David Kolb and Adult Learning Theory – Psychology Essay

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Although David Kolb’s ideas can be disputed by educators and scholars, he continues to be one of the most influential adult learning theorists. He formulated a set of strategies that can help an individual pursue his or her education. Moreover, he provided a useful description of the learning process, and this description can be of great use to people who are willing to want to improve their learning skills. This paper will discuss the major theoretical contributions of David Kolb.

Furthermore, it is to show how other adult learning theorists assess his ideas. Finally, this essay has to explain how these theories are related to the main themes of the course, especially to the ideas expressed by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Overall, both these authors emphasize such things as self-awareness, continuous learning, and willingness to work independently. Such an attitude is an indispensable quality of a person who wants to attain professional and educational goals.

The contributions to David Kolb to adult learning theory

First, we need to provide a brief overview of David Kolb’s biography, especially his scholarly achievements. From 1961 to 1967 he attended Knox College and Harvard University where he studied social psychology (Weatherhead School of Management 2011, unpaged). His major research interests include experiential learning, learning styles, and team learning. He came to prominence in the seventies when he published his works on education (Weatherhead School of Management 2011, unpaged). Now he occupies a teaching post at Case Western Reserve University.

Overall, David Kolb enriched adult learning theory in several ways. First, he and his colleague Ronald Fry provided a model that describes how an individual acquires new knowledge and skills. This model includes the following elements: 1) specific experience of an individual; 2) reflection of this experience; 3) the development of abstract notions that generalize this experience; 4) the application of these concepts (Kolb & Fry, p. 3). Kolb’s model is based on the continuous repetition of these steps.

This theory is premised on the ideas of Jean Piaget, and Kurt Lewin, who believed that people learned primarily by observing and interacting with the outside world. Then, based on these observations, people make generalizations about the external environment (Kahn, 2007, p. 27). This is the theoretical background of David’s Kolb’s ideas.

Overall, this model can be very helpful to adult learners because it identifies the major steps that they need to take to acquire new knowledge. It can be particularly useful when their study is not guided by professional educators. It should be noted that Kolb regarded education as a continuous learning cycle which consists of experience, reflection, conceptualization, and testing.

This idea is supported by Stephen Covey, who also believes that education should be aimed at continuous “honing and expanding the mind” (Covey, 1990, p. 295). On the whole, continuity is an important component of Kolb’s learning theory. Additionally, both these authors stress the idea learning strategies should not be limited only to formal education offered in school, colleges, or universities. They have to be more oriented toward self-study because, for many people, it is the only available option.

The second important contribution of David Kolb is related to the study of learning styles. He believes that people can adopt various strategies while pursuing their education. For example, people with assimilating learning style focus on generalization of ideas and try to find logical proof of these abstract concepts. In turn, those learners, who give preference to converging learning style, are more inclined to test knowledge and find practical applications for it (Kahn, 2007, p. 27).

Additionally, diverging learning style implies that a person is inclined to look at the same question from various perspectives, and they are more oriented toward brainstorming (Kahn, 2007, p. 27). Finally, there are people with accommodating learning style which give preference to concrete experimentation (Kahn, 2007, p. 27). Kolb’s theory suggests that a person should be very attentive toward his or her learning style because it will eventually shape their activities, educational goals, and use of knowledge and skills.

People need to understand their strengths and weakness and determine which learning strategy is most beneficial for them. For instance, they can prefer experimentation, conceptualization, reflection, or practical application of knowledge. By understanding one’s learning styles, a person can make his or her education more efficient and enjoyable. Certainly, the learning cycle has to include each of the elements identified by David Kolb; however, some of them will inevitable become more or less important for a person.

For instance, some people will be more oriented to reflection, while others are more inclined to the practical application of knowledge. In part, this idea finds reflection in Stephen Covey’s book. This author also believes that self-awareness is the indispensable quality of a successful person (Covey, 1994, p. 147). People need to understand what kind of qualities they already have and what skills they need to acquire to become successful leaders.

Moreover, they have to choose a specific area where they can be most successful. Admittedly, in some cases, it might be difficult for an individual to determine which learning strategy is most effective. Sometimes this question can be answered only by the method of trial and error. The key issue is that many people are not willing or able to cope with this task, especially if they are not assisted by professional educators. This is the main difficulty that educators should account for.

