With school starting back this month, teachers will assess students on many things. They will assess reading levels, spelling accuracy, math knowledge and whether students know the three branches of government. But they will also assess students’ learning styles, often using Kolb’s Learning Style model, to determine how their students learn best.
Knowing how students learn helps teachers plan instruction, set up collaborative groups and better target instruction for students to help them find success. Online training within corporations would be wise to take a cue from classroom teachers and use Kolb’s Learning Styles and Learning Cycles to plan and deliver training, and to increase the lasting impact of training for employees.
A Quick Overview
David Kolb published his theory of an experiential learning style in the 1970s followed by his Learning Style Inventory in 1984. Kolb suggests that learning begins with a concrete experience and progresses to reflection, drawing conclusions, and then testing out your new knowledge. Effective learning occurs when the learner progresses through the entire learning cycle.
His four learning styles correspond with the stages of the cycle. Most people, he suggests, have a single learning style preference. The four learning styles are:
- Accommodating — Learners who like to feel and do and learn best from concrete experiences and testing out their knowledge;
- Diverging — Learners who prefer to feel and watch and prefer concrete experiences and time to reflect;
- Assimilating — Learners who prefer to think and watch and excel when reflecting and drawing conclusions from their reflections;
- Converging — Learners who prefer to think and do and lean toward abstract conceptualization and applying their knowledge.
Over time, Kolb and his fellow researchers have expanded the learning styles to include nine distinct styles to account for learners on the borders of one of the initial four learning styles.
The Learning Cycle in Online Training
Online training lends itself well to guiding students through the Kolb learning cycle and providing opportunities for online learners to experience each stage in the learning process creating more effective training.
- The learning must start with a concrete experience such as a simulation, game or real-life scenario for the learner to engage with.
- Online tools such as discussion rooms, writing assignments and chats allow time for reflection and developing conclusions about the experience.
- Then learners apply their new ideas through online learning tools, returning to a simulation or game and trying different variables, or creating models reflecting their ideas.
- Engaging online learners in the full cycle makes for more engaged learners and lasting learning outcomes.
Learning Styles in Online Training
Corporations should also apply Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory to online training for the same reasons they should use the learning cycle. When learners have opportunities that address their personal learning style, the learner becomes more engaged and retains the knowledge for longer.
Using the learning style inventory and knowing the learning styles of employees can help corporations:
- Identify the strengths of employees to better assign work tasks to people who excel in particular areas;
- Create work teams of a diverse group of employees who can complement one another and challenge each other to innovate, think differently and consider all aspects of a project or initiative;
- Plan online training to better address the needs of employees based on how each employee learns best;
- Group employees during trainings for a more robust learning experience for all the employees;
- And analyze whether the corporation tends to employ people with just one or two learning styles and how those choices might impact how the organization operates.
Knowing the learning styles of employees can help a corporation seize upon employee strengths by catering to their learning styles rather than try to force all employees to do the same work or learn in the same way.
So while teachers this month assess the children entering their classrooms and plan instruction accordingly, corporations should take time to assess their employees and the online training courses they deliver to ensure it takes employees through the learning cycle and fits their learning needs.