The Kolb Model


Researcher and organizational psychologist David Kolb asserts that knowledge results from the interaction between theory and experience. He states that learning takes place in four stages in a cycle that continues the more one learns:



This learning cycle shows a model of learning through experience. For complete learning to occur, one must proceed through all four parts of the cycle. As interpreted by educators at Iowa State University, "Experiential learning takes place when a person is involved in an activity, looks back at it critically, determines what was useful or important to remember, and uses this information to perform another activity." What is important to remember for the purposes of PLA portfolio especially, is that experience alone does not create experiential learning. "The learning comes from the thoughts and ideas created as a result of the experience." (Iowa State University Extension,

Kolb finds that there are two dimensions to the learning process: grasping and transforming experience. We grasp experience by feeling/doing (concrete experience) and by thinking/theorizing (abstract conceptualization). We transform experience by watching/reflecting (observation/reflection) and by doing/applying (active experimentation). The learning style inventory developed by Kolb measures your preferred ways of grasping and transforming experience. For example, people whose learning style falls under the Diverger category grasp experience by feeling/doing and transform experience by watching/reflecting. A characteristic question of this learning type is "Why?"

People who learn in the Accomodator style, also grasp experience by feeling/doing but transform experience by doing/applying. A characteristic question of this type of learner is "What if?"

People who learn in the Assimilator style grasp experience by thinking/theorizing. They transform experience by watching/reflecting. These learners ask the characteristic question, "What?"

Those who learn in the Converger style grasp experience by thinking/theorizing. Convergers transform experience by doing/applying. These learners ask the question, "How?"

As David Kolb says, "Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience." As you proceed through the PLA portfolio process, think of his model as you analyze, reflect, and write, so that your PLA portfolio will demonstrate where and how you have created your knowledge through the experiences you went through. Your assessor will evaluate your PLA portfolio based on how well you perform the following functions having to do with the Kolb Model:

Discussion of Concrete Experience

Analysis of experience

Conceptual learning

Application of learning

Additionally you will be rated in areas of documentation and writing skills.

Every day we are faced with new learning situations, and through observation and reflection we form our own "rules" or principles about the world around us. We test these rules in similar situations to prove or disprove what we have learned. As you well know, learning doesnít occur just in the classroom. And these times of continuous change we live in call for continuous learning. By using Kolbís model as you reflect on past learning experiences, you will build a foundation for future learning. Rather than a reactive approach, lifelong learners adopt a discovery approach. In changing situations, lifelong learners ask the question, "What can I discover from this situation?" If you come from a discovery viewpoint, you can adapt to the constantly changing environment in which you live. It takes paying attention to new situations, observation and critical reflection, forming new learning and then testing that new learning in differing situations.

Infographic adapted from Colvin, J. (2006). Earn college credit for what you know (5th edition). Dubuque, Iowa, Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.

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