Kolb Learning Styles Essay

There have been several different ideas and developments into learning theories and how individuals perceive and apply new knowledge, but one of the most explored ideas came from Peter Honey and Alan Mumford.

Their learning system was developed during the 1970s and was a variation on the David Kolb learning theory.

Both were based on four key elements of learning, but where as Kolb’s system was to follow a learning cycle by starting at one point or stage and then progressing along a set learning path, Honey and Mumford’s approach was to identify the learning preferences of an individual learner with a view to structuring learning materials and experiences around that preferred learning style or styles.

The idea was that a preferred learning style or a combination of the four main styles would result in the learner being able to absorb, understand and apply new information more quickly and effectively, rather than the ‘one style fits all’ approach, such as theory only or practical only work sessions.

Honey and Mumford’s four main learning style preferences can be briefly described under the following four headers, along with one or two positive and negative factors.

Activist-Now, let me get on with it!

Activists like to experience things straight away. They are enthusiastic and like a challenge when working with others through new problems and are generally open minded and are eager to contribute during group discussions.

They do not like repetition and struggle when left to their own devices.
Lectures and factual information with little or no input or discussion are also problematic and precise instructions can be difficult to follow.

Reflectors-Wait, sum-up look before you leap.

Reflectors like to sum-up a situation and view a problem or discussion from various perspectives before making or expressing any opinions they may have without the feeling of being rushed. They can be initially quiet within a group and like the time to be able to sit back and absorb information and listen to others before digesting it and offering their own views.

They do not operate well under strict or rushed conditions and shy away from leading group discussions or activities. Direct questioning without time to think would also cause a negative learning environment for someone whose learning style is that of a reflector. Theorist-What is this for? What is the main goal? Methodical

Theorists are methodical and prefer to work in a structured and logical fashion that requires some application of existing knowledge. They will often view things in black and white, yet are able to tackle new ideas without the need for an immediate reference to a relevant topic. Questioning of ideas and theories and how to develop them are also paramount to a theorist.

They do not like to work in an unstructured fashion with no set goal or conclusion. Instructions must be clear and if involved with a group activity, then they should be working with people of a similar learning style.

e.g. Reflector and Theorist

Pragmatists-practical and open to new ideas

Pragmatists work well when they have a direct link to a relevant situation either at work or within their personal lives. They are open to new ideas
and like to work practically from a peer or model example (copying). Clear reasoning behind tasks and activities are an advantage.

They do not work or learn effectively if there is no clear advantage to a task or information. They require a starting point or reference and need a variety of learning methods, such as both theory and practical.

Here are some practical examples of these four different learning styles.


Martin is a 16 year old guitar player who is enthusiastic when working in a performance group, is reasonably open minded to ideas and has good communication skills. He does however; tend to over shadow quieter members of the group during discussions and struggles when things have to be slowed down and problem solving strategies put in place. He also finds it difficult to focus when asked to work on repeated sections of material. This has also translated into his individual practice, as to be able to perform certain sections of songs such as a complicated solo; he has had to work on repetitive technical exercises to improve. He finds this boring and this has hindered his progress and to some extent, his enthusiasm to better himself when returning to familiar problem areas.

Solution: Develop a variety of exercises to improve the same problematic technique and apply to a short rotated practice routine.


Andy is a 22year old studying music technology. He is quite quiet and does little to drawn attention to himself when working in a group. He is happy to take a back seat when a group discussion is taking place and will often only contribute when asked by the tutor. Andy struggles with some aspects of practical class work due to the large number of students working around only one or two work stations and having to complete tasks within a set time. This can be a problem and has had a negative effect on his input during
these sessions. Because he often waits for others to give opinions, he has in the past being accused of not thinking for himself. Only when he offers a different perspective to a problem, do others realise he is just thinking of alternatives to the task in hand.

Solution: Try to organise practical tasks as individual or in smaller groups with less emphasis on time restraints. Encourage contributions and alternative views when having a class room discussion and try to bring his input forward before everyone else has made input. Use question and answer techniques in smaller groups to offer opportunity for feedback from all learners.


