Concrete/Reflective/Abstract/Active – David Kolb


Background of David Kolb

photo: david a. kolb

David Kolb is a Professor of Organizational Behavior at Case Western Reserve University and received his Ph.D. from Harvard University.  Besides his work on experiential learning, Kolb is also known for his contribution to thinking around organizational behavior.  He has an interest in the nature of individual and social change, experiential learning, career development and executive and professional education. 






Theory Behind the Model

While some learning style categories focus only on the environmental aspects of learning (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and tactile), Kolb’s learning styles include perception and processing. According to Kolb, learners perceive and process information in a continuum from concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation:

  1. Concrete experience: being involved in a new experience
  2. Reflective observation: watching others or developing observations about one’s own experience
  3. Abstract conceptualization: creating theories to explain observations
  4. Active experimentation: using theories to solve problems, make decisions


The Concrete/Reflective/Abstract/Active

From this continuum, Kolb developed four learning styles: Diverger, Assimilator, Converger, and Accommodator.  Learners generally prefer one of the four styles above the others.  Although Kolb thought of these learning styles as a continuum that one moves through over time, usually people come to prefer, and rely on, one style above the others. And it is these main styles that instructors need to be aware of when creating instructional materials.

Diagram of Kolb's Learning Styles

Accommodators - (Concrete experience/Active experimenter)

These students are motivated by the question, "What would happen if I did this?"  They look for significance in the learning experience and consider what they can do, as well as what others have done previously. These learners are good with complexity and are able to see relationships among aspects of a system.


These teaching methods would work well for an Accommodator:

§      Anything that encourages independent discovery is probably the most desirable.

§      Accommodators prefer to be active participants in their learning.

§      The instructors working with this type of student might expect devil's advocate type questions, such as "What if?" and "Why not?"


Assimilator - (Abstract conceptualization/Reflective observer)

These students are motivated to answer the question, "What is there to know?"  They like accurate, organized delivery of information and they tend to respect the knowledge of the expert. They aren't that comfortable randomly exploring a system and they like to get the right answer to the problem.


Instructional methods that suit Assimilators include:

§      Lecture method (or video/audio presentation)--followed by a demonstration.

§      Exploration of a subject in a lab, following a prepared tutorial (which they will probably stick to quite closely) and for which answers should be provided.

§      These learners are perhaps less instructor intensive than some other learning styles. They will carefully follow prepared exercises.


Convergers - (Abstract conceptualization/Active experimenter)

These students 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.


Instructional methods that suit Convergers include:

§      Instruction should be interactive, not passive.

§      Computer-assisted instruction is a possibility.

§      Problem sets or workbooks can be provided for students to explore.


Divergers (Reflective observer/Concrete Experience)

These students are motivated to discover the relevancy or "why" of a situation. They like to reason from concrete, specific information and to explore what a system has to offer, and they prefer to have information presented to them in a detailed, systematic, reasoned manner.


Instructional methods that suit Divergers include:

§      Lecture method--focusing on specifics such as the strengths, weaknesses and uses of a system.

§      Hands-on exploration of a system.

The instructor would be best to mingle with the students, answering questions and making suggestions.  Ready reference guides provide handy, organized summaries for this kind of learner.