David Kolb, an American psychologist, professor and education theorist, designed a model reflecting why learning by doing is the most effective method.
The Kolb reflective cycle sheds light on reflective thinking. It focuses on the need to learn through experience. The theory is also termed experiential learning and relies on the simple implementation of gained knowledge. The reflective cycle looks into reviewing, analysing and evaluating the gained knowledge.
However, there’s a lot to learn about Kolb reflective cycle beyond the simple theory of reflective learning.
This blog will cover all the aspects of the cycle and help you learn about the correct ways of learning and boosting your skills.
What is the Kolb Reflective Cycle?
American education theorist David Kolb developed the Kolb reflective cycle in 1984. The theorist created the Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) based on the fact that learning is directly related to experience.
The cycle is defined as the holistic learning and development process even today. With online education taking centre stage, teachers have taken the initiative to help students learn things well using real-life experiences. Kolb reflective cycle has had a lot of significance since the first day of its invention. The two major components of the reflective cycle are:
- A four-stage cycle
- Four resultant learning styles
In the next section, we will explore the various stages of Kolb's reflective cycle.
What are the Stages of the Kolb Reflective Cycle?
David Kolb looks at learning as a four-stage process where students can acquire knowledge from each new experience. The cycle sheds light on the fact that learning is a holistic process where students apply new insights and ideas for continuous improvement.
Here’s a look into the four stages of the Kolb learning cycle:
1. Concrete experience
There are instances where you experience things consciously and reflect on the learnings at a later stage. Concrete experience can help you reflect your learnings properly and perfectly. The stage is defined as taking notes of specific situations and describing what you see, how you feel and what you think.
2. Reflective observation
Once you have written down the experience, it is time to reflect on the same properly. You need to understand what worked for you, what failed and the reason behind such situations. Also, you need to comprehend why people behave in a certain way. You must ask your teacher for a complete understanding of the stage and follow the same correctly.
3. Abstract conceptualisation
You need to ask yourself what you could have done differently. The questions you have asked in the reflective observation stage must be answered from your perspective. You need to understand the need to find ways to improve. If you have faced a situation, you must ask yourself how you could have improved in it. It is crucial to find better ways to handle the situation.
4. Active experimentation
It is important to put your learning to practice. This stage is defined as the one that makes you put whatever you have learned into practice. You work on your reflections and thoughts of improvement and put them back into practice. You can also try new strategies and find better ways of handling a situation. The active experimentation stage is where you use all your learnings to improve your skills and explore new opportunities.
It is crucial to understand the significance of all the four stages to implement the same properly. However, you also need to know the four learning dimensions to move forward with the process.
What are Kolb’s 4 Learning Dimensions?
The reflective cycle has a lot to impart beyond the simple learning process. You need to understand how the cycle relates to the various factors of our daily lives and understand the same from that aspect. The following are the four learning dimensions you should know about to learn the reflective cycle well:
You will come across people who have a different take on almost everything. They use their imagination to share their learning creatively. The dimension takes a deep dive into the aspect of gathering information and generating new ideas. You can relate the stages of concrete experience and reflective observation to this learning dimension.
The term assimilating refers to watching and thinking. The people who opt to adopt this type of learning do not like to work in groups. They prefer attending lectures, reading books and learning things individually to get enough time to analyse and think instead of discussing. You will find these elements in the abstract conceptualisation and reflective observation stages of the cycle.
People who are good with problem-solving and are practical in analysing situations. Converging is the learning dimension that relies on learning activities such as technical tasks. You will come across people who are inclined towards finding solutions over interpersonal or group learning. You can relate to these characteristics if you go through the abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation stages of the cycle.
There are many who have a different outlook on learning. They look at problems from an intuitive perspective and depend more on their gut feeling. The stages of concrete experience and active experimentation are connected with this learning dimension. It is crucial to understand how these are related to get more clarity on the learning dimension.
The above few sections have given you a clear idea about the stages and learning dimensions of the Kolb reflective cycle. However, it is crucial to know the correct ways of using the cycle. In the following section, you will get familiar with the ways of using the cycle.
