David Kolb And The Adult Learning Theory   Leave a comment

(There is a) need of forming a theory of experience
in order that education may be intelligently conducted upon
the basis of experience. ~ John Dewey
David Kolb is an American psychologist who is recognized for his contribution to the experiential learning theory. Simmons (2006) commented, “ELT advocate David Kolb called attention to the growing emphasis on experiential learning from the 1960s through the 1980s, and observed that such learning helps to seal the bond between the learner and the learned (para. p.132). Kolb (1984) wrote his findings in a book titled, Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development. It is within this book that it reveals the opinion that an individual will learn through personal discovery and action resulting in experience. The reason the theory is called experiential is due to its beginnings taken from other 20th century scholars for instance, theorist Lewin, James, Piaget, Dewey, and Freire noted in the literature creating a new perspective on learning as they encouraged hands-on and learner-centered approaches to learning. Dewey (1938) originally wrote about the benefits of experiential education explaining, “…there is an intimate and necessary relation between the processes of actual experience and education” (n. p.).

The experiential learning cycle defines learning as Grover & Stovall (2013) noted, “…the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (p. 86). The theory is based on the reflection of experiences and explains that learning is an experiential process. Kolb & Kolb (2005) noted, “Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience” (p. 194). He re-defined adult learning by his research in advancing the experiential learning theory creating the most influential of multilinear learning models (Kolb & Kolb, 2005, para. p. 195).

Akella (2001) reported on Kolb’s theory, “… building on the theoretical concepts of Dewey’s pragmatism, Lewin’s social psychology, Piaget’s cognitive development, Rogers’s client-centered therapy, Maslow’s humanism and Perls’s gestalt therapy, provides a comprehensive theory which offers the foundation for an approach to education and learning as a lifelong process (p.101). The experiential learning theory begins with four learning styles based on a four stage learning cycle starting with Concrete Experience (active involvement) followed by Reflective observation (reflecting on what has been experienced), Abstract conceptualization (making sense, interpreting resulting in understanding), and Active experimentation (act on what has been learned). A learner can begin at any stage, but the learner must follow the flowing sequence. The experiential learning theory is built on six propositions that are shared by Lewin, James, Piaget, Dewey, and Freire starting with learning is best conceived as a process not in terms of outcome, all learning is relearning, learning requires the resolution between dialectically opposed modes of adaption to the world, learning is a holistic process of adaption to the world, learning result from synergetic transactions between the person and the environment, and learning is the process of creating knowledge (Kolb & Kolb, 2005. para. p. 194).

In 1975 Roger & Kolb established a test instrument termed the learning style inventory. The Kolb (1985) Learning Style Inventory assists an educator to asses learning styles in order to adjust to the student’s style. This model conceptualizes the particular learning strengths of individual students and to match specific teaching styles with these strengths (Michael, Maypole & Day, 1998, para. p. 32). These findings became the concepts of concrete experience contrasted with abstract conceptualization and reflective observation as opposed to active experimentation. Akella, (2001) remarked, “The ELT model and learning style inventory are used to understand the various stages of learning and the different ways people receive and process new information” (p.100). Akella (2001) also noted, “The Learning Style Inventory Grid (LSI), describes four learner groups, divergers (learning through concrete experience and reflective observation), assimilators (favor abstract conceptualization and reflective observation), convergers (learn through abstract conceptualization and active experimentation, and accommodators (are skilled at concrete experience and active experimentation) (Akella, 2001, para. p. 102).
Kolb re-defined the experiential learning theory by introducing the learning cycle as he utilized Dewey’s theory as a foundation for his theoretical framework while incorporating James’s theory of consciousness is continuous, Lewin’s theory of action research and laboratory which is linked to Piaget’s cognitive developmental theory. According to Hickcox (1991), “Kolb’s learning cycle is a direct interpretation of four structural dimensions of Dewey’s, Lewin’s, and Piaget’s models” based on the holistic theory (para. abstract). As explained by David Kolb (1990), “…it is not his theory of experiential learning, as much as it is him giving voice to the learning theories of those before him. (Hickcox, 1991, p. 75). Kolb’s contribution to the adult learning theory begins with his model of experience that has opened the door to placing the focus on the learner rather than the educator. His models reveal how one learns, grows and develops in their own learning capabilities.

