Experiential Learning and Learning Styles

David Kolb is an American social scientist known for his work in experiential learning. He reckons that we learn through spiralling through processes of participating in ‘concrete’ experiences, about which we make reflective observations, which enable us to develop abstract conceptualisations about our experiences, which then enable us to actively experiment with doing things differently. In other words, we adjust our mental models of how we behave in life, based on learning from our experiences.

Kolb reckons that out of this process, there are nine learning ‘styles’ that we subconsciously work to. We use elements of each but tend to be biased to one. Here’s a model of the styles and how they fit with the learning process.

Learning cycle

The sixth of these styles is the deciding learning style.

It’s Like Constructing a Building from Blueprints

The deciding learning style is similar to constructing a building from blueprints. The architect sketches out plans and specifications based on their understanding of the geology and geomorphology of the site, the budget and materials to be used. It’s then up to the builder to put those plans into practice. I once commissioned the construction of a family home. How two-dimensional plans are transformed into a three-dimensional dwelling is an exercise in problem-solving that combines plans (theories) with skills and materials (actions).

It’s All About Using Theories and Models

The deciding learning style is characterised by the ability to use theories and models in to decide on problem solutions and courses of actions. It combines abstract conceptualisation, and active experimentation.

The Value of Theoretically Informed Decision-Making

David Hodes runs the Ensemble Consulting Group out of Sydney, Australia. He uses theories and models to solve problems for corporate in mining, banking, engineering, aviation, retail and manufacturing.

Hodes specialises in the use of Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (TOC) to solve productivity problems, coupled to Schein’s Culture and Leadership theories, Senge’s learning organisation theory and Jacques’ Stratified Systems Theory.

The application of theory and models to real-world problems has saved Australian and multi-national tier-1 corporates millions of dollars.

It’s Big and Clever

Ensemble was once called in by one of the world’s largest banks by market capitalization. Eight weeks out from a project deadline they hit the wall, facing major challenges.

In migrating from their proprietary money markets and forex trading system to a state-of-the-art off-the-shelf solution their Markets division was six months behind. When Ensemble walked in, the deadline was eight weeks away, with significant unresolved issues. Missing the scheduled date was forecast to cost a minimum of five million dollars per month.

The bank needed to accurately assess, prioritise and balance all work across existing systems. This meant resolving the defects arising from the integration of over 150 legacy systems before ‘go-live’. As always in such projects, the schedule simply couldn’t slip.

The bank called on Ensemble to develop a rapid solution.

And It Works


  1. Using existing technology suite implemented a simple and robust work management system

  2. Restructured the organisation culture to focus in on singular purpose.

  3. Increased productivity by more than 100% and analysis time per defect from 5 days to a half-a-day

  4. Saved $5m per month by meeting a tight 8-week deadline.

If You’re Not Learning, You’re Not Leading

Learning, whatever your style is a major contributor to developing as a leader. We’re excited to offer a brand-new programme of learning for transformational leadership for ambitious professionals to fast-track their career, set up their own business or refine their leadership skills. Click here for more details.

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