Kolb’s Model of the 4 Learning Styles

Kolb's Model of the 4 Learning Styles

The ability that people have to assimilate the information around them through observation, study and experience is known as learning. But this ability to learn is not the same for all people.

The learning style model created by David Kolb distinguishes four types of learning according to the way people prefer to deal with the information in their environment. Below we describe this model and explain its possible limitations.

Characteristics of Kolb’s model

The American psychologist David A. Kolb designed in 1984 a model on learning styles in which he theorized that there are three main agents that modulate the learning styles of each person. These three agents are genetics, life experiences and the demands of our environment.

Over time this model has become one of the most recognized and widely used assumptions about learning in our time.

According to the learning style model developed by Kolb, when a person wants to learn something, he must process and work with the information he collects. For this information processing to be carried out in an optimal way four different phases must be completed . They are as follows.

1. Concrete experience (EC)

The immediate and specific experiences that give rise to the observation should be given.

2. Reflective observation (OR)

The person reflects on what he or she is observing and elaborates a series of general hypotheses about what the information received may mean.

3. Abstract Conceptualization (CA)

The abstract concepts and generalisations are then formed from these hypotheses.

4. Active experimentation (EA)

Finally, the person experiments or practices with these concepts in other contexts or situations .

When the person finishes all these stages of the process, the sequence is restarted to continue acquiring more knowledge and information.

Types of students

The reality is that people tend to specialize in one or two of the four phases we have seen. Since Kolb warned of this fact, elaborated four typologies of students according to the way they prefer to work with information .

These students are classified in:

  • Active or divergent students.
  • Reflexive students or assimilators
  • Theoretical students or converging students.
  • Pragmatic students or ushers.

These categories, which will be explained one by one in the next point, refer to the type of learning in which a person specializes. Depending on which category you are in, it will be easier or harder for you to assimilate the information; this will depend on the way it is presented to you and on how you work in the classroom.

Taking into account these four phases and the concept of specialization, it would be necessary for educators to present information on each of the subjects in such a way as to ensure that they are covering all the phases of Kolb’s model. This would facilitate the learning of each and every student regardless of the phase they are in and, in addition, it would reinforce the phases in which they are less specialized.

The current education system does not usually take this into account too much , giving more value and prioritizing the conceptualization and theorization phase. This occurs above all in the levels of secondary and higher education, where the more theoretical students are favored over the more pragmatic ones; with the exception of some specific subjects.

The learning style according to Kolb

As described above, Kolb draws up a classification of learning styles according to the preferences that students have when it comes to handling and assimilating the information presented to them.

1. Active or divergent students

Distinctive characteristics of active or divergent learners include complete and unbiased involvement and commitment . These people tend to make the most of the moment and are usually very committed to events.

They are enthusiastic about any kind of new activity to which they give themselves completely. However, they tend to get bored easily, so the moment they lose interest in one they will start with a different one.

Another point that defines these people is that they tend to act before thinking through the consequences.

They learn best when

  • When the activity challenges them.
  • They propose short and concise activities.
  • When they feel excited about the activity .

They learn worse when

  • When they’re long-term activities.
  • They have a passive role in the activity .
  • They must assimilate, analyze and interpret data.
  • They have to work alone.

2. Reflective students or assimilators

These students are characterized by observing events and dealing with information from many different points of view . Their specialty is collecting information and examining it thoroughly before making their hypotheses.

Their way of working forces them to be cautious with their conclusions , analysing all the consequences of their actions before carrying them out. They always observe, pay attention and pay attention to all the details before making any contribution.

They learn best when

  • When they can look closely at the information around them.
  • When they are offered time to analyze and reflect before acting .
  • When they can go unnoticed.

Learning worse when

  • They are forced to take centre stage or be in the spotlight.
  • When they are not given enough time to perform a task.
  • When they are forced to act without thinking first .

3. Theoretical or convergent students

This third type of student tends to accommodate and integrate information by turning it into complex theories and with a solid fundamental logic . Their thinking is organized in a sequential way, going through a series of steps before generating any kind of conclusion.

They have to examine and summarize all the information, and they value logic and reason above all, so they feel disoriented in the face of activities that do not have an evident logic and subjective judgments.

They learn best when

  • They present them with objective models, theories and systems.
  • When the activity is a challenge.
  • When they can investigate and track information .

They learn worse when

  • They are presented with vague, confusing or uncertain activities.
  • Very subjective or emotional activities .
  • When they have to work without a theoretical frame of reference.

4. Pragmatic students or ushers

Pragmatic students feel comfortable putting into practice the new knowledge , the theories and techniques they are learning. They dislike having to debate these theories or having to continually reflect on the information presented to them.

In short, they are practical, realistic, problem-solving people who are always looking for the best way to do things.

They learn best when

They are offered activities in which they can relate theories to practical situations.
When they can observe how an activity is carried out .
When they can put into practice what they should learn.

They learn worse when

  • When abstract activities are presented that are not related to reality.
  • When the activity has no established purpose.
  • When they cannot relate the information to practical situations.

Reviews of Kolb’s model

This model has been widely criticized by those who argue that there is little evidence to support the existence of these styles. A large-scale review of this model concluded that there was not enough research and empirical evidence to support the existence of these styles .

Likewise, its detractors insist that Kolb did not take into account how culture and context shape the learning process .

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