Course: Postgraduate Certificate - Tertiary Level Teaching
Module: How Students Learn - A Review of Some of the Main Theories
Page: 4c - Kolb's experiential cycle

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Kolb's experiential cycle

DA Kolb

D.A. Kolb

Research has shown that all ages of learner tend to learn much more effectively if they are actively involved in the learning process rather than simply being passive receivers of instruction. Thus, in recent years there has been a progressive move away from traditional, teacher-centred expository instruction towards student-centred experiential learning of one form or another. One of the most influential figures in this movement has been the American educationalist D.A. Kolb, who, in 1984 presented a cyclical model of experiential learning. This is shown in simplified form in Figure 3.

Figure 3 : Kolb's experiential learning cycle

Let us now see what each stage involves in practice.

Stage 1 : Planning the next learning experience. Kolb believes that the learner must be involved in the planning of the learning experience if experiential learning is to be fully effective. This can be done in a variety of ways, eg through action planning or preparing a learning contract. The former may involve nothing more than jotting down a set of things to do, or discussing the proposed procedure with the instructor. In either case, it is useful for individual learners to set their own objectives for inclusion in the action plan. If a formal learning contract is used, this should be drawn up using a standard check list, and should be agreed with the instructor before it is implemented.

Stage 2 : The actual learning experience. Kolb maintains that learners should become actively involved in the exploration of the learning experience if they are to get the most out of it. This can again involve drawing up a check list of things that the learner should try to do, eg active observation of what is going on, producing a log or record of some sort, and formulating appropriate questions.

Stage 3 : Reflecting on what happened. This is generally acknowledged to be the most difficult stage of the Kolb cycle, but is probably the most crucial of all. Students and practitioners should reflect on what they learned, how they learned it, why they learned it, whether the learning experience could have been more effective, and so on. Discussion of these reflections with one's instructor can prove extremely helpful, as can discussion with one's peers - either informally or at a formal debriefing session of some sort.

Stage 4 : Studying the theory. This is a stage that is very often left out of experiential learning programmes, but is again extremely important if the learners are to gain the maximum possible benefit from such programmes. The main object of this stage is to link the actual learning experience with the theories that were meant to underpin it, and/or with a greater understanding of the theories that the learning experience was designed to illustrate. Again, discussion with one's instructor can prove extremely helpful during this stage of the Kolb cycle, as can discussion with one's fellow learners.

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