How Do You Use the Kolb Reflective Cycle?
You need to follow some steps correctly to use the Kolb reflective cycle. Both students and teachers are expected to apply the cycle properly. Here’s a look into a few steps to use the theory:
The stage is similar to the concrete experience stage in the cycle. It is where you get exposed to a new theory or concept. One can gain new knowledge by watching a video, going for a training session, reading a book or interacting with others. The reason this phase is called discovery is because you learn something new, thus marking the beginning of the cycle.
Once you have learned something new, it is necessary to put that into action. You have to find the best ways to implement what you learned. The second learning dimension is, therefore, reflecting on what you have learned. There are a lot of things you have to take into account while implementing your learning.
The first thing is to find what’s missing and how you can use your new learning to fill in the blanks. A lot goes into the planning phase. You have to understand how you want to integrate the newly learned concepts.
You can relate the dimension with the active experimentation stage of the Kolb reflective cycle. The stage is very important as it is where the most important thing happens. You will get to know where you lack and the sections you need to brush up for the best results. Knowing the blind spots is a critical part of the entire process.
Once you start applying your learning, you will understand the gaps and revisit the initial resources for better understanding. The model lets you put the proverb, ‘failure is the pillar to success’ to test. You will fail and learn the things properly.
Now, you have tried and tested your learning. You know if you have learned the right thing or if you have implemented it correctly. This phase is where you share your insights and point out what you have learned and where you failed. All learners are expected to reflect on what they have learned and find out where they want to grow.
It is highly recommended that you start the cycle all over again once you have reflected on all your findings. You need not follow a specific structure to share the reflections. Learners are allowed to think independently and spend time thinking over the same alone.
What are the Educational Implications of Kolb’s Learning Cycle?
The main objective of experiential learning is to learn by doing. Students will know more about the subject and learn things easily once they get hands-on experience and reflection. This process helps them connect theories and knowledge better and apply them in the real world.
Kolb's learning cycle covers all the aspects that are essential for students to learn things well. The cycle is not restricted to classroom lectures. You can apply and learn things through community services, service-learning, undergraduate research, study abroad or experiences gathered through internships, teaching and capstone projects.
Experiential learning, the main aim of the Kolb reflective cycle, helps students in more than one way, such as:
- Gaining a better understanding of the course material
- Getting a broader view of the world and appreciating the community
- Gain an insight into their skills, interests, passion and values
- Look for opportunities for collaboration with diverse organisations and people
- Gaining positive professional practices and skill sets
- The urge to assist in meeting community needs
- Boost in self-confidence and leadership skills
Students must get the necessary training to use their learning to solve real-world problems. It is also necessary for them to know how each of the lessons is important and learn each of them properly. It is the responsibility of both students and teachers to work on the process and implement the Kolb reflective cycle in learning.
What are the Benefits of Using the Kolb Reflective Cycle?
The Kolb reflective cycle has enough scope to enhance your understanding and boost your skills. Yet, most of you do not understand the correct ways of implementation and often find the entire process tiring. To help you gain a better understanding, here’s a look into the benefits of using the Kolb reflective cycle:
Identifying learning styles and preferences
Most students are not aware of the correct learning style and preferences. The cycle will help you identify your learning styles and preferences. Experiential learning methods can help you explore your strengths and work on your learning strategies accordingly.
Integrating theory and practice
A crucial aspect of learning lies in integrating theory and practice. You need to apply your learning to new situations for better understanding. Kolb's reflective cycle can help you understand the need to integrate theory and practice. You will be able to learn things well in this process.
Enhancing critical thinking and problem-solving skills
One of the major benefits of using the Kolb reflective cycle is that it enhances critical thinking and problem-solving skills. You will be able to use your knowledge to solve problems and enhance some of the key skills necessary for the professional world.
Continuous learning and improvement
The reflective cycle explores the scope of continuous learning and improvement. From trial and testing methods to putting your knowledge to test, the cycle gives you the scope for continuous learning and improvement.
