Experiential learning

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John Dewey's philosophy proposed that each experience builds upon previous experiences and influences the way future experiences will affect the learner. The role of the educator is to provide experiences that will provide learners with meaningful experiences that will enable the individual to contribute to society.

According to Kolb (2005) “Experiential learning theory (ELT) draws on the work of prominent twentieth century scholars who gave experience a central role in their theories of human learning and development-notably John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, Jean Piaget, William James, Carl Jung, Paulo Freire, Carl Rogers, and others-to develop a holistic model of the experiential learning process and a multi-linear model of adult development. The theory, described in detail in Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development (Kolb 1984), is built on six propositions that are shared by these scholars.”

  1. Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes.
  2. All learning is relearning. Learning is best facilitated by a process that draws out the students' beliefs and ideas about a topic so that they can be examined, tested, and integrated with new, more refined ideas.
  3. Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically opposed modes of adaptation to the world, i.e. reflection and action - and feeling and thinking.
  4. Learning is a holistic process of adaptation to the world, not just cognition but also feeling, perceiving, and behaving.
  5. Learning results from synergetic transactions between the person and the environment.
  6. Learning is the process of creating knowledge. (see constructivism)

Using the learning cycle proposed by Kurt Lewin and the philosophy of John Dewey, David Kolb developed the experiential learning model to describe the learning process of adult learners. The four stages are:

  • Concrete Experience
  • Reflective Observation
  • Abstract Conceptualisation
  • Active Experimentation

Completing this cycle leads to new experience, setting of a new cycle. The time frame for a cycle varies with the learner and scope of the learning experience. It should be noted that a learning cycle can begin at any point within the cycle. The cycle also spirals with each cycle building upon the previous one.

The model lead to the extension, by Kolb and Fry, of the four stages to designate "abilities" the 'ideal' learner should have in order to learn effectively. Most people tend to be stronger in one of these abilities to varying degrees. By placing people on a line along a concrete experience - abstract conceptualization axis and an active experimentation and reflective observation axis they came up with four learning styles to categorize types of learners.

ELT defines learning as "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience" (Kolb 1984: 41). The ELT model portrays two dialectically related modes of grasping experience-Concrete Experience (CE) and Abstract Conceptualization (AC)-and two dialectically related modes of transforming experience-Reflective Observation (RO) and Active Experimentation (AE). Experiential learning is a process of constructing knowledge that involves a creative tension among the four learning modes that is responsive to contextual demands. This process is portrayed as an idealized learning cycle or spiral where the learner "touches all the bases" -- experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting-in a recursive process that is responsive to the learning situation and what is being learned. Immediate or concrete experiences are the basis for observations and reflections. These reflections are assimilated and distilled into abstract concepts from which new implications for action can be drawn. These implications can be actively tested and serve as guides in creating new experiences. (Kolb 2005: 2).



David a. Kolb on experiential learning, The encyclopaedia of informal education online

  • Alice Y. Kolb and David A. Kolb (2005), The Kolb Learning Style Inventory, Version 3.1, 2005 Technical Specifications PDF
  • de Pedro, X, New method using Wikis and forums to assess individual contributions, WikiSym '07, PDF
  • Kolb, D.A. 1984. Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
  • Kolb, D. A., Boyatzis, R. E., and Mainemelis, C. (2002). Experiential learning theory: Previous research and new directions. In Sternberg R. J., and Zhang L. F., (Eds.). Perspectives on cognitive, learning, and thinking styles. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.