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Kolb's learning styles

 

Explanations > Learning Theory > Kolb's learning styles

Preference dimensions | Four learning styles | So what

 

David Kolb has defined one of the most commonly used models of learning. As in the diagram below, it is based on two preference dimensions, giving four different styles of learning.

 

ACCOMODATORS  

Concrete
Experience

  DIVERGERS
   

^

Perception

|

   

Active
Experimentation

<------

---- Processing ----

------>

Reflective
Observation

   

|

|

V

   

CONVERGERS

 

Abstract conceptualization

  ASSIMILATORS

 

Preference dimensions

Perception dimension

In the vertical Perception dimension, people will have a preference along the continuum between:

  • Concrete experience: Looking at things as they are, without any change, in raw detail.
  • Abstract conceptualization: Looking at things as concepts and ideas, after a degree of processing that turns the raw detail into an internal model.

People who prefer concrete experience will argue that thinking about something changes it, and that direct empirical data is essential. Those who prefer abstraction will argue that meaning is created only after internal processing and that idealism is a more real approach.

This spectrum is very similar to the Jungian scale of Sensing vs. Intuiting.

Processing dimension

In the horizontal Processing dimension, people will take the results of their Perception and process it in preferred ways along the continuum between:

  • Active experimentation: Taking what they have concluded and trying it out to prove that it works.
  • Reflective observation: Taking what they have concluded and watching to see if it works.

Four learning styles

The experimenter, like the concrete experiencer, takes a hands-on route to see if their ideas will work, whilst the reflective observers prefer to watch and think to work things out.

Divergers (Concrete experiencer/Reflective observer)

Divergers take experiences and think deeply about them, thus diverging from a single experience to multiple possibilities in terms of what this might mean. They like to ask 'why', and will start from detail to constructively work up to the big picture.

They enjoy participating and working with others but they like a calm ship and fret over conflicts. They are generally influenced by other people and like to receive constructive feedback.

They like to learn via logical instruction or hands-one exploration with conversations that lead to discovery.

Convergers (Abstract conceptualization/Active experimenter)

Convergers think about things and then try out their ideas to see if they work in practice. They like to ask 'how' about a situation, understanding how things work in practice. They like facts and will seek to make things efficient by making small and careful changes.

They prefer to work by themselves, thinking carefully and acting independently. They learn through interaction and computer-based learning is more effective with them than other methods.

Accomodators (Concrete experiencer/Active experimenter)

Accommodators have the most hands-on approach, with a strong preference for doing rather than thinking. They like to ask 'what if?' and 'why not?' to support their action-first approach. They do not like routine and will take creative risks to see what happens.

They like to explore complexity by direct interaction and learn better by themselves than with other people. As might be expected, they like hands-on and practical learning rather than lectures.

Assimilators (Abstract conceptualizer/Reflective observer)

Assimilators have the most cognitive approach, preferring to think than to act. The ask 'What is there I can know?' and like organized and structured understanding.

They prefer lectures for learning, with demonstrations where possible, and will respect the knowledge of experts. They will also learn through conversation that takes a logical and thoughtful approach.

They often have a strong control need and prefer the clean and simple predictability of internal models to external messiness.

The best way to teach an assimilator is with lectures that start from high-level concepts and work down to the detail. Give them reading material, especially academic stuff and they'll gobble it down. Do not teach through play with them as they like to stay serious.

So what?

So design learning for the people you are working with. If you cannot customize the design for specific people, use varied styles of delivery to help everyone learn. It can also be useful to describe this model to people, both to help them understand how they learn and also so they can appreciate that some of your delivery will for others more than them (and vice versa).

See also

Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential Learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

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