David Kolb

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David Kolb (1939 — ) American experiential learning expert
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"David A. Kolb is one of the innovators in experimental learning...his work has inspired many others in the search for the ideal educational methods."

David Allen Kolb (1939 — ), American "organizational" sociologist and educational theorist, is best known for his research into experiential learning and learning styles. Kolb received his Bachelor of Arts from Knox College in 1961, his Master of Arts from Harvard in 1964 and his PhD in sociology from Harvard University in 1967. His research has its roots in the works of John Dewey, Kurt Lewin and Jean Piaget and the more recent work of Jack Mezirow, Paulo Freire and theorists focussing on how humans process experience. As part of that tradition, Kolb states that experiential learning is a process where knowledge results from making meaning as a result of direct experience, i.e., or simply "learning from experience". His experiential learning theory is a wholistic or 'meta-view' of learning that is a combination of experience, perception, cognition and behaviour. Kolb is a professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Kolb is known for contributions beyond experiential learning and includes important research into organizational behaviour, individual and social change, career development and professional education. To explore the theory of experiential learning, Kolb founded, with his wife Alice Kolb, Experience Based Learning Systems (EBLS).

His major contributions

  • Kolb is known for his learning styles inventory (LSI) and experiential learning models. His theory of experiential learning and the instrument which he devised to test the theory – the Learning Style Inventory (LSI) – have generated a considerable body of research.
  • According to Kolb, learners learn better when the subject matter is presented in a style consistent with their preferred learning style.
  • Kolb proposed an experiential learning model with six main characteristics:
  • Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes
  • Learning is a continuous process grounded in experience
  • Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically-opposed modes of adaptation to the world (learning is by its nature full of tension)
  • Learning is a holistic process of adaptation to the world
  • Learning involves transactions between the person and the environment
  • Learning is a process of creating knowledge that results from the transaction between social knowledge and personal knowledge.
  • His work in experiential learning is important in understanding the strands of learning theory and psychological research that comprise his four (4) stage learning cycle. The experiential model was introduced in 1984 and operates on two-levels, four-stages.
  • Kolb's learning cycle is comprised of: concrete experience (CE), reflective observation (RO), abstract conceptualization (AC) and active experimentation (AE). Over this is the definition of learning styles, (each is a combination or two-by-two matrix): diverging (CE/RO), assimilating (AC/RO), converging (AC/AE) and accommodating (CE/AE).
  • Kolb classified learners into four types: assimilators, who learn best when presented with sound logical theories; convergers, who learn best when provided with practical applications of concepts; accommodators, who learn best when provided with “hands-on” experience; divergers, who learn best when allowed to observe and collect information.
  • Kolb's models seem highly-structured even scientific. Many librarians have noted parallels between them and the (scientific) method of observation, hypothesis building, theory and testing. Some librarians have found it helpful to test their learning style via Kolb's Learning Skills Profile (LSP) and Inventory.

Quotes by Kolb

  • "Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping experience and transforming it.
  • "Experiential learning posits that learning is the major determinant of human development and how individuals learn shapes the course of their personal development."
  • Kolb says that his theory is called "experiential learning" "to emphasize the central role of experience in the learning process, an emphasis that distinguishes it both from cognitive theories, which tend to emphasize cognition over affect, and behavioural learning theories that deny any role for subjective experience in the learning process."
  • "There are two goals in the experiential learning process. One is to learn the specifics of a particular subject, and the other is to learn about one’s own learning process."
  • "The concept of learning style describes individual differences in learning based on the learner’s preference for employing different phases of the learning cycle. Because of our hereditary equipment, our particular life experiences, and the demands of our present environment, we develop a preferred way of choosing among the four learning modes."
  • "The concept of learning space elaborates further the holistic, dynamic nature of learning style and its formation through transactions between the person and environment."
  • "The traditional lecture course ...emphasizes first level learning emphasizing the learning modes of reflection and abstraction but involving little action (often multiple choice tests that assess registration of concepts in memory) and little relation to personal experience. Adding more extensive learning assessments that involve practical application of concepts covered can create second level learning involving the three learning modes where reflection supplemented by action serve to further deepen conceptual understanding."
  • "To learn from their experience, teams must create a conversational space where members can reflect on and talk about their experience together."


  • Some critics note that aspects of Kolb's theory parallel the work of the Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner and his theory of multiple intelligences.
  • Some suggest that Kolb in there should be more attention paid to reflection; some critics point to inflated claims made for the four learning styles.
  • It appears that experiential learning is not valid in all situations; there is insufficient attention given to different cultural conditions and experiences.
  • There seems to be some disparity between the idea of stages/sequences and the reality of experience. There is also a limited research base and empirical studies to support Kolb. It's arranged to support Kolb's preferred paradigm of scientific enquiry.
  • Some contend that there is a lack of depth on the complex relationship between the learning process and knowledge.
  • Rogers said that "learning includes goals, purposes, intentions, choice and decision-making; it is not at all clear where these elements fit into the learning cycle." Habermas said that we have three kinds of learning and different learning styles for each.
  • As for Kolb's inventory, results are based on the way learners rate themselves; it does not rate learning style preferences as other personal style inventories. It only provides some relative strengths in the individual learner, not in relation to others.
  • Kolb's contribution aims to present a model of experience scientifically. He has helped to move educational thought from the locus of the instructor back to learners.
  • "Attempts to validate experiential learning and learning styles (Kolb, 1971, 1984, 1999) appear to be less than successful. One study reported in meta-analysis of 101 quantitative studies from 275 dissertations and 624 articles that were qualitative, theoretical and quantitative suggested correlations were low (< .5) and effect sizes that were weak (.2) to medium (.5). He concluded that the magnitude of these statistics is not sufficient to meet standards of predictive validity to support the use of the measures or the experiential methods for training at work."
  • As to reliability, the psychometric properties of the LSI have been the subject of criticism and controversy since the first version was issued in 1976. Freedman and Stumpf, for instance, argued (1978, 279) that ‘the test–retest reliabilities suggest that the LSI is rather volatile, unlike the theoretical constructs being investigated’.

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