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Kolb’s Four Stages of Learning

Last Updated: June 30th, 2017

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In Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development (1984), Kolb defined learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (p. 38). This learning experience consists of four stages:

  • Concrete Experience (CE): feeling
  • Reflective Observation (RO): watching
  • Abstract Conceptualization (AC): thinking
  • Active Experimentation (AE): doing

These four stages, or steps, of learning typically move through a cycle that begins with a student having a concrete experience and ends with them actively experimenting with the knowledge they gained.

Kolb’s Four Stages of Learning

Kolb identified four different learning preferences, or learning styles, after observing the cycle of learning.  He identified learning styles as “habitual ways of responding to a learning environment.”  How students react to specific stages in the learning cycle helps identify their learning style.

Below is a grid that identifies the various types of learners and which stage of learning they lean toward. The stages of learning reflect how learners process and assimilate information:

Kolb’s Four Learning Styles in the Learning Cycle

Stage 4: Active Experimentation (AE)

processing information

Stage 1: Concrete Experience (CE)

assimilating information

Stage 2: Reflective Observation (RO)

processing information

Accommodator (CE and AE)
  • Adaptable to change
  • Problem-solvers
Diverger (CE and RO)
  • Finds meaning and value
  • Analytical
Converger (AC and AE)
  • Technical learners
  • Independent
  • Practical
Assimilator (AC and RO)
  • Interested in ideas and concepts
  • Observers
Stage 3: Abstract Conceptualization (AC)

assimilating information

Grid adapted from Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development (1985) and Student Development in College (1998).

Application to All Courses

Student learning styles are observed in a traditional classroom setting by engaging with students in classroom discussions, or observing students during lectures, group projects, presentations, or other activities. In the online environment, it is important to find ways to engage students through the entire cycle of learning and incorporate activities or prompts that will help reveal student learning styles present in your course. Remember: it is best practice to create a variety of learning experiences that reach all learning styles. Exposing students to a variety of learning experiences will also help them become a more adaptable, versatile learner.

Tools for Applying Kolb’s Four Stages of Learning in an Online Environment

video play button icon

Concrete Experience

goup conversation icon

Reflective Observation

Light bulb icon

Abstract Conceptualization

chemistry beaker icon

Active Experimentation

Accommodator Diverger Assimilator Converger Accommodator

This grid reflects examples of tools that can be found in each learning stage; however, many of these tools would be appropriate in multiple stages. Kolb recognizes that all learning stages are part of the experiential learning experience. For instance, “a classroom lecture may be an abstract experience, but it is also a concrete one, when, for example, a learner admires and imitates the lecturer. Likewise a learner may work hard to create an abstract model in order to make sense of an internship experience or experiential exercise. From the learner’s perspective, solitary reflection can be an intensely emotional concrete experience, and the action of programming a computer can be a highly abstract experience.” 3

Getting Started

Read Experiential Learning Experience as the Source of Learning and Development 2nd edition by David Kolb and explore Experience Based Learning Systems, Inc. for more information.

Additional Resources

Accessibility Statement

Keep accessibility in mind as you develop course content and build assignments and assessments. Many online tools are not fully accessible, so it’s important to think about how you will make the assignment accessible if requested. The Disability Resource Center and the UF Accessibility page will guide you in making appropriate accommodations. You can also find out more about accessibility at our toolbox page on Accessibility in the Online Classroom.

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