What Are KOLB’s Learning Styles And What Do They Mean?

Why is it important to understand learning styles?

What do learning styles mean?

And how can they influence the way you teach or coach others?

The whole concept of learning styles is not new.

The Greeks recognised that different people learn in different ways, and over the years we have seen the application of learning categorised so that we can learn in the way that is not only the most convenient and comfortable for us, but also the way that enhances our appreciation of the ideas learned. It has needed to evolve over the years too. More and more learning is being conducted on an elearning platform with modern-day learners so the way people learn on these systems and the content that we provide for them needs to be thought through to cater for different learning styles.

We need to understand learning styles so that, if we are coaching or mentoring others, we set out our stall in a way that is conducive to the individual(s) and their abilities to absorb information.

If we get it wrong, it can impact the learner in a detrimental way.

For example, if we learn by seeing something being carried out and then reflecting on what we have seen, that needs to be implemented by our coach or mentor.

If they communicate with us in a way that is different to how we learn, the methodologies we use may not be favourable or helpful to us.

So, it’s important to understand the differing styles and their implications on how we absorb and select information to focus on.

Where did these concepts of learning styles get their modern interpretation?

The learning cycle that David Kolb analysed in his model published in 1984 basically involves four stages, namely: concrete learning, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation.

Effective learning can be seen when the learner progresses through the cycle.

The learner can also enter the cycle at any stage of the cycle with logical sequence.

the experiential learning cycle

What do these stages involve and why are they important?

The first stage is concrete learning or concrete experience, where the learner encounters a new experience or reinterprets an existing experience.

This could be where the learner is exposed to a new task or a new way of carrying out a project, in a way they haven’t seen before.

This is followed by the next stage, reflective observation, where the learner reflects on the experience on a personal basis.

For many people, this is where the metamorphosis from seeing and doing to reflecting can embed the learning into real-time absorption of materials and methodology.

It could be where a person is shown how to accomplish a goal and then looks at how it could be applied in differing circumstances.

Following reflective observation is abstract conceptualisation, where learners form new ideas, or modify current abstract ideas, based on the reflections that arise from the reflective observation stage.

They now have the chance to see how the ideas learned previously can be applied in their real world. The concepts they see can be altered by the results they have seen obtained in observing the ideas formulated in previous stages.

Then, there’s the active experimentation stage.

This is where the learner applies the new ideas to her surroundings to see if there are any modifications in the next appearance of the experience.

By actively experimenting with the whole concept of visible action, we learn to associate what we have experienced with new ideas and innovations.

This second experience becomes the concrete experience for the beginning of the next cycle, beginning at the first stage, and this process can happen over a short or long time.

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What are KOLB’s four learning dimensions?

Knowing these stages helps us to develop learning experiences for our team members in ways that enhance their whole skillsets and capabilities. Kolb takes these four components and builds on them to create four overall learning dimensions, as listed below:


These people see things from differing perspectives.

They prefer watching to doing and are able to use their imaginations to be creative in their overall learning styles.

The learning characteristic is of concrete experience and reflective observation.


These people are able to explore and analyse models well.

They are more interested in concepts and tasks than in the people relationship.

Their characteristics could include abstract conceptualisation and reflective observation.


These people are good problem-solvers and are seen as being quite practical in their analyses of ideas and tasks.

They tend to converge on the answers they want and are characterised by abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation.


These people tend to be more practical in their outlook on learning, and they like to see problems from an intuitive point of view.

They may rely a lot on gut feeling.

They like new-found challenges and may be characterised by concrete experiences and active experimentation.

How can we apply these when coaching or mentoring others?

Well, we can review these concepts developed by David Kolb and initiate new ideas in learning sessions in these three ways:

1) It will help us to target more specific learning sessions for people we are working with
2) It will help us design training and coaching exercises that link up with the specific way our learners take in information
3) It will help us personalise any learning intervention for people in line with the four stages listed above.

By providing different learning initiatives, we increase the chances of the person assimilating the information effectively and helping them create ideas that may have been off their radar if the learning had been in a different style.

One way to achieve this online is through off-the-shelf elearning content as well as bespoke elearning. Both cater for different needs and learning styles. For example, most off-the-shelf content is made up of short, sharp 1 to 5 minute sessions whereas bespoke elearning content can take the shape of a blended solution with face to face and online solutions or as standalone online training with presenter, animation or motion graphic content to cater for different preferences.

Thanks again, give it a go!

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Sean is the CEO of Skillshub. He’s a published author and has been featured on CNN, BBC and ITV as a leading authority in the learning and development industry. Sean is responsible for the vision and strategy at Skillshub, helping to ensure innovation within the company.

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Updated on: 13 November, 2019

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