Kolb’s theory applies to my learning. I have eighteen years of experience in the field of accounting. As I reflect upon my role as an accountant my learning style was convergent connecting abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. My learning characteristics were unemotional, strong in practical applications, was able to narrow my interests as I focused on hypo-deductive reasoning on specific problems. Presently as an author and student I have moved into the learning style stages of diverger with learning characteristics of concreate experience and reflective observation. My learning stems from having a strong imaginative abilities, good at generating ideas and brainstorming, view thing with a different perspective, and interested in people. I do find my learning styles fluctuate depending on the situation and environment such as incorporating accommodator linked to concreate experience and active experimentation. This is seen through having strength in doing things, a risk taker, performs well when required to react to immediate circumstances and solves problems intuitively (Chapman, 2013, para.).
Kolb’s theory applies to my practice of contemporary social issues for adults in the LGBTIQQ community. In taking a holistic approach and focusing on being learner-centered I will be able to match my teaching style with an adult learner’s learning style (Kolb, Kolb, Passarelli & Sharma, 2014, para. p. 207). Learning to focus on reflection will help me to develop and learn from my experiences in order to teach adult learners about genders and our world.

This theory has made me aware that as an effective teacher I will be shaping learners experiences by environmental conditions, but that I will also recognize in the concrete what surroundings are conducive to having experiences that lead to growth as Dewey (1938) reported, “Above all, they should know how to utilize the surroundings, physical and social, that exist so as to extract from them all that they have to contribute to building up experiences that are worthwhile (para. n. p.).

Each adult learner will learn differently. It will be my responsibility as a teacher to first to be confident in my self-knowledge, second to understand the different learning styles in order to teach my students, and three, to remember I am a unique teacher and will educating unique adult learners.


Akella, D. (2001, March). Learning together: Kolb’s experiential theory and its application.
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Chapman, A. (2013). Kolb learning styles: David Kolb’s learning styles model and experiential
learning theory (ELT). Retrieved from http://infed.org/mobi/david-a-kolb-on-

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. Retrieved from

Grover, K., & Stovall, S. (2013). Student-centered teaching through experiential learning and its
assessment. NACTA Journal, 57(2), 86-87. Retrieved from

Hickcox, L. K. (1991). An historical review of kolb’s formulation of experiential learning theory.
Retrieved from, http://search.proquest.com/docview/303946806?accountid=8067.

Kolb, A. Y. & Kolb, D. A. (2005, June). Learning Styles and Learning Spaces: Enhancing
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Kolb, A. Y., Kolb, D. A., Passarelli, A. & Sharma, G. (2014). On Becoming an Experiential
Educator: The Educator Role Profile. Simulation & Gaming, 45(2) 204–234. Retrieved
from, http://sag.sagepub.com/content/45/2/204

Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experiences as the source of learning and
development. Retrieved from, http://academic.regis.edu/ed205/kolb.pdf

Raschick, M., Maypole, D. E., & Day, P. A. (1998). Improving field education through kolb
learning theory. Journal of Social Work Education, 34(1), 31. Retrieved from

Simmons, S. R. (2006). A Moving Force: A Memoir of Experiential Learning. Journal of
Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education, 35, p. 132-139. Retrieved from,
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Quote: Kolb, A. Y. & Kolb, D. A. (2005, June). Learning Styles and Learning Spaces:

Enhancing Experiential Learning in Higher Education. Academy of Management

Learning & Education, 4(2), 193. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40214287

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ObQ2DheGOKA

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