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Kolb Experiential Learning Theory

Beginning a research paper isn’t easy. Paper Masters suggests you start by noting there are several learning theories that discuss different reasons why people act a certain way in certain situations.  One example of a learning theory is Kolb's experiential learning theory.  The theory states that there are mainly two learning dimensions:

  1. Concrete/abstract
  2. Active/reflective

Kolb's theory states that although every person has a favorite learning style they are able to use all styles that are offered to them. Kolb Experiential Learning TheoryThe theory is based on the fact that some people prefer to learn from concrete facts while others prefer to learn through the theoretical.  Kolb's theory translates into the workplace very nicely. 

For part of the theory is based on the fact that individuals choose their profession based on the type of learning style they prefer.  However, Kolb maintains that even though certain people prefer to be in certain professions and have more longevity in an occupation that suits their learning style; not all people with the same learning style are going to be the same profession. Overall, Kolb's theory stresses the point that with all the different learning styles, people are able to utilize them all, but are more effective when using the one of their preference.  Therefore, making the importance of a manager to understand and learn the different leaning styles of his or her employees that much more important.

David Kolb was one of several researchers that focused on the importance of experience in the activity of learning during the 1980s. Working on a theory by Saljo in 1979, Kolb and other researchers were able to develop learning theories that incorporated the individual’s experience into the equation. According to Saljo’s early work, “the more life experience a student has the more likely they are to view learning as an internal, experience based process” (Banyard & Hayes, 1994, pp.303-304). Kolb expanded on this hypothesis and the work of others by stating that the concept of reflection is divided into two activities: perceiving and processing (Kelly, 1997). In the first stage, abstract conceptualization, individuals seek to find the answers to questions developed during the critical reflection stage. In the active experimentation phase, experiments are conducted to prove or disprove the hypotheses formed in the abstract conceptualization phase (Kelly, 1997).   

David Kolb was one of several researchers that focused on the importance of experience in the activity of learning during the 1980s. Working on a theory by Saljo in 1979, Kolb and other researchers were able to develop learning theories that incorporated the individual’s experience into the equation. According to Saljo’s early work, “the more life experience a student has the more likely they are to view learning as an internal, experience based process” (Banyard & Hayes, 1994, pp.303-304). Kolb expanded on this hypothesis and the work of others by stating that the concept of reflection is divided into two activities: perceiving and processing (Kelly, 1997). In the first stage, abstract conceptualization, individuals seek to find the answers to questions developed during the critical reflection stage. In the active experimentation phase, experiments are conducted to prove or disprove the hypotheses formed in the abstract conceptualization phase (Kelly, 1997).   

Kolb's Learning Theory

The steps involved in Kolb’s learning theory can be seen by the diagram above. As described by Kolb:

In the abstract conceptualization stage, learning involves using logic and ideas, rather than feelings to understand problems or situations…In the active experimentation stage, learning takes on an active form, experimenting with, influencing, or changing situations.

The second phase of Kolb’s learning theory included developing the Learning Style Inventory that enables learners to understand their learning weaknesses and strengths. This inventory consists of four types of learners: activists, reflectors, pragmatists, and theorizers. Once learners understand their preferred style, they can transition to higher levels of cognitive functioning.

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