Kolb's Learning Cycle

Kolb (1984) identified four phases of learning, each of which entails different processes and abilities in acquiring new information:

  1. Concrete experience (feeling): becoming fully involved in a new activity in order to understand it firsthand
  2. Reflective observation (watching): viewing experiences impartially or from many different perspectives
  3. Abstract conceptualization (thinking): creating concepts that integrate observations and experiences into theories and developing explanations or hypotheses that can be generalized
  4. Active Experimentation (doing): using theories to make decisions and solve problems and testing and elaborating generalizations in different situations
    (Source:  Tools for Teaching, Barbara Gross Davis)

According to Kolb, when students work through all four phases of the learning cycle for each main concept or idea, new information is more meaningful and retained longer. The four learning styles Kolb identifies are:

  1. Convergers: These learners rely on abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. They like to find concrete answers and move quickly to find solutions to problems and they are good at defining problems and making decisions.
  2. Divergers: These learners use concrete experience and reflective observation to generate a range of ideas and they excel at brainstorming and imagining alternatives.
  3. Assimilators: Learners who prefer this style rely on abstract conceptualization and reflective observation. They like to assimilate a wide range of information and recast it into a concise logical form and they are good at planning, developing theories and creating models.
  4. Accommodators: Often using trail and error intuitive strategies to solve problems, these learners are best at concrete experience and active experimentation. They also tend to take risks and plunge into problems.

Convergers tend to prefer solving problems that have definite answers. Divergers may benefit more from discussion groups and working collaboratively on projects. Assimilators would feel most comfortable observing, watching role-plays and simulations in class, and then generating concepts. Accommodators may prefer hand-on activities.

(Sources: Barbara Gross Davis, 1993; Claxton and Murrell, 1987; Erickson and Strommer, 1991; Fuhrmann and Grasha, 1983)

Clearly, a classroom of up to fifty people will likely have a wide variety of learning styles represented within the group. If the instruction can be tailored to regularly engage different learning styles without preferring one style to another, every student has a better chance of learning in a satisfying manner.