Experiential Learning Theory and Coding

This post introduces a useful tool I discovered for reflecting on my own learning process. Education is full of paradigms, theories, and tactics – as a former educator, I am familiar with some of these and never thought to use them as self-reflection tools, as a learner of programming, until recently.

What is Experiential Learning Theory (ELT)?

Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) is a learning modal established by David A. Kolb, in which reflective observation is a critical component of the learning cycle.

In this model, Kolb defined learning style on a two-dimensional scale based on how a person perceived and processed information. How a person perceived information was classified as concrete experience or abstract conceptualization, and how a person processed information was classified as active experimentation or reflective observation (Simpson & Du, 2004).

Accordingly, Kolb (1985) described the process of experiential learning as a four-stage cycle involving four adaptive learning modes: Concrete Experience (CE), Reflective Observation (RO), Abstract Conceptualization (AC), and Active Experimentation (AE). CE tended towards peer orientation and benefited most from discussion with fellow CE learners. AC tended to be oriented more towards symbols and learned best in authority-directed, impersonal learning situations, which emphasized theory and systematic analysis. AE tended to be an active, “doing” orientation to learning that relied heavily on experimentation and learned best while engaging in projects. RO relied heavily on careful observation in making judgments.

Kolb (1985) also identified four learning style groups based on the four learning modes: Divergers favored CE and RO, Assimilators favored AC and RO, Convergers favored AC and AE, and Accommodators favored CE and AE.

Source: The Relationship of Kolb Learning Styles, Online Learning Behaviors and Learning Outcomes
Author(s): Hong Lu, Lei Jia, Shu-hong Gong and Bruce Clark

Four Stage Learning Cycle

Source: https://www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html

Four Adaptive Learning Modes

Source: https://www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html

Four Learning Styles

Active Experimentation (Doing)Reflective Observation (Watching)
Concrete Experience (Feeling)Accommodating (CE/AE)Diverging (CE/RO)
Abstract Conceptualization (Thinking)Converging (AC/AE)Assimilating (AC/RO)
Source: https://www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html

Who am I?

I express an innate preference for the Converger learning style: abstract conceptualization into active experimentation (ahem, Playground).

These students [Convergers] are motivated to discover the relevancy or the “how” of a situation. Application and usefulness of information is increased by understanding detailed information about the system’s operation.

Source: https://web.cortland.edu/andersmd/learning/kolb.htm

Ain’t that the truth.

However, I would like to gain a slightly more balanced learning approach by integrating more reflective observation experiences. This means chatting with folks about what I’m learning and writing more about what I’m learning as part of that social outreach. This way, I can be aware of my innate preferences, but also push myself to learn in different ways to increase my knowledge retention.

Final Thoughts

The theory considers learning styles to be on a mutable continuum, with learners perhaps expressing one preference or another but able to shift and move around on the continuum throughout their lives. I am drawn to this theory for multiple reasons, this being one of them.

My intent as a learner is to develop a habit of checking my assumptions and unconscious preferences as I learn programming (and just about anything). I feel this is a vital skill in the information age.

What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a “spark of life.” It is information, words, instructions. If you want a metaphor, don’t think of tires and sparks and breath. Think, instead, of a billion discrete, digital characters carved in tablets of crystal. If you want to understand life, don’t think about vibrant, throbbing gels and oozes, think about information technology.

-Richard Dawkins

As the quantity of information continues to increase over time, there are few more important skills than learning how to learn in the most efficient way possible.

Additional Resources