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Learning Styles

Learning Cycle

Learning Cycle
Brain Research
Learning in Later Life
Practical Strategies
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"Learning may be defined as the process of making a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of an experience, which guides subsequent understanding, appreciation and action." J. Mezirow, 1991.
Below are a number of different ways of conceptualising learning. The main ones are Kolb's learning cycle and Honey and Mumford's learning styles derived from the cycle. Also Race's Ripples model.
Kolb's Learning Cycle is one of the most influential models that describes the learning process as a cycle of experiencing, reflecting, theorising, and taking action. A learning style is an individual's preference for a particular stage in the cycle or combination of stages but the preference need not necessarily be strong.
There are of course many different 'learning styles' concepts. For an extensive critical review of the Learning Styes literature and a detailed examination of 13 influential models download Coffield at al.'s review, 2004: Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning.
For a counter-argument about the usefulness of the 'learning styles' concept read Dr Steve Raynor's article - A teaching elixir or best-fit pedagogy? Do learning styles matter? It explores Coffield's criticisms and argues that they are an essential feature of personalised learning when used in well-considered ways, 

Click on diagram to go to J. S. Atherton's exposition on experiential learning

Kolb posits that there are 4 stages in the learning process:

Immediate or concrete experiences (CE). These provide a basis for reflections and observations (RO) and become assimilated into abstract concepts (AC), which produce new ideas for active experimentation (AE).  

This leads to new concrete experiences and reactivation of the cycle.


David Kolb is an influential developer of Experiential Learning Theory. He posits that there are four learning styles that emerge from different ways people perceive and process experience. He first published his cyclical model in 1984. (Free resources at Business Balls.)  Listen to David Kolb and Alice Kolb describe the LS model on his website.
The website (Experience Based Learning Systems) has material and articles on his theory, the learning cycle, and his Learning Style Inventory (LSI).

Read how neurobiologist and educator Dr James Zull has found the Kolb learning cycle a very good match for how the brain processes information in the brain.


Naturally Kolb is not without his critics. Dr Roger Greenaway has assembled articles by others who discuss Kolb's theory from its original proposition to some of its current refinements and applications. Critics suggests caution in unquestioning acceptance or universal application. 
Click model for more detail.
Clark, D. R. (2004), Instructional System Design Concept Map. Retrieved 1st May, 2009
Honey and Mumford's model is derived from Kolb's Learning Cycle. They posit that there are four types of learners - activists, reflectors, theorists and pragmatists. These styles directly correspond to the stages in the cycle, as distinct from Kolb's more complex model in which a learning style is a combination of two opposing stages.
  • Despite the controversy evoked by the Coffield report (2004) about the validity of the learning styles concept the H&M Learning Styles Questionnaire remains a widely used instrument in business and educational settings.

Click model for more detail
Race's Ripples Model

Dr Phil Race, a staff developer in higher education, finds Kolb (and other cyclical models of experiential learning)  prescriptive and too academic. He has created a 'Ripples' Model of Learning (See Powerpoint presentation and many other resources on his webpage.)

"The best way I've so far found to describe my 'wanting, doing, feedback, digesting' model of learning is as 'ripples on the pond', with each of the four processes in dynamic interaction with the rest. Feedback to learners comes from all directions - fellow students, learning resources, expert witnesses such as tutors, and so on."  Phil Race. Read his article - How does learning happen best?

Why Reflect? What are the pedagogical and physiological foundations of reflection for learning? Why is reflection important for learning? What does the literature say about how reflection supports learning? Neurobiologist Zull points out that reflection is a search for connections and also suggests that we have to seriously consider the role of emotion if we want to foster deep learning.
Learning Styles Notes. (2002, updated 2008) Steve Draper, Psychology Department, University of Glasgow. An introduction to thinking about learning styles.
Paragon Learning Style Inventory (PLSI) - self-administered providing an indication of learning style and cognitive preference. This site has a 48-item general version using the four Jungian dimensions (i.e, introversion/ extroversion, intuition/sensation, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving). These are the concepts used by Myers-Briggs.

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Val Bissland, Strathclyde University