Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Kolb - anyone know his first name?

Don’t get me wrong, the lack of focus on experiential learning is often catastrophic. Too much classroom instruction and emphasis on factual knowledge so often squeezes the life and learning out of a subject.

Kolb (Can anyone remember his first name?) and his magic cycle, is usually pulled in when ‘experiential’ learning is being considered (rarely of course). In fact, there was a long line of theory well before this, with John Locke in his Talk to Teachers and Dewey’s Experience and Education. Other influences include Lewin and Piaget.

Experiential learning





David A.Kolb (withRoger Fry) came up with the now famous four stage learning cycle.

Looks pretty good – yeah. Well the idea that such a clean cycle exists in reality or is even desirable was put to the test by Jarvis (1987, 1995) and shown to be wanting. Things are usually more complex that these simplistic instructional models suggest. The cycle doesn’t really happen and learning is causally more complex and messy than Kolb suggested.

Kolb saw us entering this cycle at any point and improving by looping round and round, putting your ideas to the test of real application, then, with relevant feedback, improving. Of course, experience, in the form of observed learning, shows that stages can be skipped or performed in parallel. The theory also ignores the important role of efficient memorisation.

We won’t mention his Learning Style Inventory, as that really was a crock of ….

If you’re interested in the books and Jarvis’s critique, here’s the reading list – or perhaps you’d like to rely on pure experience.

Kolb, D. A. (1984) Experiential Learning, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice Hall.

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

Kolb, D. A. (with J. Osland and I. Rubin) (1995a) Organizational Behavior: An Experiential Approach to Human Behavior in Organizations 6e, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Kolb. D. A. and Fry, R. (1975) 'Toward an applied theory of experiential learning;, in C. Cooper (ed.) Theories of Group Process, London: John Wiley.

Jarvis, P. (1987) Adult Learning in the Social Context, London: Croom Helm. 220 pages.

Jarvis P. (1995) Adult and Continuing Education. Theory and practice 2e, London: Routledge.

By the way – his first name was David.

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7 Comments:

Anonymous Seb Schmoller said...

Donald,

Good to see Kolb warrants his own slagging! I agree with you about the problems with Kolb's learning styles work, that he pays insufficient attention to memorisation, and that envisaging learning as a process of repeated trips round the loop does not help.

But I would take issue with your choice of diagram, which I am almost certain is simply not Kolb's learning cycle. It is over ten years since I read "Learning from Experience", and from memory Kolb's four proposed stages are: concrete experience / reflective observation / abstract conceptualisation / active experimentation. [The diagram you've used conflates "observe" and "reflect" and omits "concrete experience".]

If you are designing an activity (or learning episode) then I think this cycle, with these four stage in it, usually helps get a design which "grips" learners, which does not leaving them thinking "why are we doing this next thing now?", and, perhaps most importantly, gets teacher to stand back and leave learners to get on with things, and puts the right emphasis on learning being for a concrete purpose outside the course. It also "forces" good linkage between the context in which the learning is being applied (i.e in real life where much of the concrete experience is to be had), and the course.

What I have found (and I think Kolb makes this point) is that where the designer starts in the loop does not matter, provided you make sure that the stages in an activity run clockwise round the loop. I do not believe that the cycle is science: rather that it provides a simple and often pretty effective scaffold.

[There is a 1988 FEU publication by Graham Gibbs called "Learning by doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods" which I've no longer got, but which had plenty of case studies of the cycle in use, and to good effect. If anyone has a photocopiable copy I'd be keen to hear from them.]

Seb

3:40 PM  
Blogger Karyn Romeis said...

Isn't it odd! We were just looking at Kolb (again) last night during a lecture. I don't think the fact that his first name is relatively unknown is an indication of anything much - there are many people who are know by only one name, composers, artists, inventors and Jesus being among them (and his surname was Ben-Yusuf, not Christ, just in case anyone was in danger of thinking otherwise). That said, I did say last night that I thought learning was far messier than Kolb's model allowed, and I wondered if inventors didn't tend to enter the cycle at the bottom and then go the wrong way around...

I prefer George Siemens's ideas about learning myself, and I'm so glad he's finally written a book so that I can quote him and have it taken seriously in my academic papers - isn't it sad that that see to be the criterion?

7:19 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

I gave a kenote talk last week at a learning conference and showed the pictures of some 'famous' theorists in learning. Not one person in the audience recognised one face.

My point was that, physicists are likely to know what Newton, Einstin, Hawking look like, along with their first name. This is true of most serious academic disciplines. In learning, however, few of these people are known.

8:54 AM  
Anonymous YB said...

I fear you are a very shallow person with no moral fibre and lacking in nearly every way I can think of that would make you an interesting, well adjusted, objective person, you may have made your money,but I think you have very little else to fill your time with, you come across as very anal, judgemental and intolerant of things you clearly do not understand, in short what a hollow excuse for a man.

1:36 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Interesting how the YBs of this world remain anonymous yet still read other people's blogs and go to the effort of concocting abuse.

Proud to have none of his or her 'moral fibre' - text bullying is frowned upon. The pseudopsychological term 'anal' gives it all away - another psychobabbler.

And note the sexist term at the end; 'hollow excuse for a man'.

OOOOH - very macho!

11:08 AM  
Anonymous YB said...

I BELIEVE THAT ANONOMOUS MEANS HIDING YOUR IDENTITY DONALD, I HAVE GIVEN ENOUGH EVIDENCE OF MY IDENTITY, GOOD TO NOTICE THAT YOU DID NOT DENY ANY OF MY COMMENTS, LET ME GUESS WOULD THAT BE BECAUSE YOU DO NOT WISH TO JUSTIFY A RESPONSE. TYPICAL OF SOMEONE FROM A POLITICAL BACKGROUND.
YOU ARE VERY GOOD AT SLAGGING OFF EVERYTHING OR ONE THAT YOU DO NOT BELEIVE IN, YET WHEN SOMEONE HAS THE AUDACITY TO TURN THIS BACK ON YOURSELF YOU BECOME ONCE AGAIN AGRESSIVE AND MY RESPONSE TO YOU BEING A HOLLOW EXCUSE OF A MAN IS NOT SEXIST, THAT WOULD BE IF I WAS PRESUMING YOU WERE MALE, HOWEVER AS YOUR NAME AND PICTURE SUGGESTS MALE GENDER, I BELIEVE I WAS INDEED STATING FACT. THE TWO ARE QUITE DIFFERENT.

7:03 PM  
Blogger Peter Howie said...

Found this thought you might be interested. Before I copy it in let me say that I reliably infomred that when David Kolb came to Australia in the 90's and perhaps before and since he apologised for anyone taking his theory too seriously as fact or truth when it was meant to indicate difference in learning styles and it was an interesting idea that should be considered when developing training.

"In the case of the Kolb Learning Style Inventory (LSI) the 2005 Bibliography of Research on Experiential Learning Theory and the LSI lists 1522 published studies since 1971 in management, education, computer science, psychology, medicine, nursing, accounting, and law. Two comprehensive reviews of this literature by Hickcox in 1991 and Iliff in 1994 showed that the reviewed studies showed full or partial support for the theory in 78% and 88% of the publications respectively." I don't have where I got this but seeing it referenced others - here you go.

Cheers

Peter

12:30 AM  

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