In the last 30 or 40 years, a number of educators have proposed that teaching would be more effective when schools and faculty members take account of differences in students’ learning styles. David Kolb an American educationist focused on experiential learning by which he developed the Learning Styles Model (LSM) that enhances learning.
Experiential learning is a term used to describe the sort of learning undertaken by students who are given a chance to acquire and apply knowledge, skills and feelings in an immediate and relevant setting. Experiential learning thus involves a, ‘direct encounter with the phenomena being studied rather than merely thinking about the encounter, or only considering the possibility of doing something about it.’
David A. Kolb created his famous model out of four elements: concrete experience, observation and reflection, the formation of abstract concepts and testing in new situations. He represented these in the famous experiential learning circle that involves (1) concrete experience followed by (2) observation and experience followed by (3) forming abstract concepts followed by (4) testing in new situations. It is a model that appears time and again. Kolb (1975) argues that the learning cycle can begin at any one of the four points – and that it should really be approached as a continuous spiral from the educators and faculty point of focus.
According to Kolb, knowing an individual’s (student) learning styles enables learning to be oriented according to the preferred method. Having developed the model over many years prior, David Kolb published his learning styles model in 1984. The model gave rise to related terms such as Kolb’s experiential learning theory (ELT), and Kolb’s learning styles inventory (LSI). Most schools today understand the importance of using various teaching approaches / ways of learning to enhance education but may be unaware of the proponent behind the same and its rationale.
According to Kolb (1984), “learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping experience and transforming it.” He proposes that experiential learning has six main characteristic:
- 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 very 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 the process of creating knowledge that is the result of the transaction between social knowledge and personal knowledge
Kolb’s Learning Styles
The David Kolb learning styles model is based on the Experiential Learning Theory (ELT). According to Kolb’s model, the ideal learning process engages all four of the following modes in response to the situational demands faced by children and adults. In order for learning to be effective, all four of these approaches must be incorporated. As students may attempt to use all four approaches, however, they tend to develop strengths in one experience-grasping approach and one experience-transforming approach.
Kolb’s learning model is based on two continuums that form a quadrant:
- Processing Continuum: Here the students approach to a task, such as preferring to learn by doing or watching.
- Perception Continuum: This is the students’ emotional response, such as preferring to learn by thinking or feeling.
According to Kolb, the learning cycle involves four processes that must be present for learning to occur. The resulting learning styles are combinations of the individual’s preferred approaches. These learning styles are as follows:
- Diverging (Concrete experience) – Emphasizes the innovative and imaginative approach to doing things. Concrete situations are viewed from many perspectives and the child adapts by observation rather than by action. It is feeling-oriented. Cooperative group activities and brainstorming are usually preferred.
- Assimilating (Reflective observation) – Pulls a number of different observations and thoughts into an integrated whole. The ability to reason inductively results in creation of models. Students like to design projects and experiments.
- Converging (Abstract conceptualization) – Emphasizes the practical application of ideas and solving problems. Involves decision-making, problem-solving, and the practicable application of ideas.
- Accommodating (Active experimentation) – Uses trial and error rather than thought and reflection. Students with an accommodating preferred style are good at adapting to changing circumstances; trial-and-error manner, such as discovery learning.
Depending upon the situation or environment, your students as learners may enter the learning cycle at any point and will best learn the new task if they practice all four modes.
Listed below are a few examples:
Learning to ride a bicycle:
- Reflective observation – Thinking about riding and watching another person ride a bike
- Abstract conceptualization – Understanding the theory and having a clear grasp of the biking concept
- Concrete experience – Receiving practical tips and techniques from a biking expert
- Active experimentation – Leaping on the bike and have a go at it
- Abstract conceptualization – Listening to explanations on what it is
- Concrete experience – Going step-by-step through an equation
- Active experimentation – Practicing
- Reflective observation – Recording what the teacher has taught, gather one’s thoughts about algebraic equations in the notebook
How the Learning Styles Theory Impacts Education?
Kolb suggests that teachers should assess the learning styles of their students and adapt their classroom methods to best fit each student’s learning style, which is called the ‘meshing hypothesis.’
Thinking about learning styles can lead a teacher to think about different ways of teaching, and that is good. An effective teacher needs to vary techniques and to have an armamentarium of teaching methods and learning activities that can be drawn upon from moment to moment or from week to week to facilitate maximum learning for as many students as possible.
Methods of teaching, ways of representing information, and personality characteristics of teachers all affect learning and affect different learners differently. Learning styles impacts education in the following ways suggests Kolb…
Curriculum–Educators/faculty members must place emphasis on intuition, feeling, sensing, and imagination, in addition to the traditional skills of analysis, reason, and sequential problem solving.
Instruction–Teachers should design their instruction methods to connect with all four learning styles, using various combinations of experience, reflection, conceptualization, and experimentation. Instructors can introduce a wide variety of experiential elements into the classroom, such as sound, music, visuals, movement, experience, and even talking.
Assessment–Teachers should employ a variety of assessment techniques, focusing on the development of “whole brain” capacity and each of the different learning styles.
What may be worth noting is that the role of the educator/teacher is diverse and has several orientations. One important aspect is that of facilitator of student learning attempting to provide circumstances that will enable students to engage with their learning styles and construct for themselves their understandings and skills of the knowledge imparted. This role will interact with those of educator as learner himself/herself, a colleague and a community partner.