Introduction to Experiential Learning Theory

Experiential Learning, as the name suggests, involves learning through experiences. Experiential learning differs from cognitive and behavioral theories in that cognitive theories emphasize the role of the mental process, while behavioral ignore roles subjective experience in the process.

The experiential theory as original proposed by David Kolb. However, there have many different theories and learning models proposed by various people throughout the years.



Concrete Experience > Abstract Conceptualization > Reflective Observation > Active Experimentation



David Kolb described two different ways of understanding experience, through one method, concrete experience, as well as abstract conceptualization.


According to David Kolb, concrete experience provides the information that serves as a basis for reflection. From these reflections, we assimilate the information and form abstract concepts. We then use these concepts to develop new theories about the world, which we then actively test. Through the testing of our ideas, we once again gather information through experience, cycling back to the beginning of the process. The process does not necessarily begin with experience, however. Instead, each person must choose which learning mode will work best based upon the specific situation.

For Example:

Imagine that you’re leaning how to drive a sports car. People might choose to learn via reflection by observing other people as they drive. Another person might prefer to start more abstractly, by reading and analyzing a driving instruction book. Another person might prefer to jump right into the car and practice on a test course.

What’s the best way to decide which mode of experiential learning should be used or work best? Situational variables are important, our own preferences also play a role in this. Kolb notes that people who are considered watchers prefer reflective observation, while those who are doers, are more likely to engage in active experimentation.

Due to each individual persons hereditary equipment as Kolb notes, ” Our particular past life experiences, and the demands of our environment, we develop a preferred way of choosing.”.

There are four learning styles that are generally referenced in regard to experiential learning, many different people have studied these theories

The Converger > The Diverger > The Assimilator > The Accommodator

The Converger:

Dominant abilities lie in the areas of Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experimentation. They are highly skilled in the practical application of ideas, they tend to do best in situations where there is a single best solution or answer to a problem.

 The Diverger:

Divergers dominant abilities lie in the areas of concrete experience and reflective observation, essentially the opposite strengths of the converger. People with this learning style are good at looking at the big picture and organizing smaller bits of information into a meaningful whole. Diverges tend to be emotional and creative and enjoy brainstorming to come up with new ideas. Artists, musicians, counselors, and people with a strong interest in the fine arts, humanities, and liberal arts tend to have this learning style.

The Assimilator:

Assimilators are skilled in the areas of abstract conceptualization and reflective observation. Understanding and creating theoretical models is one of their greatest strengths. They tend to be more interested in abstract ideas rather than in people, but they are not greatly concerned with the practical applications of theories. Individuals who work in math and the basic sciences tend to have this type of learning style. Assimilators also enjoy work that involves planning and research.

The Accommodator:

People with this learning style are strongest in concrete experience and active experimentation. This style is basically the opposite of the assimilator style. Accommodators are doers, they enjoy performing experiments and carrying out plans in the real word. Out of all four leaning styles, accommodators tend to be the greatest risk takers, they are good at thinking on their feet and changing their plans spontaneously in response to new information. When solving problems, they typically use a trial and error approach. People with this learning style often work in technical fields or in action oriented jobs such as sales and marketing.

Other Experiential Learning theories:

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Jungian Learning Styles

Carl Jung’s Theory of Personality

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