Tag Archives: Experiential Learning Cycle

Learning through experience – It follows a cycle

Have you ever bought anything or, maybe a better question is, have you ever tried to build anything you bought from IKEA? You see the object of your desire in the store on football field level 3. You grab the box or two from bin 12L. Open it and find a cartoon series, a baggie full of different shaped screws, plastic gizmos, and some brackety things. What does IKEA mean anyhow? Maybe it is an acronym for I Kan Everything Assemble (loosely translated, it’s Swedish remember). 

How do you attack this project? (A). Lay it all out and count the screws and such. (B). Read the cartoon thoroughly. (C). Recruit someone to help you or walk you through it. (D). Just start slapping things together based on the picture or the floor model? In some cases, you probably got it right on the second or third attempt, or the repurchase. Oddly enough, this little vignette could explain how we think (and/or behave) from the Emergenetics blog. It also gives us some idea about learning and our learning styles.

How do we learn stuff? What is learning all about? Another topic I get a little excited (ok, just plain excited) about is Experiential Learning. When I am designing a course, a class, or a workshop I go to the work of David Kolb. He was trying to figure out how to help his students learn and he developed this learning cycle that explains our learning styles. It is really cool stuff.  It is based on 2 axes. Vertical is a continuum between Concrete Experience (top) and Abstract Conceptualization (bottom). The horizontal is Reflective Observation (right) and Active Experimentation (left). I put an image in here to help the visual learners.    



Batter up!

Think about a baseball diamond, four bases right? Hey, hey… coincidently there’s four points in our cycle. Kolb says we touch all of the bases (points) in the experience of learning. Learning is really an experiential activity. We run around the diamond. One little catch (pun wasn’t intended but it really works here) is the learning cycle starts at 2nd base runs to 1st then home then 3rd. Easy right? See how flexible and abstract you are here? You visualized a ball diamond (concrete). The alternate running path takes a little observation of a different perspective (reflection). You analyze this to intellectually conjure it up (abstract). You could run around to make it work, or just physically draw it out (experimentation).

POOF. Experiential learning. You experience something, you reflect on your observation, you connect concepts in the abstract, and then you do it. Time out; go back to the IKEA example. You doubt this works, it can’t be that easy, thinking is complex and brainy. Cool fact #2, a biologist, James Zull (he’s a biologist), wrote a book and connected brainy stuff and function to Kolb.  

There are different styles of learning

Different people have different entry points into our four bases. There are four learning styles (actually Kolb as increased these to nine…but that throws my baseball game into too many innings, stick with me here). The four are:

DIVERGING – combo of experiencing and reflecting, diverging from conventional solutions.

ASSIMILATING – combo of reflection and abstract, you probably focus less on people and more on abstract and theories.

CONVERGING – combo of abstract and doing. You are a gatherer of information and like to solve problems.

ACCOMODATING – combo of doing and the concrete. You have an ability to adapt the information or changing circumstances into action. You probably like to work with others to make this happen too. 

News Flash:  There isn’t a whole lot of NEW learnin’ goin on out there

WHAT?!  “No way,” you say. Well let’s think about this. Learning is really your interpretation of what you are “newly” learning with something you already know/knew?  We’re really just revising our learning, broadening our understanding based on the new context we now have. Maybe we just have new vocabulary words for it now.

No, for reals. There are people who have studied learning and talk about all of this and they say the same thing. They even have a few $5 words for all this learning, revising, and expanding too. Check out some of those academic journals to check me here.


This all connects back to our ability and to leadership. Our ability to learn is based on this brain stuff. Learning is about change. When we learn we change. This change connects those neurons and creates additional neural pathways when we need to search that big hard drive between our ears. Our raw ability is about our natural ways of taking in information. We also know that we can teach and train people to be leaders. The experience of being a leader is experiential. We learn more about being a leader while working, serving, and practicing leadership. This supports the notion that the decisions made by the learner are based on the lived events as well as future choices. The primary purpose of all this is to provide information about one’s preferred approach to learning.

Leadership is about working WITH others. When we understand all this stuff about learning and there is more than one way to learn and get something done. When we understand that there is more than one way to touch all of the bases, we can see that a diversity of learning styles might add to our group or team. It is similar to the WE Teams from Emergenetics.

What is your learning style? Who thinks/learns differently than you do? Interesting fact #3, how we learn is typically how we teach. If we have a style, a natural extension of that would be, “of course this is how we (i.e., everybody) learn.” Not so much. So, relax when you aren’t getting it, or your student isn’t getting it. Maybe you change up (ok that pun was intended) how you are helping them learn…. use a different approach to meet their strengths. Now that’s leadership ability.

Maybe an Einstein quote would fit here – “Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” 

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