Kolb, David A. - Experiential Learning Theory

The Structure of Concern Project compares many theoretical models from many disciplines to the Adizes PAEI model, arguing that they must all be reflecting the same underlying phenomenon. One concern structure model is described below.

The learning style theory associated with David Kolb is one of the best known models of the experiential learning process (Kolb, 1984; 1981; 1976; Kolb et al. 1971). Experiential learning is represented as an integrated process which starts with concrete experience. This experience supports further observation and reflection. Reflective observation provides the basis for the deduction of new behavioural actions to try out. This new action then provides the basis for new concrete experience, continuing the cycle. (It is interesting to compare this model, based on early work by the Gestalt psychologist Kurt Lewin, with Nonaka and Taeguchi’s model of knowledge management, in which the learning process is represented quite differently.)


In this model, two bipolar dimensions of cognitive growth are proposed: the active - reflective dimension and the abstract - concrete dimension. The active - reflective dimension ranges between direct physical participation at its active pole to detached observation at its reflective pole. The abstract - concrete dimension focuses more on the object of experience than the subject of experience, indicating whether the focus is on tangible objects at one extreme or theoretical concepts at another.

Kolb (Kolb, 1981) later went on to suggest four types of learners associated with the four stages of learning. There are listed below in PAEI order:

P – Convergers
A – Assimilators
E – Divergers
I – Accommodators

P – Convergers: From Abstract Concepts to Active Experiments
Convergers, in the abstract conceptualization and active experimentation space, solve problems and apply ideas. Their approach is pragmatic, deductive and unemotional. They prefer to work with things instead of people. By working too fast and leaping to conclusions, they sometimes end up solving the wrong problems.

A – Assimilators: From Reflective Observation to Abstract Concepts
Assimilators, positioned between reflective observation and abstract conceptualization, prefer defining problems and formulating theories. Their approach is predominantly rational. Once they have built their inductive model, they focus on it rather than ongoing experience. It may thus begin to diverge from experience, losing its practical application.

E – Divergers: From Concrete Experience to Reflective Observation
Divergers are most comfortable between the concrete experience and reflective observation stages. They excel at detecting patterns, recognizing problems and generating ideas. They are imaginative, empathic and understanding, but can be indecisive in the face of alternatives, wanting to explore them all.

I - Accommodators: From Active Experiments to Concrete Experience
Accommodators operate in an overwhelmingly interactive mode. They are most comfortable in the active experimentation and concrete experience space, implementing plans and engaging in new activity. They rely more on feeling than on reason, and they learn by personal involvement. They are quick to engage any challenge, and prefer to learn by trial and error. They are good risk-takers, but poor at prioritizing tasks, sometimes getting absorbed in seemingly pointless improvements to already complete tasks, merely to enjoy the pleasures of interaction.

1. Kolb, D. A. (1976). “Management and learning processes.” California Management Review, 18(3), 21-31.
2. Kolb, D. A. (1981). “Learning styles and disciplinary differences.” In A. Chickering (Editor), The Modern American College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
3. Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experimental Learning. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
4. Kolb, D. A., Rubin, I. M., & McIntyre, J. M. (1971). Organizational Psychology: An Experimental Approach. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.
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