Apart from that, it is quite possible to say that both David Kolb and Stephen Covey attach great importance to self-directed study. In David Kolb’s opinion, educational models have to meet adult learners’ need for “self-directed and autonomous study” (Kolb, 1984, p. 200). Similarly, Stephen Covey argues that successful people should regard independent learning as one of their priorities (Covey, 1990, p. 295).

This is one of the most important ideas that these authors share. Successful people should not require any outside motivation or stimulus for continuing his or her education. It has to be one to be of their habits. Therefore, people who strive to achieve their professional goals have to change their attitude toward education.

It should be noted that David Kolb’s theory of adult learning implies that accurate choice of a learning style can help people understand how to approach their education. For instance, convergers can better realize their talents by doing various technical tasks (Kahn, 2007, p. 27). In turn, accommodators will better acquire knowledge if they work in a team and focus on the tasks which require action, rather than speculation.

Furthermore, divergers will feel more comfortable if they will have the freedom to do creative tasks (Kahn, 2007, p. 27). Again, one has to emphasize that the success of people depends on their ability to identify their strengths and weaknesses. By doing it, people can choose those activities and tasks that can best fit their abilities, talents, and preferences.

Views on David Kolb’s theories

At this point, adult learning theorists and researchers have a mixed attitude toward the ideas of David Kolb. For example, Nancy Evans et al. hypothesize that a person’s learning style is a dynamic characteristic that may change or evolve with time passing. Moreover, it may depend on a specific learning environment of a person (Evans, Forney, & Guido, 2009, p. 145).

Therefore, one can assume that a person can act as a converger, assimilator, diverger, or accommodator while learning. Thus, one cannot dismiss the possibility that a person can change their learning strategy. Moreover, an adult learner may find it even more difficult to determine what kind of learning style is most suitable for him or her. As it has been said before, one can choose the optimal learning style only by trial and error.

Furthermore, David Kolb’s learning cycles does not fully account for the necessity to evaluate a person’s progress. It does not provide clear instructions for evaluating one’s skills and knowledge. This is one of the key limitations of this model. Secondly, such scholar as Khud Illeris points out that Kolb does not show how to make transitions from experience to conceptualization or from conceptualization to testing new concepts (Illeris, 2009, p. 84).

In the opinion of this learning theorist, the components of Kolb’s learning cycle appear to be disjoint. Therefore, an individual may not be able to work out learning strategies without the assistance of professional educators. This is another limitation of David Kolb’s model.

The relevance of David Kolb’s ideas to the course

Despite these limitations, David Kolb’s contribution to adult learning theory cannot be diminished. Various criticisms of his model do not make it invalid. For instance, the possibility that a person’s learning style can change does refute the argument that people have some preferences and strategies when they pursue their studies. Secondly, one has to admit that the components of his learning cycle need to be bridged.

It is quite possible to say that learning does include experience, reflection, generalization, and application of knowledge. By identifying these stages of the educational process, David Kolb helped adult students better organize their learning activities. As it has been said before, the ideas of this learning theorist are reflected in Stephen Covey’s work. In particular, we can speak about the necessity for continuous or life-long learning. Secondly, both these authors emphasize the importance of self-awareness because it enables a person to understand and assess one’s strengths and weaknesses.


Overall, the theories that have been discussed in this paper indicate that a person has to gain insights into the learning process. People do not necessary have to agree with David Kolb, but they have to be more attentive to how they learn. They also have to determine what makes their learning more or less successful. Secondly, they should understand education is a continuous process that must not be stopped at a certain point in time. Finally, they should remember that understanding one’s limitations is the first step on the path to success.

Reference List

Covey, S. (1990). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Free Press.

Evans, N., Forney, D.,& Guido, F. (2009). Student Development in College: Theory, Research, and Practice. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Kahn, P. (2007). Teaching to learning styles: A study of learning outcomes for the adult learner. Ann Arbor: ProQuest LLC.

Khud, I. (2009). Contemporary theories of learning: learning theorists… in their own words. Chicago: Taylor & Francis.

Kolb, D. & Fry R (1974). Toward an applied theory of experiential learning. Cambridge: M.I.T. Alfred P. Sloan School of Management.

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Weatherhead School of Management. (2011). .

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