Do the birds appear? This is the Concrete Experience for this cycle, and based on what transpires, further questions are generated for the next cycle of Reflective Observation.

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Raj Maurya

Raj Maurya is the founder of Digital Gyan. He is a technical content writer on Fiverr and When not working, he plays Valorant.

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