In my last post I signed off with the promise I would return to “unpick” David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle. So here goes…

 I was introduced to Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle on a Train the Trainer course quite some years back. Distinct from learning styles (or how we prefer to learn) the Cycle describes the process of learning, which is composed of 4 inter-connected stages:

  • Concrete experience we encounter, see, or do;
  • Reflective observation we review (feelings, thoughts, reactions, other viewpoints)
  • Abstract conceptualisation we make sense of, place in context, relate to or fit into (or perhaps even replace) our existing touch-points (e.g. frameworks, systems, mind-maps)  
  • Active experimentation where we apply ideas, skills, methods, testing them, adopting and adapting them…

 For Kolb, the learning process involves learners “touching all the bases” in the Cycle. 

Where Learning has some substance, the cycle is a repeating one (assuming that getting better at stuff is our thing) as learned knowledge and skills are supplemented with experience, which in turn widens and deepens our understanding, leading to further change. AKA Continuing Improvement, in a nutshell.

Kolb’s Learning Styles

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle is accompanied by 4 distinct Learning Styles or Types; Diverging, Converging, Assimilating and Accommodating.

While many people are familiar with Honey and Mumford’s “Activist, Reflector, Theorist, Pragmatist” learning styles, Kolb’s Types are less well known, although ironically enough, Kolb’s work was a major influence on the development of the Honey and Mumford model.

Kolb’s Learning Styles are each derived from a combination of two elements in the Learning Cycle.


Diverging Learners favour watching (concrete experience) and feeling (reflective observation)

  • Leans toward; gathering information, hearing a range of views, creatively solving problems, generating ideas, using imagination, emotional over rational
  • Common traits include; working well in groups, good interpersonal skills, “people-person”, artistic, open-minded

The Diverging Learner is (in Honey and Mumford’s terms), the Reflector

Assimilating Learners favour watching (reflective observation) and thinking (abstract conceptualisation)

  • Leans toward; logical, reasoned concepts, accuracy, clear explanations, organising structuring and sequencing information and data, rational over emotional
  • Common traits; Ideas and theories orientation (less interested in people), liking lectures, analysis, thinking time, reading and references

The Assimilating Learner is (in Honey and Mumford’s terms), the Theorist

Converging Learners favour doing (active experimentation) and thinking (abstract conceptualisation)

  • Leans toward; practical and applied problem solving, finding solutions to technical challenges
  • Common traits; task and process rather than people-orientation, demonstration, simulations, relevant scenarios

The Converging Learner is (in Honey and Mumford’s terms), the Pragmatist

Accommodating Learners favour doing (concrete experience) and feeling (active experimentation)

  • Leans toward; practical hands-on experiences, fresh and varied challenges, acting and enacting,
  • Common traits; more intuition than logic, content leaving others to reflect and analyse

 The Accommodating Learner is (in Honey and Mumford’s terms), the Activist

You may have noticed the presence of feel, think, do, watch in the image above…

These come from the third key element in Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory, the processing and perception continuums

  • Perception Continuum; feeling or thinking
  • Processing Continuum; watching or doing

 The positions that we plot on these two continuums indicate how we prefer to engage with learning; are we more rational or emotional, and do we prefer to watch or do?

 While Kolb’s work has its detractors (as does every other educationalist who has ever offered up a theory, model or concept!), its great benefits are that it provides a more complete concept of learning from which to design and deliver effective learning interventions that honour BOTH different learning styles and preferences AND the learning process…

Which for pretty much any meaningful workplace or practice-based learning I can think of is a necessary one to engage in fully if learning is to lead to real and lasting change.

 Next up, multiple intelligence, watch this space…


Sources and Resources

David Kolb’s learning styles model and experiential learning theory (ELT); Alan Chapman at

Kolb – Learning Styles; Saul McLeod at

The Experiential Learning Cycle; James Atherton at

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