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  • Danielle Raja

Week #3: Kolb and Experiential Learning

This week I'd like to reflect on a theory of learning which we briefly touched on in class and I will be using in my upcoming Harvard Macy Institute experience!




Experiential Learning


This theory was developed in 1974 by David A. Kolb who developed it by building on work by William James, John Dewey, Kurt Levin, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Carl Jung, Paulo Freire, Carl Rogers, and more. Kolb believed there were 4 stages of learning and that learning is most effective when learners cycle through all 4 stages.


  1. Concrete Experience - DO: a learning experience occurs

  2. Reflective Observation - OBSERVE: reflection on the experience

  3. Abstract Conceptualism - THINK: form a model/theory of experience

  4. Active Experimentation - PLAN: test the model/theory

There are 2 axes to consider as well: the Processing Continuum and the Perception Continuum. The Processing Continuum is how the learner approaches a task whereas the Perception Continuum is how the learner feels about the task. All factors are important to consider.


This theory is especially applicable for situations in which a procedure is learned. Ex. teaching how to perform a biopsy. The learner first has the experience of learning about the biopsy (Concrete Experience/DO), then reflects on what just happened (Reflective Observation/OBSERVE), then the learner forms a model, conceptualizing what happened (Abstract Conceptualism/THINK), and finally, utilizing this new model to try again (Active Experimentation/PLAN).





Kolb took this theory further and developed 4 different learning styles based upon his 4 stages of learning. These learning styles are measured using Kolb's Learning Style Inventory. The assessment is meant to help learners understand the way in which they learn best and ensure those strengths are utilized. The approach to learning is a very personal experience, influenced by culture, personality, life experiences, genetics, etc. The 4 potential results are:


  1. Assimilators: combine Abstract Conceptualization and Reflective Observation, understand wide range of information and organize it logically

  2. Convergers: combine Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experimentation, easily able to practically apply theories

  3. Accommodators: combine Concrete Experience and Active Experimentation, learn most from 'hands-on' experiences

  4. Divergers: combine Concrete Experience and Reflective Observation, able to understand many points of view, prefer to observe instead of act


Strengths of Each:




This theory is especially interesting to me as a Nurse Practitioner. Learning how my students (and I) process learning experiences can only make me a better educator.


On a personal note: I tested into Assimilating (which came as no surprise to my husband!). I think part of what makes us a great team is that we are clearly opposite in many ways. Perhaps he would test into Accommodating (probably!).




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