kolb.jpgDavid A. Kolb is Professor of Organizational Behavior in the Weatheread School of Management. He joined the School in 1976. Born in 1939, Kolb received his Batchelor of Arts from Knox College in 1961, his MA from Harvard in 1964 and his PhD from Harvard in 1967. Besides his work on experiential learning, David A. Kolb is also known for his contribution to thinking around organizational behaviour (1995a; 1995b). He has an interest in the nature of individual and social change, experiential learning, career development and executive and professional education. 

   David A. Kolb (with Roger Fry) created his famous model out of four elements: concrete experience, observation and reflection, the formation of abstract concepts and testing in new situations. He represented these in the famous experiential learning circle (after Kurt Lewin):


Kolb and Fry (1975) argue that the learning cycle can begin at any one of the four points - and that it should really be approached as a continuous spiral. However, it is suggested that the learning process often begins with a person carrying out a particular action and then seeing the effect of the action in this situation. Following this, the second step is to understand these effects in the particular instance so that if the same action was taken in the same circumstances it would be possible to anticipate what would follow from the action. In this pattern the third step would understand the general principle under which the particular instance falls. Generalizing may involve actions over a range of circumstances to gain experience beyond the particular instance and suggest the general principle.

An educator who has learnt in this way may well have various rules of thumb or generalizations about what to do in different situations. They will be able to say what action to take when say, there is tension between two people in a group but they will not be able to verbalize their actions in psychodynamic or sociological terms. There may thus be difficulties about the transferability of their learning to other settings and situations.

When the general principle is understood, the last step, according to David Kolb is its application through action in a new circumstance within the range of generalization. In some representations of experiential learning these steps, (or ones like them), are sometimes represented as a circular movement. In reality, if learning has taken place the process could be seen as a spiral. The action is taking place in a different set of circumstances and the learner is now able to anticipate the possible effects of the action.

Two aspects can be seen as especially noteworthy: the use of concrete, 'here-and-now' experience to test ideas; and use of feedback to change practices and theories (Kolb 1984: 21-22). Kolb joins these with Dewey to emphasize the developmental nature of the exercise, and with Piaget for an appreciation of cognitive development. He named his model so as to emphasize the link with Dewey, Lewin and Piaget, and to stress the role experience plays in learning. He wished to distinguish it from cognitive theories of the learning process (see Coleman 1976).