David Kolb biography and theory

David Kolb - Toolshero

David Kolb (1939) is an professor and educationalist who specializes in experiential learning, individual and social change, career development and professional education. David Kolb is also the founder and chairman of Experience Based Learning Systems (EBLS) and best known for the Kolb Reflective Cycle.

The biography of David Kolb

In 1964, Kolb received his Bachelor’s degree with honours from KNOX college in the United States. He obtained his Master’s degree (MA.) in 1964 and his doctorate (Ph.D.) in social psychology from Harvard University.

Experiential Learning theory development

After completing his studies he started working as a lecturer and researcher at the Weatherhead, School of Management. Together with Roger Fry, Kolb developed the Experiential Learning Model (ELM).

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This model is composed of four concrete elements namely:

  • Concrete experience
  • Observation and reflection on the concrete experience
  • Formation of abstract concepts based on the reflection
  • Testing new concepts

These four elements form the essence of the cycle of learning. This can begin with any of the four elements but usually begins with concrete experience.

His model draws on the work of for example John Dewey, Jean Piaget and Kurt Lewin and is predominantly used for the development of executive and professional educational programmes.

Together with his wife Alice, David Kolb is still active in their company ELBS.

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Famous quotes

  1. “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping experience and transforming it.”
  2. “Experiential learning posits that learning is the major determinant of human development and how individuals learn shapes the course of their personal development.”
  3. “There are two goals in the experiential learning process. One is to learn the specifics of a particular subject, and the other is to learn about one’s own learning process.”
  4. “The concept of learning style describes individual differences in learning based on the learner’s preference for employing different phases of the learning cycle. Because of our hereditary equipment, our particular life experiences, and the demands of our present environment, we develop a preferred way of choosing among the four learning modes.”
  5. “The concept of learning space elaborates further the holistic, dynamic nature of learning style and its formation through transactions between the person and environment.”
  6. “The traditional lecture course … emphasizes first level learning emphasizing the learning modes of reflection and abstraction but involving little action (often multiple choice tests that assess registration of concepts in memory) and little relation to personal experience. Adding more extensive learning assessments that involve practical application of concepts covered can create second level learning involving the three learning modes where reflection supplemented by action serve to further deepen conceptual understanding.”
  7. “To learn from their experience, teams must create a conversational space where members can reflect on and talk about their experience together.”

Publications and books by David Kolb et al.

  • 2013. Kolb Learning Style Inventory: LSI Workbook. HayGroup.
  • 2012. Experiential learning theory. In Encyclopaedia of the Sciences of Learning (pp. 1215-1219). Springer US.
  • 2011. Kolb Learning Style Inventory 4.0. Hay Group.
  • 2010. Learning to play, playing to learn : A case study of a ludic learning space. Journal of Organizational Change Management.
  • 2009. Experiential learning theory: A dynamic, holistic approach to management learning, education and development. Sage Publications.
  • 2009. The Learning Way Meta-cognitive Aspects of Experiential Learning. Simulation & Gaming, 40(3), 297-327.
  • 2009. Are there cultural differences in learning style? International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 33(1), 69-85.
  • 2001. Experiential learning Theory: Previous Research and New Directions. In Perspectives on cognitive, learning, and thinking styles. Sternberg & Zhang (Eds.). NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • 2005. Experiential learning in teams. Simulation & Gaming, 36(3), 330-354.
  • 2005. Learning styles and learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher education. Academy of management learning & education, 4(2), 193-212.
  • 2005. Conversation as experiential learning. Management learning, 36(4), 411-427.
  • 2002. Conversational learning: An experiential approach to knowledge creation. Greenwood Publishing Group.
  • 1999. Learning style inventory. McBer and Company.
  • 1995. From learning styles to learning skills: the executive skills profile. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 10(5), 3-17.
  • 1991. Assessing individuality in learning: The learning skills profile. Educational Psychology, 11(3-4), 279-295.
  • 1986. Facilitating experiential learning: Observations and reflections. New directions for adult and continuing education, 1986(30), 99-107.
  • 1985. Learning-style inventory: Self-scoring inventory and interpretation booklet. TRG Hay/McBer.
  • 1984. Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Prentice-Hall.
  • 1984. Career development, personal growth and experiential learning. D Kolb, IM Rubin and JM McIntyre Organisational psychology: Readings on human behaviour in organisations, New jersey Prentice Hall.
  • 1983. Problem management: Learning from experience. The executive mind. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • 1981. Learning styles and disciplinary differences. in A. W. Chickering (ed.). The Modern American College. Jossey-Bass.
  • 1981. Experiential learning theory and the learning style inventory: A reply to Freedman and Stumpf. Academy of Management Review, 6(2), 289-296.
  • 1976. The Learning Style Inventory: Technical Manual. McBer.
  • 1974. Toward an applied theory of experiential learning. MIT Alfred P. Sloan School of Management.
  • 1974. On management and the learning process. Prentice-Hall.
  • 1971. Organizational psychology.
  • 1971. Individual learning styles and the learning process. MIT.
  • 1970. Organization Development Approach to Consulting. Sloan management review, 12(1), 51-65.
  • 1970. Goal-setting and self-directed behavior change. Human Relations, 23(5), 439-457.
  • 1968. Self-directed change: Two studies. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 4(4), 453-471.

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Original publication date: 09/16/2013 | Last update: 11/30/2023

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Vincent van Vliet
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Vincent van Vliet

Vincent van Vliet is co-founder and responsible for the content and release management. Together with the team Vincent sets the strategy and manages the content planning, go-to-market, customer experience and corporate development aspects of the company.


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