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Kolb’s Cycle of Learning

The subject of how people learn is fascinating and encompasses a wide range of cognitive functions. This somewhat enigmatic and covert behavior has been described over the past few decades by a variety of, occasionally conflicting, theoretical hypotheses. David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory (ELT), one of the most important frameworks, was put forth in 1984.

Kolb's Cycle of Learning Kolb's Cycle

It is still regarded as one of the most popular models of learning styles. ELT is predicated on the idea that people learn best by doing or through firsthand experience.

In this article, we will focus on understanding the importance of Kolb’s learning cycle, the four stages of the said cycle, why it is important, and the various benefits of using this technique over other approaches to learning. 

Fundamentals of Kolb’s Cycle of Learning

Concrete learning, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active exploration are the four phases of the learning cycle. When the student advances through the cycle, effective learning is evident. The cycle can be entered at any point by the learner.

The learner experiences a new experience or reframes an earlier event at the first stage of concrete learning. The learner then conducts a personal reflection on the experience during reflective observation. After this, The learner moves on to the abstract conceptualization stage, when they create new concepts or modify pre existing ones in light of their observations during the reflective observation stage. 

The learner then uses the new concepts to observe if anything changes in the active experimentation stage. The concrete experience for the start of this second experience is the beginning of the next cycle which can happen over a short or a long time. 

‍Experiential learning has traditionally been included into education through work shadowing or internships that run concurrently with a regular course of study. However, because of improvements in communication technology, higher education plans to use more hands-on learning strategies.

 An excellent illustration is the current trend towards competency-based degrees, where students develop competence through practical application.

The significance of David Kolbs’ theory is focused on using this “experiential learning” approach to suggest the benefits of “learning from doing”.


Some of the roots of the idea of learning styles can be found in Aristotle, who proposed that “every child possessed particular gifts and skills” in 334 BC. The idea of learning styles emerged when Aristotle acknowledged that children had various variations, and academics started creating their own ideas.

Neil Fleming created one of the most commonly embraced hypotheses in 1987. VARK, which stands for visual, auditory, reading, and kinesthetic, was created by Fleming.

David Kolb published his learning styles paradigm, from which he derived his learning style inventory, in 1984, following Fleming.

The four-stage learning cycle and the four different learning styles are both components of Kolb’s experiential learning theory. Kolb’s theory gives the internal cognitive processes of the learner a lot of attention.

Kolb states that learning involves the acquisition of abstract concepts that can be applied flexibly in a range of situations.  In Kolb’s theory, the impetus for the development of new concepts is provided by new experiences.

The Four Stage Learning Cycle

Kolb’s Learning Cycle Explained with Example

Concrete learning, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation are the four steps in David A. Kolb’s four-stage learning cycle. When a learner moves through each stage, effective learning occurs. 

The learner can also use a logical sequence to enter the learning cycle at any phase. These four phases are highlighted below. 

Kolb's Cycle of Learning Kolb's Cycle

Concrete Experience

The learner exhibits personal involvement with others in commonplace circumstances at this stage. In concrete settings, learners frequently rely more on their emotions, openness to new ideas, and flexibility than they do on a methodical approach to problems and circumstances.

Reflective Observation

At this level, students are able to comprehend situations and concepts from several perspectives. They rely on patience, objectivity, and cautious judgment yet do not actually do anything. The students base their opinions on their thoughts and feelings.

Abstract Conceptualization

At this point, students understand circumstances or problems using concepts, logical methods, and theories rather than interpersonal concerns or feelings. They typically rely on organized planning and construction theories and ideas to address real-world difficulties.

Active Experimentation

While learning is active, students demonstrate their engagement in the process by trying out various scenarios. Instead of only watching a situation, the students adopt a practical approach during the active experimental stage.

Applying Kolb’s Model

The four-stage cycle of concrete experience, observation, reflection, and generalization that leads to the formation of the abstract concept (logical analysis) and generalizations (conclusions), which are then applied for hypothesis testing in subsequent situations, leading to new experiences, is the basis for effective learning. 

This teaching approach, in contrast to previous “classroom-confined” methods, enables the creation of real-world problem-solving challenges.

Students in a variety of education courses can be taught by teachers using the experiential learning cycle. Teachers can inspire students to become better problem solvers by teaching them about this strategy. The learning cycle can also help students comprehend concepts and ideas better.

For instance, a teacher could encourage students to think back on their experiences with gravity as a way to introduce the idea of gravity to the class. The teacher can then instruct the class to examine how things in the room are affected by gravity. The instructor can next ask the children to consider what creates gravity. Finally, the teacher can instruct the class to test gravity by dropping objects off a table’s edge.

Teachers give students opportunities to practice critical thinking and acquire fresh perspectives by helping them to move through the learning cycle. The learning cycles can be used by teachers to teach students a variety of disciplines.

For instance, if a teacher wanted to instruct pupils on the concept of time, he or she might start by asking them to consider their personal interactions with time. The instructor could then instruct the class to keep track of the passing of time. 

The instructor might then prompt the students to consider time critically. Finally, the teacher could inquire of the pupils regarding possible time management strategies.

Benefits of Kolb’s Cycle of Learning 

The four learning cycles and learning dimensions proposed by David Kolb can be utilized to adapt teaching strategies to students’ preferred learning styles.

1) It enables teachers to focus on more precise learning objectives for students.

2) It makes it possible to create coaching activities, teaching methods, and training sessions that help a lifelong learner comprehend the material in formal learning settings.

3) The four stages of Kolb’s experiential learning cycle can be used by teachers to customize any instructional strategies intervention for learners.

Teachers can increase the likelihood that school and adult college students will properly assimilate the material by providing some different learning style initiatives and educational approaches. This will also give them the chance to generate ideas that they might have otherwise overlooked.

By employing a unique learning resource, monitoring students through various activities or class debates, or conversing with high school and adult college students during class discussions, teachers can determine the preferred learning styles of their students in a regular classroom setting. 

While teaching in a virtual environment, it’s critical to maintain student interest throughout the entire learning process and to incorporate activities into computer-based tasks to identify each student’s preferred learning style. As a result, it is advised to give pupils a variety of learning opportunities. Teachers can aid pupils in developing greater adaptability and versatility by doing this.

According to Kolb, every level of learning is a piece of the experiential learning process. For instance, learning in a classroom might be an abstract experience for students, but it can also become a concrete experience if, for example, a student emulates and looks up to the teacher. 

Similar to this, a student might put a lot of effort into creating an abstract model to explain an experiential exercise or internship experience. From the perspective of the students, computer programming can be a very abstract activity, whereas solo thought can be a very emotive, concrete activity.


Kolb’s cycle of learning is quite revolutionary as we have seen through this article. This model really helps one understand what happens ‘behind the scenes’ of someone’s learning journey. Moreover, it also helps educators plan their courses to best encompass a learning track for the majority of students.

The four stages of Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation help to visualize what a learning process might look like and how one best uses their resources to guide their students through these four phases. 

Also, this cycle can help teachers tremendously while planning activities, customizing classroom strategies, and creating more precise learning outcomes for everyone.

Hence, Kolb’s cycle, although not bulletproof, is one of the best models for educators and coaches to refer to while planning any course. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the 4 stages of Kolb’s learning cycle?

The four stages of Kolb’s learning cycle are  Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation. These four stages, or steps, of learning typically move through a cycle that begins with a student having a concrete experience and ends with them actively experimenting with the knowledge they gained.

Why is Kolb’s theory important?

Kolb’s theory is important to help educators while organizing activities, generating individualized teaching methods, and ensuring everyone gets more specific learning results.