You are expected to understand and implement the cycle properly for a better understanding of the lessons and to enhance your skills. Ask your teacher to help you implement each stage correctly.
What is an Example of Kolb’s Model?
You have to travel a long way to reach your school or college. You see your friends using a bicycle to reach school. So, what do you do? The first thing is to ask your friends for help and learn how to ride a bicycle.
Next, after getting the initial lessons, get your own bicycle and try riding it. You will fail in the first few attempts. Instead of giving up, think about what went wrong and try again. Once you rectify the mistakes, you will be able to ride a bicycle easily.
If you relate to the above example with the stages, you will understand how you have used all of them to learn how to ride a bicycle. Further, it must also be noted that you will not start over from the beginning until the cycle comes full circle.
You will come across various such examples of Kolb’s model in your life. The cycle can be the best way to learn things properly if you implement each step correctly.
Kolb's reflective cycle has made its presence felt since its inception. The reflective cycle explores the various aspects that can help students learn things better. While there are concerns over the implementation, reading the points above will clear the air about it. Students and teachers must take the initiative to implement the cycle correctly and work towards a better learning process.
Read More: Gibbs Reflective Cycle Stages
FAQs On Kolb's Reflective Model
Q. Why use Kolb’s reflective model?
Ans: The Kolb reflective model aims to help you improve your performance and well-being. The model will help you learn things continuously from experiences and improve your life. It will also help you create a structure to look into key events methodically. The reflective cycle can be helpful in the long run and will help you learn things well.
Q. How to reference Kolb's reflective cycle?
Ans: You have to follow the referencing style as instructed by your institution. The format will be as per the style, and you have to be well-versed with it to reference things properly. You can look for examples on the internet to understand the referencing method for Kolb reflective cycle. Use them and learn how to cite the cycle and work on it accordingly.
Q. What is the purpose of the reflective cycle?
Ans: The reflective cycle aims to help everyone understand the need to learn from their experiences. The model can be presented following the reflective essay structure or a way to structure your thinking. It is crucial to understand the importance of learning from experiences and help you improve your life and performance.
Q. Is the Kolb reflective cycle linear or iterative?
Ans: The Kolb reflective cycle is iterative. It is a dynamic process. The teachers are also expected to improve their skills and knowledge. They need to adapt to the changing needs and interests of students. It is important to learn how the Kolb reflective cycle works to relate to its iterative nature.
Q. Can the Kolb reflective cycle be used in group settings?
Ans: You can use the Kolb reflective cycle in group settings. You have to follow the concept, preparation, action and reflection process to apply the same in group settings. All the steps are of equal importance, and if you are willing to apply the cycle in group settings, you must know how to implement the steps.
Q. Are there any criticisms of the Kolb reflective cycle?
Ans: There are a few criticisms of the Kolb reflective cycle. A group of researchers suggest that the four steps in the reflective cycle can occur simultaneously. Another group of researchers criticised the cycle and claimed the model cannot acknowledge the power of reflection on learning.
Q. How can I enhance the reflective observation stage?
Ans: The observation stage aims to help all enhance their skills and knowledge by observing others. So, to ensure you have the right observation, you need to look at the processes and pay attention to what you observe. Further, you must also reflect on your learnings from the observation and how you implemented the learning from the observation.
Q. Can the Kolb reflective cycle be used for lifelong learning?
Ans: The Kolb reflective cycle is something that can help you learn through experiences. You can use the same for lifelong learning. Everyone experiences new things every day, and one keeps learning things from such experiences. Reflecting on the learnings in your workspace or your daily life will help you continue using the Kolb reflective cycle throughout your life.
Q. How do you apply the Kolb learning cycle in teaching?
Ans: The Kolb reflective cycle in teaching follows the four steps of concept, preparation, action and reflection. The teachers must understand the essence of the cycle and follow the right processes to ensure students learn things well. Understand how the cycle can help students improve their life and performance and work on the same accordingly.