Thesis on Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory

Experiential learning theory integrates the research on cognitive development and cognitive style. Kolb credits the work of Lewin in the I940’s and the sensitivity training of the 1950s and 1960s with his understanding of the importance of experience in the learning process. He conceives of learning as a four-stage cycle.

It is essentially an open system capable of using the information generated by each stage to self-correct when the cycle repeats. Reflective strategies leading to action are based on avoidance of error and on the reward for active accomplishment. Kolb states, “Thus, in the process of learning, one moves in varying degrees from actor to observer, from specific involvement to general detachment” in a continuous cycle.

This is a teleological approach using cost/benefit analysis to determine needed accommodations. Positive findings were reported for this model of instruction in the literature, but studies were primarily descriptive, not specifically tied to Kolb’s theory, and focused on the assumption of skills used in a professional role. Isolated data, from my perspective, has little meaning unless tied to theory.

This model was not designed specifically for moral development as were the Perry and Kohlberg models, and the validation and/or use of Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory is the focus of the experiential learning theory literature. An advantage of this model is that it allows for self-correcting behavior as one learns skills. It does not, however, offer a structure that balances the needs of the individual, the profession, the environment, and the patient concurrently.

The lack of inclusion of non-justice perspectives limits the appropriateness of Kohlberg’s theory as a model for ethics instruction among the health care professions. Without the ability to include alternative philosophical perspectives, Kohlberg’s work does focus on ”indoctrination.”

This could probably nicely accommodate professional interests but it lacks appropriateness to meet the pluralistic demands of clinical practice that must also be grounded in a recognition of environment-centered and patient-centered concerns.