Learning is a characteristic of our species. We all learn, some better than others, some faster than others. The way in which we learn can vary. Kolb defined four main styles of learning (Experiential Learning Prentice Hall 1984):
- Concrete experience – feeling – having the experience
- Reflective observation – watching – reviewing the experience
- Abstract conceptualisation – thinking – concluding from the experience
- Active experimentation – doing – planning the next stage
These four styles also form the points on the circumference of the learning cycle.
The Kolb model of learning sets the styles around the perimeter of a circle. The process of learning is complete if the learner passes through all the styles.
The complete learner possesses the ability to pass through all the stages with equal facility, but most people have a preferred learning style. The style is preferred or dominant not exclusive. We each enter the circle at the point of our own preference and move according to our needs and circumstances. In some instances, the learner just learns in the one style and sees no need to move. In medicine, this would be difficult, but not impossible.
The work and publications of Peter Honey and Alan Mumford have produced a method of exploring the individuals learning style. (The Manual of Learning Styles, P Honey an A Mumford, P Honey Publications, Maidenhead 1992). The questionnaire published in the manual enables the learner to determine their learning style, compare their results with the accumulated results of many thousands, and explore their preferred ways of learning. When describing the styles they use the terms activist, reflector, theorist and pragmatist, corresponding with Kolbs concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation.
Completing the learning style questionnaire enables the learner to select the method most suited to their preferred style. It will also enable them to make the most of that style, and from the basis of success, develop their other styles.
For effective learning to occur, a learner needs to feel comfortable with the method, a personalised plan with the method tailored to the preferred style is likely to achieve this.
The elegance of this model is in its easy adaptation to the problem-solving process often used by health care professionals.