Experiential learning is 50! Yes, it has been 50 years since David A. Kolb, then a young MIT professor, tested his theory about an ideal process of learning by investigating individual approaches with the Kolb Learning Style Inventory (KLSI). For half a century, the KLSI has given people life-changing self-awareness of how they approach everyday life, major decisions, and interacting with others.
And now, to kick off the next 50 years, we’re happy to announce the new Kolb Experiential Learning Profile (KELP), a brand-new assessment that builds on the successes of the KLSI and has the potential to reach even more people with advanced, research-based insights into how we learn and how we can increase our learning power to transform our lives.
We at the Institute for Experiential Learning are devoted to building awareness of not just how we learn, but that we learn, even when we’re unaware that the learning process is taking place. We want to spread the word that “learning” isn’t just something that happens in the classroom. Learning is change, decisions, teamwork, transitions, challenges, breaking bad habits and setting new ones. Learning is living.
As children, we are taught the content of the 3 R’s – reading, ’riting, and ‘rithmetic – but pay little attention to how we learn them. Like a fish that is the last to know he is swimming in water, we lead our lives using an underlying mysterious, implicit process or operating system of learning of which we are often oblivious. Why so mysterious? Because unlike the explicit, intentional processes that we have, our learning process seems to have us. We don’t control it because we’re unaware of it. We adjust to an approach that works well enough, but what is missing never dawns on us.
Not so for those of us who have learned the process of experiential learning and have had experiential learning insights that impact our lives and effectiveness. We know what David Kolb and his foundational experiential learning scholars knew: that people can manage their own learning process through a natural, life-giving process that allows them to reach their potential and transform at any point in life.
For me, the first experiential learning insight was understanding that I used my intuition as a guide for making decisions. As a strength, it helped me to relate to others, empathize, and remain open to what was happening in the moment. Yet, as an implicit operating system, it limited my effectiveness. Using the experiential learning process, I now make the choice to listen to my intuition and step back from an immediate situation to draw my own conclusions. I can also observe the magnetic pull to drift into my comfort zone, and intentionally monitor how I choose to respond. Every day I have new insights that help me to be more effective or figure out why I am not. Every day, I can become better.
Larry, a retired sales executive, discovered that, even though he had spent his life in roles that required quick action and performance-driven results, he preferred taking his time to analyze and plan. As a manager, this made him the perfect balance for the driven salespeople who might otherwise be unchecked without a strategy. However, as a new retiree, it simply kept him stuck. His experiential learning insight was to take quicker, small actions to try new things and pay attention to his interests, as he finds his next “career.”
Upon discovering her penchant for seizing opportunities quickly, Jasmine realized that she automatically said “yes” to situations that later made her remorseful or even put her at risk. Her experiential learning insight was to pause and reflect before making decisions. Dampening her automatic response allowed her to make different choices that were life-altering.
Jing, a college dean, loved to take her time to cautiously watch and listen before making choices. Her experiential learning insight was that her tendency to be careful had turned into a perfectionism that caused her to miss opportunities. To satisfy her need to not make large mistakes, she began to view situations as pilot projects that could be adapted once she got some feedback from the environment.
Raoul, an attorney, who was highly skilled at using evidence to make logical decisions, was introduced to the KLSI through a leadership development program at his firm. His preference was a perfect fit for the practice of law; not so much for managing people. His experiential learning insight was to learn as much about the people on his team as he knew about the evidence in the cases he defended.
Many others have had life-changing experiential learning insights, too. For many people, when they discover experiential learning at just the right time, the lights go on! Whether you are new to experiential learning or you currently use it in your work and life, we hope you’ll check out the new Kolb Experiential Learning Profile (KELP). The KELP represents a refocusing of the instrument of experiential learning and the learning cycle process as opposed to a single focus on the learning styles.
The new sample report provides a look at how you use the experiential learning cycle, your preferred style, and your flex to use other styles, too. Consider this your new guide to lifelong development and the key to building self-awareness every day of your life. So even if you have not yet reached that “certain age” of 50, it is time to stop living in unawareness. Turn on the lights to remove your own blind spots and implicit biases of your approach by taking the Kolb Experiential Learning Profile. Thank you, Alice and David Kolb, for continuing to improve over the past 50 years, and for helping us to become better, too!
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Kay Peterson is founder and CEO of The Institute for Experiential Learning. To learn more about the institute and her work, visit https://experientiallearninginstitute.org/.