Steve is a 19 year old guitar player and although he was reasonably competent on his instrument he did initially struggle to progress within a group performance environment when first starting the course. The problem seemed to be that the rest of his group were quite happy to just ‘go with the flow’ and experiment with new ideas even if there was no obvious or instant result. He however, needed to work in a more structured fashion and this caused some drawbacks during rehearsals. There was also a lack of enthusiasm from Steve during these sessions and this bought about some interesting discussions and views to communication within a rehearsal space.

Solution: Awareness of others needs within a group environment through discussion and question and answer sessions. Implement different approaches to learning and experimenting with new materials, such as rehearsal planning, song study and breakdown and use of recourses such as white board and smart board. A mixture of different techniques had a positive result on the group as a whole.

Steve has since developed into an important and on occasion extremely influential member of his group, demonstrating wider communication skills and certain leadership qualities.


Chelsey is a 17 year old bass player who has only being playing for 2 years and although she is extremely enthusiastic and eager to learn, she has struggled when trying to tackle theory based topics. When questioned about this it became clear that she could not see the link or relevance between the theory and practical topics being covered during various session on her timetable and that she would find it easier if she could see how these topics were being covered in a practical sense.

Solution: After discussing this with Chelsey and her bass tutor, it was decided that she would take any theoretical topic into her instrumental sessions and discuss practical applications for them. This would involve some discussion followed by a practical demonstration then application by Chelsey.

Applications to real life situation/uses for the Honey and Mumford learning styles.

Initial assessment

Key skills-Numeracy and Literacy

Honey and Mumford-1992-Learning Styles

Vark-2006-Learning Styles

References and useful web sites.


Questionnaires and other information


Learning cycle and presentation including diagrams and some dates.


Starts with Kolb then moves onto H&M


David Kolb Learning styles


“The Birmingham Grid for Learning has a fascinating on-line activity, comprising 40 questions aimed to help individuals find out how they prefer to learn. Based on the work of Gardner, the ‘Multiple intelligences’ activity is a simple-to-use questionnaire that, when completed, draws a wheel of your preferred learning styles”.

12 Learning styles


Teaching resources

Kolb - Learning Styles

Saul McLeod, updated 2017

David Kolb published his learning styles model in 1984 from which he developed his learning style inventory.

Kolb's experiential learning theory works on two levels: a four-stage cycle of learning and four separate learning styles.  Much of Kolb’s theory is concerned with the learner’s internal cognitive processes.

Kolb states that learning involves the acquisition of abstract concepts that can be applied flexibly in a range of situations.  In Kolb’s theory, the impetus for the development of new concepts is provided by new experiences.

“Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience”

(Kolb, 1984, p. 38).

The Experiential Learning Cycle

Kolb's experiential learning style theory is typically represented by a four-stage learning cycle in which the learner 'touches all the bases':

    1.Concrete Experience - (a new experience or situation is encountered, or a reinterpretation of existing experience).

    2.Reflective Observation of the new experience. (of particular importance are any inconsistencies between experience and understanding).

    3.Abstract Conceptualization (reflection gives rise to a new idea, or a modification of an existing abstract concept).

    4.Active Experimentation (the learner applies them to the world around them to see what results).

Effective learning is seen when a person progresses through a cycle of four stages: of (1) having a concrete experience followed by (2) observation of and reflection on that experience which leads to (3) the formation of abstract concepts (analysis) and generalizations (conclusions) which are then (4) used to test hypothesis in future situations, resulting in new experiences.

Kolb (1974) views learning as an integrated process with each stage being mutually supportive of and feeding into the next. It is possible to enter the cycle at any stage and follow it through its logical sequence.

However, effective learning only occurs when a learner can execute all four stages of the model. Therefore, no one stage of the cycle is effective as a learning procedure on its own.

Learning Styles

Kolb's learning theory (1974) sets out four distinct learning styles, which are based on a four-stage learning cycle (see above). Kolb explains that different people naturally prefer a certain single different learning style. Various factors influence a person's preferred style.  For example, social environment, educational experiences, or the basic cognitive structure of the individual.

Whatever influences the choice of style, the learning style preference itself is actually the product of two pairs of variables, or two separate 'choices' that we make, which Kolb presented as lines of an axis, each with 'conflicting' modes at either end:

A typical presentation of Kolb's two continuums is that the east-west axis is called the Processing Continuum (how we approach a task), and the north-south axis is called the Perception Continuum (our emotional response, or how we think or feel about it).

