Kolb’s experiential learning theory helps in understanding the experiential learning process. The theory describes real experience as the basis of learning and development and emphasizes this as the beginning stage of the learning process, which is followed by the analytical/mental processes used by individuals to evaluate the experience. Other than being an essential theory of learning, this model is exceedingly beneficial especially when trying to explain individual variances in learning style.
According to Kolb, the experiential learning cycle comprises four separate phases, in which concrete or immediate experiences deliver a basis upon which reflections and observations can be made. These reflections and observations are then integrated into mental concepts, consequently offering new ground for action which can be tested thus creating new experiences. Kolb also alludes to the fact that each individual is fond of a particular learning style. Though an individual may begin from any stage in the cycle, experiencing the four stages is essential for effective learning. The model’s four-stage cycle are as follows:
1. Concrete experience - CE
2. Reflective observation - RO
3. Abstract conceptualisation - AC
4. Active experimentation - AE
It should be noted that emphasis is on the preference with which an individual learns. As a result, this could have a considerable effect on the methodology and design used in programs that involve introduction of new concepts.
How is this relevant to business analysts?
One of the most useful applications of Kolb’s theory is arguably, in understanding the different ways stakeholders prefer to assimilate information and ensuring that elicitation events take these into consideration:
Concrete Experience: Build in scenarios or activities that allow stakeholders feel or experience what you are proposing. An example of this is a software demo.
Reflective Observation: At this stage, stakeholders reflect and observe the situation as much as they can. They also need time to reflect on what they have learned.
Abstract Conceptualisation: At this stage, stakeholders start to understand the underlying theories and relationships between concepts/ideas.
Active Experimentation: When stakeholders reach this stage, they want to try things out in practical situations to see if they will work.
This four-stage cycle of learning is a process where concrete experiences lead to reflective observations which are then distilled into abstract concepts and theories that produce results which can be tested.
Stakeholders may lean towards one or a combination of these stages during the elicitation event with some exhibiting a preference for one learning style or the other.
A Real-life Application of Kolb’s Learning Cycle
A good example of how Kolb’s learning cycle theory can be applied is in learning how to improve in sports such as tennis, golf or football. The trainee will repeatedly implement the learning cycle using several methods like separate tuition, coaching, demonstration, reading, practice, getting feedback from different sources, watching others, analysing, and playing in a competitive scenario. Hence, an individual will be able to reinforce earlier learning by going through diversified training methods, consequently taking them through the learning cycle. Kolb’s leaning cycle theory when correctly applied, enhances an individual’s self-awareness and aids the trainer in the selection of an appropriate mode of training.
As with all methodologies and theories, it is best to tailor its use to your environment or situation, make changes as you go along and monitor its effectiveness.
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