MET:Kolb's Learning Styles Model and Experiential Learning Theory

From UBC Wiki

created by Stephen Chiong (Spring 2011)

What is Experiential Learning?

"Learning is a process whereby knowledge is created through transformation of experience." (Kolb, 1984, p.38)

David A. Kolb based his book, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, on the works of John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Carl Jung, Kurt Lewin, and William James. He believes that the center of learning is the learner's subjective experience.

Learning Cycle

The learning cycle is divided into two aspects:

  1. Knowing
    • Concrete Experience (CE) : refers to direct experience
    • Abstract Conceptualization (AC): "knowing about", theoretical, forming a theory based on what was observed
  2. Understanding or "Transforming" Knowledge
    • Reflective Observation (RO) : consciously trying to put or find meaning or association to the concrete experience by watching and listening
    • Active Experimentation (AE) : tests the theory in a new situation, learning by doing

Learning Styles

Each person has their own way or preferred way of learning. There is no right or wrong way. The learning style only shows the "comfort zone" of the learner.

The learning styles are divided into four categories:

  1. Converging / Convergent (doing and thinking)

    - The learner believes that there is a "correct" answer to the problem. The learner solves or approaches the problem by using theories, principles, and other data.

    Preferred working environment: Solo

  2. Diverging / Divergent (feeling and watching)
  3. - The learner likes to gather information and observe everything around him. Because of these traits, the learner is viewed as someone who is creative, open-minded, respectful of other people's perspective, and has a greater awareness of the perceived affordance.

    Preferred working environment: Team

  4. Assimilating (watching and thinking)
  5. - The learner prefers using a concise and logical approach. He is interested in ideas and abstract concepts over people, prefers lectures and readings over practical experience, and favors being given time to think and analyze through things.

    Preferred working environment: Solo

  6. Accommodating (doing and feeling)
  7. - The learner prefers doing "hands-on" work (action-oriented). This approach uses other people's analysis. There's a preference of intuition over logic.

    Preferred working environment: Team

The Relationship between the Learning Styles and the Learning Cycle

The Learning Cycle and Learning Styles mentioned above are illustrated as follows:

* The four red rectangles represent the learning styles

* The four black rectangles represent the learning cycle.

* The green rectangle shows the two different ways of knowing.

* The blue rectangle shows the two different ways of understanding.

File:Kolb learning styles.jpg File:Learning matrix.jpg


These two diagrams show that a person who is in the realm of abstract conceptualization is depicted as someone who prefers to work alone. It does not mean that the person would fail in a group environment. There is just a preference of learning solo than learning in a team.

Online Learning Environment

FeaturesBest done bySuited for
read articlessoloAssimilating
watching video / animationsoloAssimilating
chat roomteamDiverging
online quizsoloAssimilating
wikisolo / teamAssimilating/Diverging


With the new Web 2.0 tools and technologies, online learning environment can now engage learners in a rich experience by providing simulations, interactions, and more "personalized" learning. Simulations should be as close to the real experience as possible to make it engaging for the converging and accommodating learners. By "personalized" learning, the online learning system should be able to store, access, and provide advice to the learners based on their activities and inquiries.

The Critique Regarding Kolb's Model

Weaknesses in Kolb's model:
1. inadequate consideration to the process of reflection
2. inflated claim made for the four learning styles. The experiential learning model is not valid in all situations.
3. insufficient attention to different cultural conditions and experiences
4. disparity between the idea of stages/sequence and reality
5. limited research base and empirical studies to support the model
6. lack of depth on the complex relationship between the learning process and knowledge


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  2. Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as The Source of Learning and Development. Retrieved from
  3. Learning Theories (2008). Experiential Learning (Kolb). Retrieved January 17, 2011, from
  4. Experience Based Learning Systems, Inc. (2011). Home page. Retrieved January 17, 2011, from
  5. Atherton, J. S. (2010). The Experiential Learning Cycle. Retrieved January 17, 2011, from
  6. Atherton, J. S. (2010). Convergent and Divergent Thinking Styles. Retrieved January 18, 2011, from
  7. Swinton, L. (n.d.) Kolb's Learning Style Inventory and Kolb's Learning Cycle Explained - no fluff, no filler, just facts. Retrieved January 18, 2011, from
  8. Arp, L., Woodard, B., & Mestre, L. (2008, January 5). Accommodating Diverse Learning Styles in an Online Environment. Retrieved February 2, 2011, from
  9. Smith, M. K. (2001). David A. Kolb on Experiential Learning. Retrieved February 2, 2011, from