Major Themes


Related Resources

Learning Environment Design Framework
Instructional Design Toolkit

ISD Concept Map
ISD Concept Map

Kolb's Learning Styles


Kolb's Learning Styles and Experiential Learning Model

Note: While you can start at any of the major themes listed to the left of this screen, you should read the Introduction to get a background of learning styles.

While VAK may have popularized learning styles, David Kolb, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Case Western Reserve University, is credited with launching the learning styles movement in the early seventies and is perhaps one of the most influential learning models developed.

Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping experience and transforming it. - Kolb (1984, 41)

Kolb proposes that experiential learning has six main characteristics:

Kolb's learning theory sets out four distinct learning styles, which are based on a four-stage learning cycle. In this respect, Kolb's model differs from others since it offers both a way to understand individual learning styles, which he named the "Learning Styles Inventory" (LSI), and also an explanation of a cycle of experiential learning that applies to all learners.

Basis of Kolb's Experiential Learning Model

Note: “Experiential” means relating to or resulting from experience while “experimental” means relating to or based on experiment. Kolb uses the term “experiential” as his theory is based more on reflection of experiences. While others use “experimental” when referencing experimental-inquiry techniques that requires learners to test hypothesis (experiment) about content knowledge.

Kolb's learning model is based on two continuums that form a quadrant:

The Two Continuums of Kolb's Experiential Learning Model
For a larger picture, click on the image

The Learning Cycle

This matrix provides a learning cycle that involves four processes that must be present for learning to occur. Note that this part of Kolb's model is more useful in that rather than trying to pinpoint a learning style, he provides a model learning program.

Kolb called this Experiential Learning since experience is the source of learning and development (1984). Each ends of the continuums (modes) provide a step in the learning process:

Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle
For a larger picture, click on the image

Depending upon the situation or environment, the learners may enter the learning cycle at any point and will best learn the new task if they practice all four modes.

Listed below are some examples:

Kolb views the learning process as a context of people moving between the modes of concrete experience (CE) and abstract conceptualization (AC), and reflective observation (RO) and active experimentation (AE). Thus, the effectiveness of learning relies on the ability to balance these modes, which Kolb sees as opposite activities that best promote learning.

In addition, Kolb (1999) claims that concrete experience and abstract conceptualization reflect right-brain and left-brain thinking respectively.

Kolb's Learning Styles

Kolb theorized that the four combinations of perceiving and processing determine one of four learning styles of how people prefer to learn. Kolb believes that learning styles are not fixed personality traits, but relatively stable patterns of behavior that is based on their background and experiences. Thus, they can be thought of more as learning preferences, rather than styles.

Kolb's Learning Styles
For a larger picture, click on the image

Each learning style is located in a different quadrant of the cycle of learning:

Kolb is the inspiration for a large numbers of theorists. For example, Honey and Mumford's model is directly derived from Kolb's theory. To help you under learning styles, see the learning style survey


Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004). Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review. Learning and Skills Research Centre. Retrieved January, 15, 2008:

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

Kolb D. (1999). The Kolb Learning Style Inventory, Version 3. Boston: Hay Group.