Sunday, May 1, 2011

Kolb learning styles model

Yesterday I went to a workshop on accommodating different learning styles while teaching kids and youth. It was good stuff. One model we heard about was that of Kolb. It's pretty cool.

This is the basic cycle of learning. We experience something, reflect on it, theorize about it, apply those theories... then start again. For learning to happen, the whole cycle needs to occur

There are two dimensions to the learning process: 1. grasping the experiencing and 2. transforming the experience. We grasp experience by feeling/doing (concrete experience) and by thinking/theorizing (abstract conceptualization). All of us will have a preference for grasping our experience either concretely or abstractly. We transform experience by watching/reflecting (observation/reflection) and by doing/applying (active experimentation). Again, we'll each have a preference for one of these. Kolb's learning style inventory measures our preferred ways of grasping and transforming experience, and categorizes us as an accomodator, a diverger, a converger or an assimilator.

There's a very quick 5 question test you can do over here. I'm an Accomodator.
ACCOMMODATOR.- Those with highest scores in Concrete Experience (CE) and Active Experimentation (AE). Accommodators are polar opposites form Assimilators. Their greatest strengths lie in carrying out plans and experiments and involving themselves in new experiences. They are risk-takers and excel in those situations requiring quick decisions and adaptations. In situations where a theory or plan does not fit the "facts," they tend to discard it and try something else. They often solve problems in an intuitive trial and error manner, relying heavily on other people for information. Accomodators are at ease with people but may be seen as impatient and "pushy." Their educational background is often in practical fields such as business or education. They prefer “action-oriented" jobs such as nursing, teaching, marketing, or sales.

I think Andrew is a converger.
CONVERGER - Those with highest scores in Abstract Conceptualization (AC) and Active Experimentation (AE). This person's greatest strength lies in the practical application of ideas. A person with this style seems to do best in those situations where there is a single correct answer or solution to a question or problem and can focus on specific problems or situations. Research on this style of learning shows that Convergers are relatively unemotional, preferring to deal with things rather than people. They often choose to specialize in the physical sciences, engineering, and computer sciences.

If you spend heaps of time reflecting and then theorizing (and you don't seem to get much else done) you might be an assimilator.
ASSIMILATOR - Those with highest scores in Abstract Conceptualization (AC) and Reflective Observation (RO). This person's strength lies in the ability to understand and create theories. A person with this learning style excels in inductive reasoning and in synthesizing various ideas and observations into an integrated whole. This person, like the converger, is less interested in people and more concerned with abstract concepts, but is less concerned with the practical use of theories. For this person it is more important that the theory be logically sound and precise; in a situation where a theory or plan does not fit the "facts," the Assimilator would be likely to disregard or re-examine the facts. As a result, this learning style is more characteristic of the basic sciences and mathematics rather than the applied sciences. Assimilators often choose careers involving research and planning. 

Otherwise, you could be a diverger.
DIVERGER - Those with highest scores in Concrete Experience (CE) and Reflective Observation (RO). Divergers have characteristics opposite from convergers. Their greatest strengths lie in creativity and imaginative ability. A person with this learning style excels in the ability to view concrete situations from many perspectives and generate many ideas such as in a "brainstorming" session. Research shows that Divergers are interested in people and tend to be imaginative and emotional. They tend to be interested in the arts and often have humanities or liberal arts backgrounds. Counselors, organizational development specialists, and personnel managers tend to be characterized by this learning style. 

What are you?

Why does it matter? Different learners will have different kinds of questions that work for them. Typically divergers will ask 'Why?', accomodators will ask 'What if?', assimilators will ask 'What?' and convergers will ask 'How?' So knowing learning styles will help us target questions better.

This learning style stuff also matters because we tend to get kind of stuck in the part of the cycle where we fit most comfortably. In order for learning to be complete, we need to experience, reflect, theorize and experiment. We'll each need a push in different places to make this happen.

What do you think?


  1. An assimilator over here. And not at all surprised by that result...
    I do agree with the bit about getting stuck in the cycle where we feel most comfortable. I find that I have to make a conscious effort to experiment with doing things in different ways. It's not that I don't enjoy learning about different approaches to doing things (or even trying those new ways out) but that is where I usually need a very big push.

  2. Cool. It says I'm an assimilator too. Oddly enough, I do have a career in research and planning!

  3. This is dumb. I got 20 for AC and 13 for AE.

    Apparently I'm a Converger. But I hate physical sciences, engineering, and computer sciences. I'm emotional. And I prefer to deal with people over things any day.

    Having said that, I scored 12 for CE. And there's no category for AC and CE people.


  4. Now now, Al! It's a poor workman who blames his tools!

    You're either an accomodator or a diverger, I would think. Which description fits?

  5. No, Alistair, you're just a well-rounded individual!

    AC (20), AE (13). But it's a lousy test. Apparently, research has shown that people who almost always rank their emotional engagement low in their learning are people who tend to be unemotional. Well, circular diagrams deserve circular arguments!

    I've seen a few different learning models, but they all revolve (pun intended) around learning cycles of various sorts, I suspect largely because it's not cool to say one style of learning is better than another. Hey, it's bad enough that different styles end up in differently-paid career paths without rubbing it in...

    The value is not in classifying people (throw out the testing, I say!) so much as in recognising that there are different processes going on at different times for different people (or sometimes the same person). You get the same implications for teaching, without the need for naff psych tests!

    So, there's some abstract conceptualisation for you! And notice how active I was too...

  6. I'm probably an assimilator. But I got 5 for RO.


  7. A five question test has got to be statistically suspect. But on the upside it gives you an answer in one minute and that's good, right?

  8. I couldn't decide on answers for any of the questions. Now I have no idea of what type of learner I am. ;) I'm bad at taking quizes and filling in form.

    Four little catategories are too small to fit the variety of human experience.