Kolb’s Learning Styles and Experiential Learning Cycle

by | Mar 14, 2020 | business


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Learning can be overwhelming today, given the constant information overload that comes with mass media. However, being a successful student or employee in any walk of life involves learning.

 So, how can you improve your learning process? Is there a way to make it more efficient? The answer is yes! You simply have to figure out how you learn. Kolb’s Learning Styles can assist you with that.

1. Take the Test

The first and probably the most obvious step to discovering what kind of learner you are is to first take the Kolb evaluation. This test can give you a fairly accurate assessment of how you learn.

The Kolb evaluation is a moderately long survey that asks a series of self-evaluating questions. Companies and classrooms alike use this assessment to deduce how their employees and students learn. Knowing how you learn can make it easier for everyone to work as a team.

It isn’t the only step in discovering your learning style because it’s not always accurate. During a retest reliability study, a test group of 44 found that only 41% were correctly classified. It was only one test group, however.

 The research concluded the Kolb Learning Style Inventory is accurate for an average of 91% of test subjects. There is still some benefit in taking the Kolb evaluation.

2. Think About How You Listen


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Learning involves listening. If you’re good at it, you might not need a lot of hands-on experience to retain information. It has been proven, however, that some amount of doing helps you listen better.

The average person speaks at 125 words-per-minute, and we think far faster than that. Listening requires the human brain to take in information slowly. Some people aren’t great at efficiently using their spare brain space.

When you’re listening to someone, do you start thinking about what you’re going to say next? Or do you absently doodle on a piece of paper so your ears can work without interruption? How you listen plays a large part in how you learn.

 The hands-on experience that makes listening easier: taking notes. Note-taking actively engages your mind in listening because it’s processing information more than one after hearing it.

3. Think About How You Take Notes

It has been reported that over 50% of college students use laptops in class for note-taking. It is also the case that students who take notes by hand remember more important information.

One study reported students not taking notes remembered just as much as those who were taking notes. This study found, however, that those taking notes remember more important information.

Another study also found that typing, instead of handwriting, involved mindless processing. Taking notes by hand, however, involved a more active and engaged mind. It is because by writing your brain thinks it is, on some level, actually doing what it’s learning.

 So if you don’t tend to be great at listening, you may want to start taking notes. If you tend to take notes during classes or meetings, this may be because you learn by doing.

4. Think About How You Learn


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Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory is predicated on Kolb’s Learning Cycle. Kolb theorizes that you are going to go through this cycle as you learn.

There is no clear beginning or ending, just four stages: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, active experimentation.

Not all learners go through all four steps, though. It is where learning style comes in; Kolb created a two-by-two matrix for his four learning styles. He also believed that you cannot perform both actions on a single axis at the same time.

Kolb believed that you are naturally inclined to learn a specific way. So how do you learn?

Everyone has heard someone say that they learn by doing or watching someone else do. Similarly, there are those who are great at following written instructions and those who are not. These are all part of the learning style.

5. Think About How You Watch People

Kolb explains that when you learn, you first approach the material. The question is, how do you approach it? Kolb gives us two options: doing and watching.

Think back to a time when you were had to watch a demonstration. Did you take in the procedures of the task being demonstrated and remember them later? Or were you mainly focused on one of the distracting enamel pins, custom made, on the demonstrator’s lapel?

Or were you immediately inclined to take notes during the whole thing?

Some learning style inventories, such as the one developed by Honey & Mumford, describe 4 similar learning styles. They do, however, use different terminology. Because of the many similarities in their models, there is much overlap.

The terminology from Honey & Mumford corresponds to Kolb’s model thus: 

  ●  Activist = Accommodating
  ●  Reflector = Diverging
  ●  Theorist = Assimilating
  ●  Pragmatist = Converging

Why is Knowing Your Learning Style Advantageous?


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Knowing your personal learning style allows you to approach educational situations with the utmost efficiency. If you’re a terrible listener, then taking notes throughout meetings may help you pay attention and retain information. If you learn by doing, you know you need to experience things to remember them accurately.

Many workplaces use Kolb’s learning model to help their employees distinguish their own roles in their teams. Similar to Myers Briggs personality assessment, Kolb’s learning style inventory also uses a form of the extroversion/introversion dynamic. A doer is to an extrovert as a watcher is to an introvert.

 This direct analogy is not perfect, but it helps us break down why the KLSI is helpful. Similar to the MBTI, the KLSI assists you in learning how you process and retain information. Listening and remembering are significant parts of life, both at home and at work.

Experiential Learning Has Six Key Characteristics

  ➊  Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes.
  ➋  Learning is a continuous process grounded inexperience.
  ➌  Learning is full of tension.
  ➍  Learning is a process of adapting to the world as a whole.
  ➎  Learning involves transactions between the person and the environment.
  ➏  Learning is the process of creating knowledge. It is the result of the transaction between social knowledge and personal knowledge.

It’s not necessary to remember Kolb’s six characteristics. They do, however, help you understand that learning is a tough ongoing process that never ends. Even as a working adult, you are required to learn always at work.

You have probably heard the term “life-long learner.” For many, being a life-long learner is something to aspire to. It is because, especially according to Kolb, learning is holistic and ever progressing.

Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory in Education


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David Kolb published his learning styles model in 1984. The KLSI has been acknowledged by educators and people of business as fundamental regarding human learning behavior. Yet toward 2010, opposition began to arise regarding the effectiveness of the learning model in young people’s education.

It has been asserted that every young learner is unique. It has also been said that the use of any learning model to develop their education can be counterproductive. 

While these two statements can’t be opposed, there are educators that have reported benefit in using the KLSI. Helping their students discover how they learn as individuals allow them to function better in the classroom.

There is, however, caution against using learning models to develop popular educational methods. It is important to use such systems with care. One doer does not do the same as another; one watcher does not watch the same as another.

Other Learning Style Models

There are many other learning style models other than the KLSI. One of the most widely used models is Fleming’s VAK model. VAK stands for Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic, which is where we often place ourselves firsthand.

Kolb’s model has its own form of the Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic style guide. It’s learning styles place learners in either a doing or watching category.

There is also the Honey-Mumford model, which was developed using Kolb’s model as a guide. It is different, however, although it still defines four separate learning styles.

There is the Felder-Silverman model. This model examines areas of personality which affect learning. A combination of these makes up unique learning preferences depending on the individual.

These personality areas are:

  •  active or reflective
  •  sensing or intuitive
  •  visual or verbal
  •  inductive or deductive
  •  sequential or global

Both the Hermann Brain Dominance model and the Gregorc model also developed 4 distinct learning styles.


While Kolb’s Learning Styles and Experiential Learning Cycle are well-debated, they are also soundly beneficial. There is a reason why they’ve remained a fixture in education, despite recent anti-Learning Style’s lobbying. The testimony of others often overshadows muddled research.

A retest reliability study was mentioned before. 90% of test subjects got the same scores on the second test as they did on the first. It has often been argued that learning styles models are unreliable because learning styles change. 

Learning styles can change as a person develops and adapts. However, an adult is less likely to switch learning styles than a child is.  Those who don’t change their learning style benefit from knowing what it is.

Are you a student or a businessperson? Did you find that you needed to know your learning style? Was this article helpful? Would you like to share these tips? Leave us a comment and let us know!

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