Kolb`s Experiential Learning Theory (Learning Styles) Model

Kolb’s ELT
Theory: Experiential Learning Theory
“The theory of experiential learning maintains that learning is a process involving the resolution
of dialectical conflicts between opposing modes of dealing with the world - action and reflection,
concreteness and abstraction” (Kolb, 1981, p. 290).
Theorist: David Kolb
Kolb was born in 1939 and is currently a professor at Case Western Reserve University in
Cleveland, Ohio. He earned a B.A. at Knox College in 1961 and his M.A. and PhD from Harvard
University in 1964 and 1967 respectively in social psychology. Kolb’s interests include
experimental learning, career development, the individual and social change, and professional
education (Chapman, 2008). He is the founder and chairman of EBLS (Experience Based
Learning Systems, Inc.). Kolb’s work with Roger Fry developed "The Experiential Learning
Model. His theory is today acknowledged by academics, teachers, managers and trainers as truly
seminal works; fundamental concepts towards our understanding and explaining human learning
behavior, and towards helping others to learn (Infed, 1996).
Description of Theory:
The “Experiential Learning Theory” (ELT) of Kolb's was constructed on the foundation
of a four stage learning cycle expressed by immediate or concrete experiences provide a basis for
‘observations and reflections’ as shown in figure 1. The four stage cycle in made up of the
following elements; Concrete Experience-CE, Reflective Observation-RO, Abstract
Conceptualization-AC, and Active Experimentation-AE. Kolb’s theory identifies four distinct
Kolb’s ELT
learning styles; Diverging, Assimilating, Converging, and Accommodating. These learning
styles represent a combination of preferred styles and are based on the four stage learning cycle.
Diverging (CE/RO)
Assimilating (AC/RO)
Converging (AC/AE)
Active Experimentation (AE)
The Diverger has been classified as a problem solver. This type of learner views
situations through many lenses and relies heavily on brainstorming and generation ideas. (Kolb,
1979) An Assimilator learner has been considered as a problem solver by inductive reasoning.
(Kolb, 1979) The Converger has been classified as a learner who wants to be a problem solver
and relies on hypothetical deductive reasoning. (Kolb, 1979) Finally the Accommodator has been
classified as a problem solver by implementing plans and experiments. (Kolb, 1979)
“Kolb's model is particularly elegant, since it offers both a way to understand individual
people's different learning styles, and also an explanation of a cycle of experiential learning that
applies to us all” (Chapman, 2008). According to Kolb’s learning styles chart, learners cycle or
“touch all the bases” through experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting. Immediate or
concrete experiences lead to observations and reflections. “These reflections are then assimilated
(absorbed and translated) into abstract concepts with implications for action, which the person
can actively test and experiment with, which in turn enable the creation of new experiences”
(Chapman, 2008).
Kolb’s ELT
Kolb believed that people naturally prefer a single learning style influenced by factors
based on the individuals learning style. The theory defines three stages of a person's
development, and suggests that individual tendencies to resolve and incorporate different
learning styles improve as they develop through each stage. Kolb’s developmental stages listed
according to Chapman (2008):
1. Acquisition - birth to adolescence - development of basic abilities and 'cognitive
2. Specialization - schooling, early work and personal experiences of adulthood - the
development of a particular 'specialized learning style' shaped by 'social, educational, and
organizational socialization'
3. Integration - mid-career through to later life - expression of non-dominant learning style
in work and personal life (p. 4).
Theory Measurement/Instrumentation:
Kolb (1976) states, “We have developed a brief self-descriptive inventory called the
Learning Style Inventory (LSI) to measure differences in learning styles along the two basic
dimensions of abstract-concrete and active-reflective” (p.1). The Kolb LSI is a twelve item
questionnaire and workbook developed by Kolb. The instrument is based on the ELT and
identifies an individual’s preferred learning style. The instrument explores problem solving,
teamwork, conflict resolution, communication network or it held, and career choice. The
instrument can also be used for self knowledge so that individuals can understand and manage
learning styles. For facilitators and educators, this instrument can be used to design various
curriculum and content with the students learning style preferences in mind.
Kolb’s ELT
The instrument is statistically reliable and valid and can be purchased on-line at
for $15 for a single user or set of 10 for $105. The instrument has been published in several
languages and takes approximately 20-30 minutes to complete.
Report Prepared by:
Gary Dotterer
Chapman, A., (2008). Kolb Learning Styles. Retrieved September 12, 2008, from
Infed. (1996). David a. Kolb on experiential learning. Retrieved September 12, 2008, from:
Kolb, D. (1981). Experiential learning theory and the learning style inventory: A reply to
Freedman and Stumpf. Academy of Management. The Academy of Management Review
(pre-1986), 6(000002), 289. Retrieved September 12, 2008, from ABI/INFORM
Global database.
Kolb, D. A., Rubin, I.M., and McIntyre, J.M (1979), Organizational Psychology, A Book of
Kolb’s ELT
Figure 1.
Kolb’s Learning Styles diagram
Chapman, (2008). http://www.businessballs.com/kolblearningstyles.htm
© concept David Kolb, adaptation and design Alan Chapman 2005-06, based on Kolb's learning styles, 1984
Not to be sold or published. More free online training resources are at www.businessballs.com.