The Experiential Learning Cycle
(The Kolb Model)
Kolb (1984) provides one of the most useful (but contestable) descriptive models available of the adult learning process which we adapt on our teambuilding training program. This suggests that there are four stages in learning which follow from each other: Concrete Experience is followed by Reflection on that experience on a personal basis. This may then be followed by the derivation of general rules describing the experience, or the application of known theories to it Abstract Conceptualization, and hence to the construction of ways of modifying the next occurrence of the experience Active Experimentation, leading in turn to the next Concrete Experience.
All this may happen in a flash, or over days, weeks or months, depending on the topic, and there may be a "wheels within wheels" process at the same time.
The most direct application of the model is to use it to ensure that (pace the reservations above) teaching and tutoring activities give full value to each stage of the process. This may mean that for the tutor or mentor, a major task is to "chase" the learner round the cycle, asking questions which encourage Reflection, Conceptualization, and ways of testing the ideas. (The Concrete Experience itself may occur outside the tutorial/mentoring session).
What is experiential learning? Experiential learning has come to mean two different types of learning:
1. learning by yourself and
2. experiential education
[experiential learning through programs structured by others] (Smith, 2003).
1. Experiential learning by yourself
Learning from experience by yourself might be called "nature's way of learning". It is "education that occurs as a direct participation in the events of life" (Houle, 1980, p. 221, quoted in Smith, 2003). It includes learning that comes about through reflection on everyday experiences. Experiential learning by yourself is also known as "informal education" and includes learning that is organized by learners themselves.
2. Experiential education
(Experiential learning through programs & activities structured by others) Principles of experiential learning are used to design of experiential education programs. Emphasis is placed on the nature of participants' subjective experiences.
An experiential educator's role is to organize and facilitate direct experiences of phenomenon under the assumption that this will lead to genuine (meaningful and long-lasting) learning. This often also requires preparatory and reflective exercises.
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