chapter 1

Kolb’s experiential learning cycle

The ability to reflect on our practice and learning progress is an essential ingredient in academic and professional development. Opportunities to reflect, and to build upon those reflections to enhance performance, should be built into learning designs.
One way of looking at this process of reflection, review and improvement was described in a model by David Kolb and his colleague Ron Fry, called the Experiential Learning Model (ELM). This is often referred to as ‘Kolb’s learning cycle’.
In this lesson you will examine Kolb’s learning cycle in more detail, and start to relate it to your own experience as a learner. You will also consider how you would design a learning experience based on the cycle.

Learning happens after we reflect about what we did and we conclude what is to do next. Learning is not a given and it does not happen while we are doing thus it doesn’t finish when the activity finishes. Learning occurs in a continuous loop of reflection.  Many times teachers ask their students to reflect on their learning. But what this means and why it is useful?
Kolb has come to a model of reflective learning taking as the starting point the concrete experience. Kolbs learning cycle.1Reflection, what does it mean? It is like looking in a mirror but instead of trying to see your face or arm what you try to see is your experience in order to identify what to do in the future. Sometimes it is best if you can do it with others so you can ask for feedback. Sometimes outsiders can see more clearly than you do.
How to reflect? You should go through a series of phases that will you allow to reflect upon your experiences. It shall begin with concrete questions that ask you to describe what happen and how do you fell so you can evaluate the positive which you want to maybe repeat as well as the negative which you would try to avoid to improve the next time. The idea is to identify your own problems for which asking for feedback is very much advice. Once you have conclude your current experience there must be a planing what comes next in order to improve and learn upong this experience. You can follow this steps:

  • Describe what happened
  • Explain how you feel
  • evaluate the positive + negatives
  • analyse the reasons
  • conclude what you learned from the experience
  • plan how to improve

So know lets do the cycle in my own learning. Some hands on activity!! Here is a good set of questions proposed

Questions to help you reflect Write your reflection here
Describe: What happened?
Feel: What were your feelings?
Evaluate: What was good about the experience? What problems did you have?
Analyse: Why did you have those problems? Did others have the same problems? What is their feedback?
Conclude: What general conclusions can you draw? What specific (personal) conclusions do you have?
Plan: What will you do to overcome the problems? What will you do differently next time?

Summarising the idea is to use questions as devices to focus our thinking and direct it to those areas where reflection can pay the highest dividends

Describe: What happened? Students where not so engaged. They did not show much interest and when it was difficult to start the discussion
Feel: What were your feelings?I felt some of them where bored and I felt that the majority
Evaluate: What was good about the experience?  I think the good part of the experience is that students face for the first time an activity that was related with formalising digital literacies or using and understanding digital literacies from a more reflective stand point.
What problems did you have? Students where not seeing the point of the activity.
Analyse: Why did you have those problems? I am still not sure. I had some discussion with students about their lack of interest in digital tools and they said to me: “why bother if we are finishing now? It would be better to work with first year students” So maybe it is they are oriented towards superficial learning?
Conclude: What general conclusions can you draw? Activities must be linked with assessment in order for students to see the point of learning. I think they are still to young and their motivation is mostly extrinsic.  What specific (personal) conclusions do you have?
Plan: What will you do to overcome the problems? I will think better in the assessment part of the module and think if it is possible to connect the activity to the overall course. What will you do differently next time? Plan better and use this experience to make it different

To complement this questions, there is also Gibbs’ learning cycle (which is the starting point for Kolb’s cycle) that suggest a more detailed set of questions that can help us to reflect

Gibbs learning cycle

Describe the situation:

  • When and where did this happen?
  • Why were you there?
  • Who else was there?
  • What happened?
  • What did you do?
  • What did other people do?
  • What was the result of this situation?

For the next step, what Gibbs calls feelings, the learner should be encouraged to talk about what she/he thought and felt during the experience.

  • What did you feel before this situation took place?
  • What did you feel while this situation took place?
  • What do you think other people felt during this situation?
  • What did you feel after the situation?
  • What do you think about the situation now?
  • What do you think other people feel about the situation now?

In the next phase, evaluation the aim is to look objectively at what approaches worked, and which ones didn’t.

  • What was positive about this situation?
  • What was negative?
  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What did you and other people do to contribute to the situation (either positively or negatively)?

Once the learner have evaluated the situation, conclusions need to be drawn about what happened. The teacher ofr peers can encourage him/her to think about the situation again, using the information that has been recorded so far. Then ask questions like these:

  • How could this have been a more positive experience for everyone involved?
  • If you were faced with the same situation again, what would you do differently?
  • What skills do you need to develop, so that you can handle this type of situation better?

The learner should now have some possible actions that you can take to deal with similar situations more effectively in the future. In this last stage, the learner needs to come up with a plan so that he/she can make these changes. Once the learner has identified the areas he/she will work on, him/her needs to commit to taking action, and set a date on which progress will be assessed.
Here another source of information for reflective learning

Hands on activity:

Think about a topic that you have recently covered in your current studies or training. To what extent, if any, can you identify elements of Kolb’s reflective cycle in the way that you were taught that topic?
Imagine yourself as a teacher. How could you use Kolb’s reflective cycle as a framework for the design of a lesson on that topic?

