Using Kolb’s learning styles to improve a lesson

In my little part of the world, there has been a lot of conversation on how to improve instruction. Recently, I learned about Kolb’s learning styles and I felt they are a great tool to help learners grasp what you are presenting.

One night in a class on adult learning theories, we were introduced to David Kolb’s learning styles. Dr. Day explained the learning styles and how they could be used to organize a lesson. He used a ski lesson as an example for how he incorporated the learning styles. We were then asked to take one of our lessons and apply Kolb’s learning styles to create a new lesson. Before I discuss how I applied them to an upcoming lesson, I will first explain my understanding of the learning styles.

Kolb asserts in his learning theory that learners have a preference for learning. These preferences sit on two continuums,  perception and processing. On the perception continuum, it varies from thinking to feeling, and on the processing continuum, it varies from doing to watching. Here is a diagram to show the relationship.  Kolb believes that people tend to gravitate to one or more styles compared to others. However, in a lesson where all styles are used, learners will benefit throughout the lesson.  Using the diagram as a reference, Kolb incorporates a four-stage cycle of learning model where the instructor would start at the top of the diagram and rotate clockwise through the diagram so all four different learning styles are implemented. Eventually a learning style favorable to the learner would be used.

Starting at the top, learners would discuss an feeling or reaction to the topic being presented so that they could tie their experiences to the instruction topic.  This would relate to the feeling learning style. During the watching learning style, the instructor would explain the principle and students would observe and reflect on what is being presented. Moving on to the thinking learning style, learners would use what they learned to solve problems and answer questions. Finally, in the doing learning style, learners would apply what they have learned in a hands-on application.

Here is how I am applying Kolb’s learning theory into an upcoming lesson.

Next week, I will be giving a Webinar on Criterion Objectives. This is part of a series I am preparing for extension educators. If history is any reflection, I expect to have 10-20 participants.

1. Feeling – At the beginning of the lesson, I want the participants to provide examples of instruction where the objective was not clear or missing. Additionally, I want them to point out why this has been a problem. They will do this in the chat window of the Webinar tool. In this case, I am using Elluminate.

Sections two and three will be repeated for each part of the criterion objective – performance, conditions, and criteria.

2. Watching – In this section, I will introduce each part of the criterion objective as well as provide acceptable examples.

3. Thinking – In this section, I will check learner understanding by display examples of each part of the criterion objective with at least two items per display. The participants will be given an opportunity to select the correct response. If there are differing answers, we will discuss them.

4. Doing – Finally, after learning about each piece of the criterion objective, participants will have an opportunity to write an objective in the chat window. Asking for volunteers, we will then critique on the whiteboard.

I will also be weaving in strategies from Wlodkowski, however, this task was to focus on Kolb.

Is there anyone out there using Kolb’s learning theory? Since I am just becoming familiar with his theory, I would like to see more examples of this in practice.

The difference between want to and have to learning

Reading Turning Learning Right Side Up*, and two other recent articles The Old Revolution and Apply Business Practices to Education, has helped me reflect on the idea of education and learning just a little more. I think the real difference is between want to and have to. There just seems to be something about the idea of have to that upsets people. I know I would rather want to rather than have to.

Looking at the Sudbury Valley School, while students have to attend the school at least 5 hours per day, they then get to choose what they want to participate in throughout the day. In the US, we have to attend education for 12 years of our lives, for the rest of our lives we can do what we want to. Why do we have this 12 year have to period? Why can we redesign it as Ackoff and Greenberg recommend to reflect a more want to environment.

While I want to earn a doctorate and want to continue going to school, graduate school has been reflective of the have to environment I remember from secondary school. Why can it not be redesigned to reflect the suggestions that Ackoff and Greenberg recommend. Why can it not reflect more the want to learning environment I experience in work. At work, I have problems to solve. If the problems are non-routine, I then enter a learning episode to discover a solution. To discover this solution, I typically start to interact with human and nonhuman resources. I either talk with colleagues or do searches on the Internet. The test is whether or not I solve my problem and move forward. At work, I discuss the upcoming year with my boss and together we develop a work and learning plan. Why can’t higher education be similar? Why can’t the students help decide what will be taught, who will teach it, how it will be taught, and how it will be assessed? It is interesting, one day students do not seem to be capable to organize learning, and on the next after a stroke of a pen and confirmation of a degree, they are suddenly in charge of developing instruction for students. When does the osmosis take place?

As I listen to discussion about education from secondary to higher education, it would seem that people could not survive without it. Yet, the majority of Americans have not gone to college, and are surviving on different degrees of the continuum. There are people who have dropped out of secondary school, and have survived. Since education as we know it is a relative (150 years) recent experiment, could it be improved if we changed it from a have to environment to a want to environment. Rather than dictate what must be learned and when it must be learned, let’s change it to one where the learner has more input. I believe people will learn when they want to and they have a need. Let’s create opportunities not the mandate.


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Who has shaped your beliefs about teaching and learning?

In my current class, we were asked to prepare a reflection paper on our beliefs about learning, about the educative process, and about teaching adults. This gave me great pause because not only did I have a lot of ground to cover, but I did not really focus on who influenced me rather what influenced me.

As I wrote in my conclusion, my ideas about learning, the educative process, and teaching adults were forged in my time in the Air Force. Two constants were driven into my head; get the mission done, and take care of your people. It is the people who get the mission done, therefore, they are the top priority. Part of taking care of your people was ensuring they were well trained. As a supervisor, you did not want your troops to be dependent upon you; you wanted them to perform unsupervised as soon as possible. As a supervisor, you wanted them to excel, so you showed them strategies to become lifelong learners so they could excel. My mission has changed, but my ideas for accomplishing it have not changed. I am interested in providing resources and supporting lifelong learning which in turn supports the organizational mission.

As I thought about it more, I was able to identify  a number of individuals who have shaped my beliefs.

Graham Attwell got me interested in personal learning environments and personal learning networks.  As I see it, personal learning environments  help feed information to keep you current; mine are technology-based platforms. More…

Jay Cross has prompted me to explore ideas about informal learning in the workplace. Since individuals spend over 70% of their learning in an informal mode, how can we help them learn better in the workplace. More…

K. Patricia Cross highlighted a number of ideas about adult learners. She pointed out that adult learners are hesitant to seek out professionals to help solve problems; however, professionals can get information to learners through the use of learning guides and resources. More…

John Dewey helped me better understand that learning is lifelong and best occurs in a naturally environment rather than isolate learning into subject silos. Learning is also social, we learn from others through dialogue. More…

Malcolm Knowles has provided me with the most information about adult learners. I believe his works should be read by all Extension educators. He has caused me to rethink a lot of my instructional methods. While I have made progress, I do have to admit, I still have a lot more work to do. More…

Victoria Marsick and Karen Watkins also discuss informal learning in the workplace. They provide strategies for leveraging informal learning. More and more…

Allen Tough is my key to informal learning. He has thoroughly explained that adults are constantly learning, and why they take on learning projects. Others have extended his research but he is the cornerstone in this area. More…

George Siemens had me look at how people tap into knowledge, and more importantly how they connect to new sources of knowledge.  How can individuals and organizations strengthen their learning connections? More…

Daniel Tobin, like Cross, Marsick, and Watkins, focuses on self-directed or informal learning in the workplace. Again, a great resource for ideas on fostering a positive learning environment in the workplace. More…

So, what am I interested in? Informal learning, learning in the workplace, social constructivism, connectivism, and adult learning.  Naturally, I am interested in how technology impacts all of these areas.

Who has shaped your beliefs about teaching and learning?