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 fifth of these styles is the thinking learning style.

It’s Like Jazz

The thinking learning style is similar to playing in a jazz group. Jazz group members carefully listen and watch each other, as well as themselves. By observing and reflecting on what’s going on, they’re able to draw on their personal repertoire of musical ‘licks’ and ‘riffs’ acquired over the many hours of practice the typify jazz apprenticeship and lifelong learning. They build new versions of their licks and riffs based on what they’ve just heard. Then as they solo or support, they actively put their fresh thinking into play.

It’s All About Discipline

The thinking learning style is characterised by disciplined involvement in abstract and logical reasoning. It draws on abstract conceptualisation, while balancing active experimentation and reflective observation.

The Value of Thinking

Tinker Hatfield is amongst the world’s most influential designers, responsible for the design of Nike’s Jordan brand, which generated $3.1 billion in sales in 2019. His approach is documented in the Netflix documentary Abstract: The Art of Design.

Hatfield’s shoe designs rely on his abstract conceptual drawings (built on his architectural training), which are then developed in active experiments, upon which he and Jordan reflect as he refines the designs.

This illustrates how the thinking learning style firmly grounds the development of thought in reality, allowing thinking to be more readily useful.

Yes, It Really Works

In the 1989 film Back to the Future Part II, the main character, Marty McFly (played by Michael J Fox), on arriving in 2015 finds a pair of self-lacing Air Jordans.

In 2014 Hatfield indicated that Nike would unveil a shoe with power-lacing technology. Abstract: The Art of Design showed the slow development of the shoe through repeated cycles of abstract conceptualisation (initially for the film), active experimentation and reflective observation.

The Nike HyperAdapt 1.0 self-lacing shoe was released for retail sale on 1 December 2016.

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

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