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Kolb's Learning Style Inventory and Kolb's Learning Cycle

Many models of adult learning style have been proposed. One of the most influential models has been David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle. He is a professor of Organizational Behavior in the Weatheread School of Management. This model draws on research done by Kurt Lewin and was proposed in 1984. His findings were first published in his book “Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development”.

According to this model there are four consecutive stages to adult learning:

• Concrete Experience
• Reflective Observation
• Abstract Conceptualization
• Active Experimentation

“Immediate or concrete experiences” provide a foundation for “observations and reflections” which are, in turn, absorbed and distilled into “abstract concepts”. These concepts lead to new perceptions and interpretations based on which further “active experiments” are performed, leading to newer experiences. Each of these stages is closely linked to the developmental stages of a person, namely, acquisition which is a stage from birth to adolescence, specialization during the school years, and integration during the midyears and later life. 

Four learning styles are derived from these learning stages:

• Diverging
• Assimilating
• Converging
• Accommodating

Different people have different learning styles. Diverging learning style is a combination of Concrete Experience and Reflective Observation. The two actions associated with this learning style are watching and feeling. People who learn this way tend to brainstorm well, gather information and form good team members. They are open minded people who, usually, are the first to spot newer perspectives. Assimilating learning style is a combination of Abstract Conceptualization and Reflective Observation. Thinking and watching are the two actions associated with it. Logical thinking, concepts and ideas appeal to people who learn in this manner. They need time to read, think and reflect. Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experimentation constitute the Converging learning style. People who engage in this style are doers and thinkers. They prefer to solve practical problems, like experiments, simulations and technical tasks. They are not very people-oriented. Concrete Experience and Active Experimentation comprise the Accommodating learning style. Feeling and doing are the ways in which people learn in this category. Challenges attract such people. Even though they are not great analysts, they rely on people who are better than they are. They are very dynamic and are known to set and achieve high targets.

There is a reason as to why there are two learning stages in one learning style. The human mind functions in a dialectic manner. Dialectic means “conflict”, which, in this case, arises because of the tendency to “do” and “feel” at the same time. This means that the mind wants to figure out how to do a job and respond to it emotionally at the same time. The former is known as “grasping experience” and the latter is known as “transforming experience”.

The Kolb model, though very efficient in explaining the major learning processes in adults, have some limitations too. Critics say that this model does not give enough importance to reflection. The elements of reflection are not worked out in this model. Also, socio-cultural conditioning is not taken into account, because people of different cultures tend to think in different manners. Yet another criticism is that learning cannot be equated to acquisition of knowledge. Notwithstanding these points, the Kolb model has proven to be an excellent tool in framing learning methods.

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