I have had just workshops at the university related to research skills and I do not see at all that Kolb’s cycle has been use to deliver the workshop. There is always a feedback sheet we must fill and there some questions like what did I learn and how I will apply what I have learned can have some relation with my final reflection but I do not think the workshop is planed with that cycle in mind.

I will use a concrete experience I had with 2 lectures I gave (as an invited speaker)  in a course at the university related with creativity, technology and learning. My main idea was to find meaningful ways to link technology to creativity and to learning. I decided to work with web literacies, in particular I followed Mozilla web literacy map as the framework to learn. I decided this particular aspect because I thought it would be relevant for students in general and also in their future placement as primary teachers.
Lets analyse the lectures using Kolb’s cycle

Describe: What happened? I gave the lecture in an interactive way involving students along my exposition asking them questions about their own experience or ideas in relation to the topic. Students take a long time to answer. I had to insist, ask again, re frame the question and wait in silence. Not to many students did give answers, it stroked me. I did not point at particular students because I don’t think putting them on the spot works, I walked along the hall and looked at them and started like a conversation where the question was embedded. They did not show much interest, it was difficult to start the discussion and once it started it did not last very long. The result was a lecture that was not very dynamic.
Feel: What were your feelings during and after the situation?
Before the lecture I felt very exited! I had worked hard to deliver a dynamic and interactive lecture as I do not like this format of teaching. I wanted to do something different. I did my presentation using Prezi which is a dynamic software. When the lecture started I felt they were bored and not engaged with the lecture (or maybe that is their way to engage, being silent and listening?). On the other hand less than the half of the group attended the lecture as they were preoccupied with their dissertation, this was a little bit disappointing for me.
Evaluate: What was good about the experience?  I think the good part of the experience is that students face for the first time with an activity that was related with formalising digital literacies or using and understanding digital literacies from a more reflective stand point. They thought how could they teach them which in turn brings them to reflect deeply about it.
What problems did you have? Students where not seeing the point of the activity. They were asking if it will be considered as part of the assessment, etc. Some of them could not connect to the Internet, which was necessary in order to do the activity, so they did not work. Another group did struggle to find their way into the web page and the activity and I offered enough guidance to allow the necessary struggle so that learning occurs.
Analyse: Why did you have those problems? I am still not sure. I had some discussion with students about their lack of interest in digital tools and digital literacy and they said to me: “why bother if we are finishing now? (they are in their last year) It would be better to work with first year students” So maybe it is that they are oriented towards superficial learning?
Conclude: What general conclusions can you draw? Do not expect anything from the lecture. Maybe at this age students need that the activities are linked with assessment in order to see the point of learning. I think they are still to young and their motivation is mostly extrinsic.  What specific (personal) conclusions do you have?
Plan: What will you do to overcome the problems? I will think better in the assessment part of the module and think if it is possible to connect the activity to the overall course. What will you do differently next time? Plan better and use this experience to make it different

David, Jonassen (1997). Computer as cognitive tools (Article)

There is also the book: Computers as Cognitive Tools. No more walls. (Susanne P. Lajoie, 2000) that needs to be revised, particularly the epilogue: Fallible, distractible, forgetful, wilful, and irrational learners.

Analysis of the article

The basic idea of the article is that web-based or computers can be seen as cognitive tools as they are used to re-present knowledge that has already been learned or that needs to be processed in order to learn it. Computers can be seen as cognitive tools that can expand learner’s thinking. I think one analogy that could be made here is VLEs seen as computers in front of which students are passives and asked to operate in a closed already made system whereas in a PLE the student is asked to design it, think about which tools can support which bit of the learning, how to organise a digital working space, how to find ways in which new tools can serve the purpose of old ones but adding new features, the tasks involved in a learning process. PLEs are seen using Jonassen’s framework, as cognitive tools, like constructive environments, where students need to interact with the environment in order to create it and also to use it as a workbench to re-present the knowledge for which has been designed for:

Learners function as designers when they use computers as cognitive tools for analysing the world, accessing information, interpreting and organising their personal knowledge, and representing what they know to others. Cognitive tools are generalisable computer tools that are intended to engage and facilitate cognitive processing, hence cognitive tools. (Kommers, Jonassen, & Mayes, 1992). They are knowledge construction and facilitation tools that can be applied to any subject matter domain represented in university.(p.2)

Learners as designers: The process of articulating the knowledge in order to construct the artefact or even in choosing the tools to create that artefact forces the designer to reflect on the knowledge and its process of transformation in new and meaningful ways. Give the representational power of the tool to the learner. Perkins (1993, cited by Jonassens) is of the idea that tools are powerful in their ability to represent knowledge, if that is for what they are chosen to, but they are not “fingertip” tools that learners use naturally, effortlessly and, effectively. Rather they provide an environment and vehicle that ofter demand from the learner to think harder about the knowledge they want to represent generating thoughts that without the tool may have not arisen.