Essay on Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle - 524 …

Johnson, D. W. and Johnson, F. P. (1996) Joining Together: Group theory and group skills, 6e., Boston, Mass.: Allyn and Bacon. 612 pages. Rightly popular practical groupwork guide with plenty of examples and exercises, plus some good foundational chapters. It was one of the first texts to pick up on Kolb and to link experiential learning with the work around groups by Lewin and others. Chapters on group dynamics; experiential learning; group goals and social independence; communications within groups; leadership; decision making; controversy and creativity; conflicts of interest, the uses of power; dealing with diversity; leading learning and discussion groups; leading growth and counselling groups; and team development, team training.

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Students relate to the community much as “consultants” working for a “client.” Students work with community members to understand a particular community problem or need. This model presumes that the students have or will develop capacities with which to help communities solve a problem. For example: architecture students might design a park; business students might develop a web site; botany students might identify non-native plants and suggest eradication methods.

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Two aspects can be seen as especially noteworthy: the use of concrete, ‘here-and-now’ experience to test ideas; and use of feedback to change practices and theories (Kolb 1984: 21-22). Kolb joins these with Dewey to emphasize the developmental nature of the exercise, and with Piaget for an appreciation of cognitive development. He named his model so as to emphasize the link with Dewey, Lewin and Piaget, and to stress the role experience plays in learning. He wished to distinguish it from cognitive theories of the learning process (see Coleman 1976).

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The claims made for the four different learning styles are extravagant (Jarvis 1987; Tennant 1997). As Tennant (1997: 91) comments, even though the four learning styles neatly dovetail with the different dimensions of the experiential learning model, this doesn’t necessarily validate them. David Kolb is putting forward a particular learning style. The problem here is that the experiential learning model does not apply to all situations. There are alternatives – such as information assimilation. There are also others such as memorization. Each of these may be appropriate to different situations (see below).

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The relationship of learning processes to knowledge is problematicAs Jarvis (1987) again points out, David Kolb is able to show that learning and knowledge are intimately related. However, two problems arise here. David Kolb doesn’t really explore the nature of knowledge in any depth. In chapter five of he discusses the structure of knowledge from what is basically a social psychology perspective. He doesn’t really connect with the rich and varied debates about the nature of knowledge that raged over the centuries within philosophy and social theory. This means that I do not think he really grasps different ways of knowing. For example, Kolb focuses on processes in the individual mind, rather than seeing learning as situated. Second, for David Kolb, learning is concerned with the production of knowledge. ‘Knowledge results from the combination of grasping experience and transforming it’ (Kolb 1984: 41). Here we might contrast this position with . His focus is upon informed, committed action ().

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Jarvis, P. (1987) Adult Learning in the Social Context, London: Croom Helm. 220 pages. Peter Jarvis uses Kolb’s model to explore the process of learning in context. The result is a better appreciation of context and the ability to approach memorization, contemplation, practice etc. However, he also inherits a number of problems e.g. around stages. The model is revisited and summarized in P. Jarvis (1995) Adult and Continuing Education. Theory and practice 2e, London: Routledge.