The Learning Process

There are many different learning types and approaches to learning. To learn effectively it is important to tailor your study habits to your own needs and approach, this often means choosing techniques that work for you and evaluating them from time to time to determine if you need to try something new.

Before you read about the learning process, take a moment to take the self assessment quiz. It’ll help you learn some important information about your learning style that the information below expands upon.


Kolb’s Model of Experiential Learning

The model used to inform the self assessment survey was based on the work of David Kolb (1984). Click on the image to enlarge it.

learningprocess

Kolb’s model (based on experiential learning theory) identifies four modes in the learning cycle:

  • Concrete Experimentation
  • Reflection
  • Abstract Conceptualization
  • Active Experimentation.

Basically, this is a fancy way of saying that we learn by:

  • Doing something (Concrete Experimentation)
  • Thinking about it (Reflection)
  • Doing some research
  • Talking with others and applying what we already know to the situation (Abstract Conceptualization)
  • Doing something new or doing the same thing in a more sophisticated way based on our learning (Active Experimentation).

Kolb’s holistic model builds on the earlier work of prominent scholars on human learning and development, but it doesn’t say much about the value of social connection and the possibilities for more of these connections made available through online technologies. We have expanded on it to include some of the “big picture” influences that are important in the learning process. These include your values and cultural influences, the values of the institution and the learning community created by the instructor, your peers and your support network.

What About Online Learning?

Learning is learning. It’s just that the activities you engage in with your online class may be different. In the diagram above, we have also incorporated Honey and Mumford’s learning types associated with Kolb’s model. We’ve identified some of the online learning activities which may be particularly appealing for the learning types identified.

Honey and Mumford (1982) identified four learning types associated with Kolb’s modes in the learning cycle:

  • Activists
  • Reflectors
  • Theorists
  • Pragmatists.

These might be considered approaches to learning. Other learning styles theorists have developed models based heavily on the processes involved in perceiving and processing new information. Howard Gardner’s theory on multiple intelligences is an example of this.

So, we can either try something out, think about it, talk about it or try it again in a new way! It can be pretty frustrating when new ideas are completely the opposite of what we thought we already knew!

Sometimes it can feel like we are turning our brains inside out in order to make sense of new information…

How We Learn…

Kolb identified two separate learning activities that occur in the learning cycle:

  • perception (the way we take in information) and
  • processing (how we deal with information).

This is represented on the diagram as two axis dividing the cycle into four quadrants.

Each quadrant represents different learning processes as follows:

  • Converging processes relate to bringing a number of perspectives to finding a single answer – usually right or wrong. You may use this way of thinking in a scientific context.
  • Diverging processes are about generating a number of accounts of different experiences. Typically, these are more creative processes.
  • Assimilating processes describe (roughly) the taking in of new knowledge.
  • Accommodating processes describe (again, roughly) the related of the new knowledge to our prior experiences and beliefs.

I am more of a do-er: I like to try things out or see how they work. My friend likes to read about it and work it out in her head. I guess that we have different approaches to learning.

Right! What’s really cool is that I understood more about what my physics prof was describing when I rode on my skateboard after class. I guess that means that I am using what I know and applying the theories I’m learning.

The perception and processing activities that Kolb describes can be divided into opposites.

For example, some people best perceive information using concrete experiences and emotions (like feeling, touching, seeing, and hearing) while others best perceive information abstractly (using mental or visual representations). Note the vertical axis on the diagram.

Once information is perceived it must be processed. You may process information best through active experimentation (doing something with the information) while others process best through reflective observation (thinking about it). Note the horizontal axis on the diagram.

But the learning process involves more than processing information, right?

Of course! I need motivation! That helps me choose what I want to pay attention to. And, there is the whole idea of learning about how we learn (and what stops us from learning). More resources to come on this.