Learning through experience is a powerful way for higher education students to gain real-world skills and the confidence necessary to excel in their careers and future lives.
But what exactly is Kolb’s experiential learning theory, and how does it enhance learning in the higher education sphere?
Keep reading to find out!
What is Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory?
Educational theorist David Kolb first proposed his experiential learning model in 1984. He pulled the theory from the idea that our experiences, environment, and emotions deeply impact the learning process—and that by managing these experiences, we can enhance learning.
Learning Enhancement: A Clear Example
Kolb breaks down his experiential learning theory into four stages: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation, and active experimentation. He presents these stages in a cycle that can begin or end at any point.
Concrete experience involves hands-on experiences we have with the world around us. Reflective observation is about reflecting on these experiences and examining learning. Abstract conceptualisation involves understanding our reflections and forming theories about them, while active experimentation is about putting these theories into practice.
Let’s use painting a still-life as an example:
- A student has hands-on experience by painting a still-life set up in front of them.
- The student reflects on their painting experience, observing the result.
- The student notices some perspective errors, and with their teacher’s guidance, determines how to fix the problem.
- The student attempts the painting again, tackling the perspective errors, and the painting improves.
Here, we see the student learn from their mistakes and, through reflection and observation, achieve an improved outcome. Reattempting the painting allows the student to see the impact of their learning in real time.
We can compare this example to a student simply watching a video demonstrating how to create still-life paintings. There’s no personal reflection, observation, or experimentation involved, and the student cannot experience the genuine impact of their learning.
Personalisation, Motivation, and Engagement
One of the key elements of experiential learning is personalisation. Through his work, Kolb found that students have distinct learning styles, and catering to these styles is the best way to achieve positive learning outcomes.
This concept ties into a phenomenon called intrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation comes from within. It’s the power that drives students to engage in an activity for its own sake, rather than for external rewards or in response to pressure.
Kolb’s experiential learning theory recognises the strong link between personalisation, intrinsic motivation, and engagement. When students find personal enjoyment in their work, academic results skyrocket.
Experiential learning is also a fantastic way to improve knowledge retention. A study published in Teaching Methods found Plant Science students who joined a field trip experience had improved homework scores—and scores were higher still for those who participated in a tree-climbing exercise.
These findings suggest hands-on experience helped the Plant Science students retain knowledge and therefore perform better on their homework assignments.
Enhance Outcomes in Your Classroom
Kolb’s experiential learning theory enhances higher education learning by providing more engaging, motivating, and personal educational experiences. We highly recommend trying Kolb’s approach in your classroom to improve academic outcomes among your students.