David Kolb on learning styles

David Kolb and Roger Fry (1975: 35-6) argue that effective learning entails the possession of four different abilities (as indicated on each pole of their model): concrete experience abilities, reflective observation abilities, abstract conceptualization abilities and active experimentation abilities.

The premise is that few us can approach the “ideal” of a strength in each of the 4 dimensions we tend to have a bias for some of the dimensions over others.

As a result they developed a learning style inventory which was designed to place people on a line between concrete experience and abstract conceptualization; and active experimentation and reflective observation.

The learning inventory was used to identify four basic learning styles.

More information on learning styles here

The four quadrants of the cycle are associated with four different forms of knowledge, in Kolb's view. Each of these forms is paired with its diagonal opposite. Kolb and Fry (1975) argue that the learning cycle can begin at any one of the four points - and that it should really be approached as a continuous spiral.

Kolb suggested that the learning process often begins with a person carrying out a particular action and then seeing the effect of the action in this situation.

Following this, the second step is to understand these effects in the particular instance so that if the same action was taken in the same circumstances it would be possible to anticipate what would follow from the action.

In this pattern the third step would be understanding the general principle under which the particular instance falls and see connections between actions and impacts.

When the general principle is understood, the last step, is its application through action in a new circumstance within the range of generalization.

In some representations of experential learning these steps, (or ones like them), are sometimes represented as a circular movement. In reality, if learning has taken place the process could be seen as a spiral as things have changed and so the action is taking place in a different set of circumstances and the learner is now able to anticipate the possible effects of the action.

This model at the time challenged other learning models that were overly dependant on intelligence as a dimension.

They also recognize that there are strengths and weaknesses associated with each style (and that being 'locked into' one style can put a learner at a serious disadvantage).

Kolb has been an excellent framework for planning learning events for educators and trainers.

It facilitates broader thinking in the planning process which is likely to lead to a greater engagement of learners.
For that it is still a useful model to teach learners to help them understand and take more ownership of their learning.
Criticisms of this model have included:

Does not take into account cultural differences in learning
The 4 step process is overly simplistic and doesn’t reflect the reality of peoples thinking styles.
The model is not supported by strong empirical evidence.
Does not reflect adequately insights from recent brain research.

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