Kolb believed that we cannot perform both variables on a single axis at the same time (e.g., think and feel). Our learning style is a product of these two choice decisions.

It's often easier to see the construction of Kolb's learning styles in terms of a two-by-two matrix. Each learning style represents a combination of two preferred styles. The matrix also highlights Kolb's terminology for the four learning styles; diverging, assimilating, and converging, accommodating:

Active Experimentation (Doing)Reflective Observation (Watching)
Concrete Experience (Feeling)Accommodating (CE/AE)Diverging (CE/RO)
Abstract Conceptualization (Thinking)Converging (AC/AE)Assimilating (AC/RO)

Learning Styles Descriptions

Knowing a person's (and your own) learning style enables learning to be orientated according to the preferred method. That said, everyone responds to and needs the stimulus of all types of learning styles to one extent or another - it's a matter of using emphasis that fits best with the given situation and a person's learning style preferences.

Here are brief descriptions of the four Kolb learning styles:

Diverging(feeling and watching - CE/RO)

These people are able to look at things from different perspectives. They are sensitive. They prefer to watch rather than do, tending to gather information and use imagination to solve problems. They are best at viewing concrete situations from several different viewpoints.

Kolb called this style 'diverging' because these people perform better in situations that require ideas-generation, for example, brainstorming. People with a diverging learning style have broad cultural interests and like to gather information.

They are interested in people, tend to be imaginative and emotional, and tend to be strong in the arts. People with the diverging style prefer to work in groups, to listen with an open mind and to receive personal feedback.

Assimilating(watching and thinking - AC/RO)

The Assimilating learning preference involves a concise, logical approach. Ideas and concepts are more important than people. These people require good clear explanation rather than a practical opportunity. They excel at understanding wide-ranging information and organizing it in a clear, logical format.

People with an assimilating learning style are less focused on people and more interested in ideas and abstract concepts.  People with this style are more attracted to logically sound theories than approaches based on practical value.

This learning style is important for effectiveness in information and science careers. In formal learning situations, people with this style prefer readings, lectures, exploring analytical models, and having time to think things through.

Converging (doing and thinking - AC/AE)

People with a converging learning style can solve problems and will use their learning to find solutions to practical issues. They prefer technical tasks, and are less concerned with people and interpersonal aspects.

People with a converging learning style are best at finding practical uses for ideas and theories. They can solve problems and make decisions by finding solutions to questions and problems.

People with a converging learning style are more attracted to technical tasks and problems than social or interpersonal issues. A converging learning style enables specialist and technology abilities. People with a converging style like to experiment with new ideas, to simulate, and to work with practical applications.

Accommodating(doing and feeling - CE/AE)

The Accommodating learning style is 'hands-on,' and relies on intuition rather than logic. These people use other people's analysis, and prefer to take a practical, experiential approach. They are attracted to new challenges and experiences, and to carrying out plans.

They commonly act on 'gut' instinct rather than logical analysis. People with an accommodating learning style will tend to rely on others for information than carry out their own analysis. This learning style is prevalent within the general population.

Educational Implications

Both Kolb's (1984) learning stages and cycle could be used by teachers to critically evaluate the learning provision typically available to students, and to develop more appropriate learning opportunities.

Educators should ensure that activities are designed and carried out in ways that offer each learner the chance to engage in the manner that suits them best. Also, individuals can be helped to learn more effectively by the identification of their lesser preferred learning styles and the strengthening of these through the application of the experiential learning cycle.

Ideally, activities and material should be developed in ways that draw on abilities from each stage of the experiential learning cycle and take the students through the whole process in sequence.


Kolb, D. A. (1976). The Learning Style Inventory: Technical Manual. McBer & Co, Boston, MA.

Kolb, D. A. (1981). Learning styles and disciplinary differences. The modern American college, 232-255.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Kolb, D. A., & Fry, R. E. (1974). Toward an applied theory of experiential learning. MIT Alfred P. Sloan School of Management.

Kolb, D. A., Rubin, I. M., & McIntyre, J. M. (1984). Organizational psychology: readings on human behavior in organizations. Prentice Hall.

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2017). Kolb - learning styles. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html

Was this article useful? Please help us improve by giving feedback below

One thought on “Kolb Learning Styles Essay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *