Reflection Models and Learning Styles


David Kolb published his learning styles model in 1984 from which he developed his learning style inventory.  Kolb's experiential learning theory works on two levels: a four stage cycle of learning and four separate learning styles.  Much of Kolb’s theory is concerned with the learner’s internal cognitive processes.

Kolb states that learning involves the acquisition of abstract concepts that can be applied flexibly in a range of situations.  In Kolb’s theory, the impetus for the development of new concepts is provided by new experiences.  “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Kolb, 1984, p. 38).

Kolb's learning theory (1974) sets out four distinct learning styles, which are based on a four-stage learning cycle (see below).

Kolb Learning Cycle Diagram(click for full size)

Kolb explains that different people naturally prefer a certain single different learning style. Various factors influence a person's preferred style, for example, social environment, educational experiences, or the basic cognitive structure of the individual.

Whatever influences the choice of style, the learning style preference itself is actually the product of two pairs of variables, or two separate 'choices' that we make, which Kolb presented as lines of axis, each with 'conflicting' modes at either end:

A typical presentation of Kolb's two continuums is that the east-west axis is called the Processing Continuum (how we approach a task), and the north-south axis is called the Perception Continuum (our emotional response, or how we think or feel about it).  Kolb believed that we cannot perform both variables on a single axis at the same time (e.g. think and feel).  Our learning style is a product of these two choice decisions.

It is often easier to see the construction of Kolb's learning styles in terms of a two-by-two matrix. Each learning style represents a combination of two preferred styles. The chart below also highlights Kolb's terminology for the four learning styles; diverging, assimilating, and converging, accommodating:


(Active Experimentation - AE)

(Reflective Observation - RO)

(Concrete Experience - CE)

Accommodating (CE/AE)

Diverging (CE/RO)

(Abstract Conceptualization - AC)

Converging (AC/AE)

Converging (AC/AE)


Descriptions of Kolb’s Learning Styles

Diverging (feeling and watching - CE/RO)

Diverging people are able to look at things from different perspectives.  They are sensitive.  They prefer to watch rather than do, tending to gather information and use imagination to solve problems.  They are best at viewing concrete situations at several different viewpoints.

Kolb called this style 'Diverging' because these people perform better in situations that require ideas-generation, for example, brainstorming.  People with a diverging learning style have broad cultural interests and like to gather information.  They are interested in people, tend to be imaginative and emotional, and tend to be strong in the arts.  People with the diverging style prefer to work in groups, to listen with an open mind and to receive personal feedback.

Assimilating (watching and thinking - AC/RO)

The Assimilating learning preference is for a concise, logical approach.  Ideas and concepts are more important than people.  These people require good clear explanation rather than practical opportunity.  They excel at understanding wide-ranging information and organizing it in a clear logical format.  People with an assimilating learning style are less focused on people and more interested in ideas and abstract concepts.  People with this style are more attracted to logically sound theories than approaches based on practical value.

This learning style is important for effectiveness in information and science careers.  In formal learning situations, people with this style prefer readings, lectures, exploring analytical models, and having time to think things through.

Converging (doing and thinking - AC/AE)

People with a Converging learning style can solve problems and will use their learning to find solutions to practical issues.  They prefer technical tasks, and are less concerned with people and interpersonal aspects.  People with a converging learning style are best at finding practical uses for ideas and theories.  They can solve problems and make decisions by finding solutions to questions and problems.

A Converging learning style enables specialist and technology abilities. People with a Converging style like to experiment with new ideas, to simulate, and to work with practical applications.

Accommodating (doing and feeling - CE/AE)

The Accommodating learning style is 'hands-on', and relies on intuition rather than logic.  These people use other people's analysis, and prefer to take a practical, experiential approach.  They are attracted to new challenges and experiences, and to carrying out plans.

They commonly act on 'gut' instinct rather than logical analysis.  People with an Accommodating learning style will tend to rely on others for information than carry out their own analysis.  This learning style is prevalent within the general population.

Reflection Process

As students participate in an experiential learning opportunity/class and are completing the related community work/project, they should be asking themselves these questions: What did you do? What did you learn? What can you do?  The reflection process begins with defining and sharing the details of the student experience, and follows a continuous cycle toward what was learned and what can be done, such as:

  • What did you do? – objectively report the facts and events of an experience
  • What did you learn? – analyze the experience
  • What can you do? – Consider the future impact of the experience on yourself and the community as a whole


What did you do?

  • What happened?
  • What did you observe?
  • What was the issue being addressed or population being served?

What did you learn?

  • Did you learn a new skill or clarify an interest?
  • Did you hear, smell, or feel anything that surprised you?
  • How is your experience different from what you expected?
  • What impacts the way you view the situation/experience?
    • What lens are you viewing from?
  • What did you like/dislike about the experience?
  • What did you learn about the people/community?
  • What are some of the pressing needs/issues in the community?
  • How does this project address those needs?

What can you do?

  • What seems to be the root causes of the issue(s) addressed?
  • What other work is currently happening to address the issue?
  • What learning occurred for you in this experience?
  • How can you apply this learning?
  • What would you like to learn more about, related to this project or issue(s)?
  • What follow-up is needed to address any challenges of difficulties?
  • What information can you share with your peers or with the community?
  • If you could do the project again, what would you do differently?

According to Kolb, knowing a person's learning style, as well as your own, enables learning to be orientated according to the preferred method.  Everyone responds to and needs the stimulus of all types of learning styles to one extent or another - it's a matter of using emphasis that fits best with the given situation and a person's learning style preferences. 

Referenced from:


Critical Reflection

Sarah Ash and Patti Clayton (2009) have defined critical reflection and its use and effectiveness in experiential learning opportunities.  Ash and Clayton have further emphasized this by creating what is called the DEAL Method of reflection and is a useful tool in assisting students and faculty in creating reflection-based inquiry, goal setting and ultimately assessment.  They describe that designing reflection proceeds best when framed in scholarly terms: as a process of experimentation, of continual assessment and refinement, of learning with and alongside the students. In other words, the designer of applied learning opportunities is best understood as a reflective practitioner themselves—one who engages in the same critical reflection that is expected from their students— thereby improving their thinking and action relative to the work of generating, deepening, and documenting student learning in applied learning.

Ash and Clayton describe, reflection and its central role in applied learning are often misunderstood or seen as unnecessary.  The word itself frequently connotes stream-of-consciousness writing, keeping a diary, or producing a summary of activities. It can easily be associated with “touchy-feely” introspection, too subjective to evaluate in a meaningful way and lacking in the rigor required for substantive academic work.

Re-conceptualizing reflection and defining it as the “active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that it support it and the further conclusions to which it tends” (p.6, Dewey, 1910).  Schön (1983) emphasizes the link between reflection and action; he defines reflection as “a continual interweaving of thinking and doing” and suggests that what he calls the reflective practitioner is one who “reflects on the understandings which have been implicit in [one’s] action, which [one] surfaces, criticizes, restructures, and embodies in further action” (p. 281).

When applied learning pedagogies are maximized as learning opportunities it is best understood in these terms, as a process of metacognition that functions to improve the quality of thought and of action and the relationship between them. When understood in this light and designed accordingly, reflection becomes “critical reflection.”  It generates learning (articulating questions, confronting bias, examining causality, contrasting theory with practice, pointing to systemic issues), deepens learning (challenging simplistic conclusions, inviting alternative perspectives, asking “why” iteratively), and documents learning (producing tangible expressions of new understandings for evaluation) (Ash & Clayton, 2009a and 2009b; Whitney & Clayton, in press).

As we understand it, critical reflection is an evidence-based examination of the sources of and gaps in knowledge and practice, with the intent to improve both. Designing reflection effectively so as to make applied learning educationally meaningful first requires that we make clear its meaning as an integrative, analytical, capacity-building process rather than as a superficial exercise in navel-gazing (Ash & Clayton, 2009b; Whitney & Clayton, in press; Zlotkowski & Clayton, 2005).

A critical reflection process that generates, deepens, and documents learning does not occur automatically—rather, it must be carefully and intentionally designed. Welch (1999) points out that it is not enough to tell students “it is now time to reflect” (p. 1). Eyler, Giles, and Schmiede (1996) note that reflection “need not be a difficult process, but it does need to be a purposeful and strategic process” (p. 16). Especially given how unfamiliar most students are with learning through reflection on experience (Clayton & Ash, 2004), they need a structure and guidance to help them derive meaningful learning when they are outside the traditional classroom setting, otherwise reflection tends to be little more than descriptive accounts of experiences or venting of personal feelings.

For more reading on this topic and to explore the design of critical reflection in applied learning please visit (referenced from):