Abstract Conceptualization And Reflective Observation Essay

Concrete/Reflective/Abstract/Active – David Kolb

Background of David Kolb

David Kolb is a Professor of Organizational Behavior at and received his Ph.D. from .  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.


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.

Experiential education describes a didactic model which is based on the assumption that only a direct and practical examination of the learning content allows for a effective and meaningful learning. In this concept the learner takes the centre stage. David Kolb’s ‘Experiential Learning Cycle’ is a concept within this approach which describes the ideal relation between experience and future action. According to this model learning is a circular process with the subsequent elements: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation.

This essay is aimed at reflecting my personal process of learning, acquisition of skills and career development in a specific learning situation that I experienced throughout the unit ‘Human Resource Development’ (HRD) during Semester 2, 2009 at Swinburne University of Technology. It follows the elements of the Experiental Learning Cycle in order to evaluate my ideas and learn about further actions.

Concrete Experience

I met my facilitation partner Andrew in front of the library for our first meeting. Since it was a windy and cool day he suggested to look for a warmer place where we could discuss our ideas. I agreed and followed him to an empty class room in the EN-Building where we sat at a table together. I did not really feel warmer in there but I did not want to complain either. Andrew started to pull his laptop out of a bag which seemed to me to take hours. There was an awkward silence in the room. The sound of the booted up laptop was a relief for me because it was the sign that we could actually begin with our work. We started to brainstorm different topics which were eligible for our facilitation session. Andrew described all of his ideas in detail and he used a lot of English or specific Australian expressions I did not know. I asked a few times “Sorry, could explain that to me?”. He always answered, “Sure. No worries.”, and tried to use other words to explain his thoughts to me. But nonetheless, I did not want to ask him every single time I did not know a word because I thought he might be annoyed.

After having collected a few ideas on a sheet of paper, we went over the list again in order to make a decision for a topic. For me it seemed clear that we were going to pick the “Behavioral Interview” topic but Andrew wanted to evaluate all the other ideas as well. That was why we balanced a few reasons for and against various themes and we both expressed our personal opinion. But whereas I always clearly stated which idea I like and which one not, I did not really understand Andrew’s point of view because he found positive aspects about every single topic. I felt like this discussion would lead to nowhere. After a while I said “In order to start with an acutal session plan, we should make a decision soon.” Although he seemed a bit irritated he agreed and we finally worked out to pick the “Behavioural Interview” topic. I had a look on my watch and noticed that I had to go to a class in five minutes. I suddenly felt stressed and uneasy because of that time pressure. Andrew noticed my look and I explained the situation to him. We decided to collect quickly some tasks that had to be done for the facilitation session and divided these tasks. After that we arranged another meeting for the following week and then I had to hurry up to my other class leaving Andrew behind in the room.

Reflective Observation

In thinking back on the meeting, I started to realize to what extent my behaviour and reactions had an impact on this situation. Due to the fact that I was feeling cold in our meeting room I did not take off my jacket and fold my arms around myself. For Andrew this type of body language probably looked like I would be uneased or introverted. In addition I did not bring my laptop with me which might have also seem to him like I am uninterested or I do not want to play a part in our meeting.

I also considered my discomfort concerning the language barrier to have an influence on the meeting. Resulting from that I lost the plot several times during our conversation which is why I could not give Andrew appropriate feedback to everything he said. Moreover, I think that our discussion was heavily influenced by our different way of decision making and accordingly by our manner to express our personal opinion. Maybe I was a little bit too brisk in bringing our meeting forth? Should I have given Andrew some more time to think about his personal view instead of calling for a fast decision? In thinking back of the situation, I really feel like our communication was disturbed at that moment. In addition to that I feel like my lack of time at the end of the meeting caused even more discrepancy. Since I did not tell Andrew in advance that I had a class immediately after our meeting he was most likely surprised about my sudden rush. It might have been better for our group work to leave the room together or even go and have a coffee together so that we could get to know each other on a more personal basis.

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