Understanding David Kolb’s Experiential Theory of Learning

    Posted: November 29, 2016

    David Kolb created an experiential learning model that offers  insight into the reflection process and the transformative learning environment. In his model, observations are gathered from concrete experiences, and then processed via examining, analyzing, interpreting, and reflecting from different points of view.

          Further reading:  Defining Critical Reflection

    Kolb defines the learning process as grounded in experience as opposed to the transmission of information: “[It is] the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.”

    Individuals find meaning through this process by considering the impact of their experiences, and by evaluating the dissonance that can surface during experiential learning situations. Ideally, students are constantly asking questions about their own thought processes, and strive to find trends or patterns in their experiences and behaviors to later evaluate and alter.

          Further Reading: How to Promote Global Leadership in the Classroom 

    As educators, we can help our students with this by guiding them through these learning stages. Here are three key points to consider about Kolb’s learning process when engaging your students (and yourself!) in experiential learning.

    1) It is a continuous cycle of learning and re-learning

    It consists of modifying old ideas and integrating new knowledge within existing knowledge. In this way, it is building upon a foundation of knowledge, adapting and adding as we go.

    2) Learning is not limited to only classroom settings

    In fact, it operates on the assumption that experiential learning is richest when taken beyond the classroom. This is important especially for service-learning, as much of the educational value of it comes from, literally, outside, and by “doing.”

          Further Reading: 4 Outcomes of Transformative Learning and How to Achieve Them

    3) As a process, it can apply to various stages of human growth

    This includes our movements through social and psychological development that likewise correspond to how we integrate into the world around us, more broadly as individuals and as citizens.

    Essentially, Kolb believes we can apply richer observation and evaluation of our thought processes to our life experiences in general, on a daily basis.

    Doing so makes life a classroom, and transformative learning an ongoing process of constantly – and intentionally – reconstructing our thought patterns and behaviors. This will ultimately expand our individual capacities for growth.

    Further reading (and quote taken from):

    Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey: Englewood Cliffs.

    Think a service learning course might be a good fit for you? GVI is a multi-award winning International Service Learning organization. Find out more about our international programs and see how students from around the world are making a difference.