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The Learning Cycle


Explanations > Learning Theory > The Learning Cycle

Experiencing | Reflecting | Theorizing | Experimenting | So what


A way of using Kolb's learning styles is a cycle whereby we learn. This is different from Kolb's styles which state that people have preferred static positions regarding these.







First of all, we have an experience. Most experiences are not worth further movement on the cycle as we are already familiar with them and they need no further interpretation and hence no need for learning.


Having experienced something which does not fit well into our current system of understanding, we then have to stop and think harder about what it really means. This reflection is typically a series of attempts to fit the experience to memories and our internal models (or schemata).

Reflecting on new experiences is first a process of explaining as we try to use our existing models to make sense of our experience. When we cannot fully explain what happened, reflecting also includes confusion when they do not fit in with existing models.

If we can explain what happened, then the cycle stops here as there is nothing to learn. Much of life is like this. Many of us also avoid going past this stage as we fake and fix our experiences so we do not have to go through the pain of learning.


When we find that we cannot fit what we have experienced into any of our memories or internal models, then we have to build new models. This theorizing gives us a possible answer to our puzzling experiences.

For some people, this is a wonderful stage as they consider all kinds of possibilities. For others, it is a struggle as they try to make sense of the senseless.


After building a theoretical model, the next step is to prove it in practice, either in 'real time' or by deliberate experimentation in some safe arena. Again, this can be enjoyable or worrisome, depending on the individual personality and perspective.

If the model does not work, then we go through reflection-theorizing the loop again, figuring out what happened and either adjusting the model or building a new one.

So what?

So help people learn by giving them experiences, helping them reflect and build internal models, and then giving them the means of trying out those models to see if they work in practice.

Watch out also for preferences where people may avoid or spend too long in individual stages for example where the 'air heads' get stuck in theorizing.

See also

Kolb's Learning Styles, Schema


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