Kolb D.A. 1984. The Process of Experiential Learning.. Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development..


Explains experiential learning theory as a holistic and integrative framework incorporating experience, perception, cognition and behaviour.

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This article presents Kolb’s seminal work on experiential learning as developed from earlier work by Dewey, Lewin and Piaget. Kolb’s work is influential in that it challenged existing theories of learning which were based on cognitive or behavioural concepts. These concepts tended to imply a mechanistic, linear and objective quality to learning, denying the role of consciousness and subjective experience. However, Kolb proposed his theory from an integrative perspective, creating a holistic model of learning that incorporated and expanded cognitive and behavioural aspects. Experiential learning progressed theories of learning which were focused on outcomes, establishing learning as a process. Learning was also seen as continuous or cyclic, grounded in concrete experience and involving ongoing adaptation or adaptive processes. Experiential learning highlights transactions that occur between the learner and their surrounding environment. Kolb provides a working definition of “learning [as] the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.” This draws attention to the qualities of learning that include (i) its adaptive nature; (ii) the inherent processes of transformation (or creation and re-creation) of knowledge; (iii) the transformation of experience in both objective and subjective forms; and (iv) the interplay between learning and knowledge.


Kolb’s theory of experiential learning has expanded from its original focus on the individual, and is now applied toward the collective. For this reason it is fundamental to adaptive learning and is embedded within most models of learning discussed in the resource management and sustainability literature. Kolb expanded the view of learning beyond that which focused on content or outcomes, or of some-thing to be acquired or transmitted. Learning for sustainability is not about acquiring facts or dispositions either at the individual or institutional level. It is a constant process of unfolding to a continuously changing set of circumstances. Kolb’s experiential learning also establishes that learning is a subjective experience, linked to the generation of knowledge. Therefore, all forms of learning and associated knowledge are equally valid; that is, there is no objective measure for learning in this model. This is critical to adaptive learning and transformative change, which values diversity and novelty in learning processes.