Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle: in Theory and in Practice

“We are…the learning species, and our survival depends on our ability to adapt not only in the reactive sense of fitting into the physical and social worlds, but in the proactive sense of creating and shaping those worlds.”


Quote: David Kolb, Experiential Learning (1984, p. 2).


David Kolb’s “Experiential Learning Cycle” (1984) is a model that is still widely applied today, particularly in the field of adult education and training. In a way, it resonates. Particularly once our formal education is over, we often – as adults – tend to feel that we learn best from experience. We develop theories about the world from that experience.

Driving lesson (GiLE)

Image from Unsplashed.com by Orkun Azap

However, Kolb is not without his critics and I would argue that we should pay careful attention to what they have to say. Hence, this article will first outline Kolb’s model. Next, it will examine the critics’ arguments. Finally, I will draw conclusions from a trainer’s perspective. 


Kolb’s model


In its original form, Kolb’s experiential learning cycle is a circle:

First comes the “concrete experiencing” of events or experiences. Reflecting on that brings us to the state of “abstract conceptualisation”. These abstract concepts in their turn guide a further stage of “active experimentation”, after which the cycle begins all over again. As the learner moves through the cycle, they change “from actor to observer” and from “specific involvement to general analytic detachment” (Kolb 1984).


Kolb also compares his experiential learning cycle to Piaget’s sequence of developmental stages (Piaget 1971, cited by Moon 1999:25). Both models are underpinned by processes of assimilation (intake of information from the environment) and accommodation (modification of what is already known by the learner in the light of new learning).


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Cartwright, L. (2011). How consciously reflective are you? In: McGregor, D. & L. Cartwright (eds.) (2011) Developing Reflective Practice: A Guide For Beginning Teachers. McGraw-Hill: Open University Press. Chapter 4.


Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.


Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology. Routledge.


Moon, J. (1999). Reflection in Learning and Professional Development: Theory and Practice. Taylor & Francis. 


Philip Jeffrey Saxon

Article Writer & Content Contributor

Meet the team: A picture of Philip Saxon.

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The opinions expressed in this article/publication are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of GiLE or its members.

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