Experiential Learning

David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory: An Introduction

Known as the father of Experiential Learning Theory (ELT), American educational theorist David A. Kolb’s groundbreaking work Experiential Learning: Experience as The Source of Learning and Development (1984) moved educational research and practice into a new direction, focusing on the central role that experience plays in the learning process. His work is influenced by giants in intelligence psychology and pedagogy like John Dewey, Kurt Lewin and Jean Piaget; each of whom emphasises the importance of learning from concrete experience, the ability to develop that knowledge over time (the idea and possibility of growing one’s mind versus the view that intelligence is fixed), as well as the transformation of impulses, feelings and desires into goal-oriented, higher order learning.

Kolb’s fundamental idea is that learning occurs in a cycle, and learners learn best when their learning experience touches on every part of this cycle. His theoretical oeuvre has developed extensively to include other tools such as the Learning Style Inventory (LSI), Adaptive Style Inventory (ASI), Learning Skills Profile (LSP), and the concept of Learning Space, most of which are attempts at creating typological tools for assessing learning preferences.

1. Focus Article

This article gives a great overview of what ELT is, and how it works: Using Experiential Learning Theory to Promote Student Learning and Development in Programs of Education Abroad.

Alternatively, you can find a summary of useful tips and pointers extracted from the article here.

Key points:

  • p.2–8. Quick and concise introductions to Kolb’s quintessential set of theoretical instruments—the Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) and the ELT Cycle, Learning Style, Learning Flexibility and Learning Space.
  • p.9–14. These pages share an educational perspective with groundings from the ELT, with suggestions on how to improve teaching as well as facilitate learning. They include the sharing of principles and strategies for becoming an Experiential Educator; an exposition on shifting between the 4 different roles an educator can play for his class; and ways of promoting ownership of the learning process.

2. Supplementary Materials

Carol Dweck’s theories about how learners’ beliefs about their abilities and self-worth affect their capacity to learn, have been monumental in driving education research and informing learner-centric pedagogies.  Below are a set of materials offering the essential ideas of Dweck.

David Kolb’s candid views on teaching and learning are crisp, insightful and digestible in a 6 page interview below; for those interested in evaluations and testing of the ELT, the item following that is a useful read.

3. Additional Materials

The Experiential Learning Resource List compiles a set of extra resources (articles and videos) if you are interested in learning more about Kolb’s work on Experiential Learning or Dweck’s work on self-theories.