“Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (David Kolb). Based on his four-stage learning cycle (see our blog article “Kolb’s Cycle of Reflective Practice”), Kolb defined four different learning styles which ultimately complete his Experiential Learning Theory (1984). Influenced by various factors, such as social environment or educational experiences, he states that each human being prefers a definite unique learning style which consequently differentiates them from others. This natural preference results from two pairs of variables, or more precisely from two distinct choices a learner makes in their internal cognitive processes. These choices are presented as lines of an axis, which incorporate opposing modes at either end.
In his model, the east-west axis (“Processing Continuum”) describes how a person approaches a task (watching or doing). The north-south axis (“Perception Continuum”) illustrates each person’s emotional response to the task and whether a person would rather be thinking or feeling about it.
According to Kolb, a person is not able to reach both variables located on the same axis at the same time – which means that one is not able to watch while doing something, or think about the task while being in a feeling mode. Owing to this fact, his learning styles should rather be seen as a two-by-two matrix of his four-stage cycle, meaning that each learning style embodies the combination of one’s two preferred styles.
Being aware of our preferred learning style allows us to adapt and increase our own learning by consciously using our preferred way.
Here is how Kolb describes his four learning styles:
1. Diverging (Feeling and Watching)
With the Diverging learning style, Kolb addresses particularly sensitive people who have a preference for watching rather than doing. They look at situations from different perspectives and try to solve problems by collecting information and using their own imagination.
Usually, people with a Diverging style act much better in situations where it is necessary to generate new ideas than people with another style (e.g., in brainstorming). Furthermore, their strengths often lie in art and creativity, as they are particularly imaginative and emotional, and usually they share a great interest in people. This also leads to a preference for learning by working with other people in a group and an ability to listen to them unprejudiced and with an open mind.
2. Assimilating (Watching and Thinking)
People with an Assimilating learning style are characterized by their logical approach to problems. Learners with this style tend to focus more on ideas and abstract concepts than on people. They are usually more attracted to clear explanations rather than to approaches based on practical value or group learning. Thus, the preference of this learner category lie mainly in reading and researching analytical models.
3. Converging (Doing and Thinking)
People with a Converging learning style are focused on finding practical uses for their ideas and solving practical issues by finding exact solutions to their questions.
Just like people with an Assimilating learning style, learners in this category are less interested in interpersonal aspects and prefer technical tasks.
They are particularly distinguished by their interest in working with practical applications as well as experimenting with new ideas and theories.
4. Accommodating (Doing and Feeling)
The Accommodating learning style is based on intuition instead of logic, people with this style commonly act on their “gut feeling” rather than logical analysis. They are attracted to new challenges and experiences, and to carrying out plans. Among all styles, it is the most prominent one within the general population. People applying this learning style make use of other people’s analysis and information, they will tend to rely on others for information than carry out their own analysis. And ultimately, they take an experiential, practical approach to learning.
It is quite normal that in addition to our preferred learning style, we also use the other learning styles depending on the context or situation that we are in, so we eventually do not depend on one sole learning style. As a matter of fact, we can work with all styles, but it is with our preferred one that we are at our best.
Training programs and courses that offer different techniques and methods in their continuum provide a wide range of different learning style possibilities, which makes them highly effective with different learners. This is what we call holistic learning. This way, learning can be internalized via more than just one “street”, so we can describe this process “learning with your head, heart, and hand”. This is what we aim to at Cambiana in all our training programs, no matter if virtual or in-person. We make sure that there is always the space and time to process a topic in your head, to complete an action related to a certain theory and make it practical, to discuss and reflect with others about what happened in order to harvest the learnings, and the precious aha-moments to transfer it into everyday work and life.
McLeod, S. A. (2017, October 24). Kolb – learning styles and experiential learning cycle. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html