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Understanding David Kolb’s experiential theory of learning

Article by GVI


Posted: December 8, 2022

3 min read

Psychologist David Kolb created an experiential learning model that offers insight into the reflection process and the transformative learning environment. In his model, observations are gathered from concrete experiences, and then processed via examining, analysing, interpreting, and reflecting from different points of view.

Kolb defines the learning process as grounded in experience as opposed to the transmission of information: “[It is] the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.”

Individuals find meaning through this process by considering the impact of their experiences, and by evaluating the dissonance that can surface during experiential learning situations. Ideally, students are constantly asking questions about their own thought processes, and strive to find trends or patterns in their experiences and behaviours to later evaluate and alter.

As educators, we can help our students with this by guiding them through these learning stages. Here are three key points to consider about Kolb’s learning process when engaging your students (and yourself!) in experiential learning.

It is a continuous cycle of learning and re-learning

It consists of modifying old ideas and integrating new knowledge within existing knowledge. In this way, it is building upon a foundation of knowledge, adapting and adding as we go.

Read about the 4 outcomes of transformative learning and how to achieve them

Learning is not limited to classroom settings

In fact, it operates on the assumption that experiential learning is richest when taken beyond the classroom. This is especially important  for service learning, as much of the educational value of it comes from, literally, outside, and by “doing.” 

As a process, it can apply to various stages of human growth

This includes our movements through social and psychological development that correspond to how we integrate into the world around us, more broadly as individuals and as citizens.


Essentially, Kolb believes we can apply richer observation and evaluation of our thought processes to our life experiences in general, on a daily basis.

Doing so makes life a classroom, and transformative learning an ongoing process of constantly – and intentionally – reconstructing our thought patterns and behaviours. This will ultimately expand our individual capacities for growth.

Think a service learning program might be a good fit for you? Find out more about GVI’s international programs and see how students from around the world are making a difference.

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