Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) has a long history and provides a pertinent model of the learning process and a multilinear model of adult development, both of which are consistent with what we know about how people learn, grow, and develop. The spiral of learning from experience described in experiential learning theory (Kolb, 1984) can help learners (e.g. employees) “learn how to learn”. By consciously following a recursive cycle of experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting, they can increase their learning power.
Following “the learning way” begins with embracing the idea that “I am a learner” and continues with the development of sophisticated strategies for intentional learning based on their unique talents and the different learning challenges they face (Kolb and Kolb, 2009, p. 297).
The theory is called “Experiential Learning” to emphasize the central role that experience plays in the learning process, an emphasis that distinguishes ELT from other learning theories. The term “experiential” is used therefore to differentiate ELT both from cognitive learning theories, which tend to emphasize cognition over affect, and behavioral learning theories that deny any role for subjective experience in the learning process. Experiential learning theory defines learning as „the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience” (Kolb 1984, p. 41).
The ELT model portrays two dialectically related modes of grasping experience – Concrete Experience (CE) and Abstract Conceptualization (AC) and two dialectically related modes of transforming experience – Reflective Observation (RO) and Active Experimentation (AE) (Mainemelis, Boyatzis and Kolb, 2002, p. 5).
In grasping experience, some of us perceive new information through experiencing the concrete, tangible, felt qualities of the world, relying on our senses and immersing ourselves in concrete reality. Others tend to perceive, grasp, or take hold of new information through symbolic representation or abstract conceptualization – thinking about, analyzing, or systematically planning, rather than using sensation as a guide. Similarly, in transforming or processing experience some of us tend to carefully watch others who are involved in the experience and reflect on what happens, while others choose to jump right in and start doing things. The watchers favor reflective observation, while the doers favor active experimentation.