What is Kolb’s learning cycle?

Learning can be defined as the acquisition of abstract concepts that can be applied in real life situations. Experience plays an important role in this learning process.
The learning cycle of Kolb was developed in 1984 by David Kolb and shows how an effective experiential learning process can be designed. The cycle consists of four steps:

  1. The concrete learning experience (feeling)
  2. Reflective observation (watching)
  3. Abstract conceptualization (thinking)
  4. Active experimentation (doing)
Source: “Experiential Learning Model”, David Kolb (1984)

Why use Kolb’s learning cycle?

Using Kolb’s model for designing a course forces you to design activities according to the steps in the learning cycle. This is powerful because it addresses different learning styles. And people are very different in their learning style. Kolb describes four dominant learning styles which are always a combination of two learning preferences on two dimensions:
“Feeling versus thinking” and “watching versus doing”

Source: “Experiential Learning Model”, David Kolb (1984)

Every learner will score different on these two important dimensions of learning:

  1. The diverging learning style, combining watch and feel. People with this learning style are good in idea generation and brainstorming. They have a broad interest, are open minded and like to work in groups.
  2. The assimilating learning style, combining watch and think. People with this learning style like structure, clear explanations, and a logical approach. They are interested in concepts, ideas, and models. They like lectures and reading.
  3. The converging learning style, combining doing and thinking. People with this learning style are practical and are focused on solving problems. They are technical and application oriented.
  4. The accommodating learning style, combining feeling and doing.: People with this learning style are hands-on and very intuitive. They like challenges and an experiential approach based on gut feeling.
    In a course there will always be a variety of people and preferred learning styles. Designing a course with the learning cycle of Kolb will create an effective learning environment for all styles.

The learning cycle at Inchainge

In designing a course with the business simulations created by Inchainge, this learning cycle is a powerful model. Below we explain all the steps in the learning cycle and how they work in our business simulation games:

  1. The first step, the concrete learning experience, can be a round in the simulation where a team of four analyses the situation in the virtual company. Actions for the next round are discussed and decided.
  2. The second step is a debrief on the results of the round after calculating the results. In a debrief we reflect together with the learners what has happened in that round. Short team presentations can complete this debrief.
  3. The third step is to explain a new theoretical concept.
  4. The fourth step is an exercise or groupwork to apply the new concept on the simulation environment.

After this the team is ready for a next learning cycle, starting again with a round of decisions in the simulation. A training is typically designed to go through this cycle three to six times. Every cycle a new topic or learning objective can be highlighted and a new round in the simulation will be played.

Learning from each other in the micro cycle

As explained in “The Magic Circle: Principles of Gaming & Simulation”, by Jan H. G. Klabbers (2009), in this game approach we actually have two learning cycles: the macro and micro cycle. The macro cycle is the Kolb learning cycle as described above. But there is also another one, the micro cycle. The micro cycle occurs during the experience within the business simulation and within the team you play the game. In this cycle the team members play a round in the simulation. The cycle consists again of four steps:

  1. Action
  2. Sense making
  3. Formation and adjustment of schemes and mental models
  4. Adjusting your repertoire of actions
Source: “The Magic Circle: Principles of Gaming & Simulation”, Jan H. G. Klabbers (2009)

In this cycle the learners learn from each other.

Want to know more?

Now you know everything about the learning cycle and how Inchainge uses this cycle to facilitate the business games. Do you want to know more? Take a look at our page about experiential learning . Do you want to know more about our games? Take a look at our business games!