The Truth About Kolb's Learning Cycle: Why Practice Makes Perfect in Closing the Intention-Action Gap

The Truth About Kolb's Learning Cycle: Why Practice Makes Perfect in Closing the Intention-Action Gap
There are a multitude of theories and models that aim to explain how people learn. Among the most well-known is David Kolb's Learning Cycle, a concept that has been both celebrated and criticized in the realm of educational psychology and corporate training. However, what remains universally agreed upon is the critical role of practice in learning—a key aspect of Kolb's model. Before we dive into that, let's clear up a common misconception about the model: the notion of "learning styles."

Debunking the Myth of Learning Styles
The belief that people have different learning styles (such as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic) has been widespread. Even today, you'll find corporate trainers and educators employing different tactics to accommodate what they believe are their learners' unique styles. However, it's crucial to note that there is no empirical evidence to support this idea of learning styles.

Even David Kolb himself has stated that the concept of different learning styles was never what his Learning Cycle aimed to propose. The idea that catering to a preferred "style" could improve learning outcomes has no robust scientific backing.

Understanding Kolb's Learning Cycle
David Kolb's Learning Cycle consists of four stages — Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation. These stages describe how learning involves acquiring new experiences, reflecting on them, understanding the underlying theories or concepts, and finally applying them in new situations.

Experience or Doing
The learner gains a new experience or reinterprets an existing experience.

Reflection or Feedback
The learner reflects on the experience from multiple perspectives.

The learner synthesizes their reflections into abstract concepts or theories.

The learner applies their new understanding in the world around them to see what happens, effectively generating new experiences.

The Importance of Practice: Closing the Intention-Action Gap
The critical piece of Kolb's cycle, and indeed, of any effective learning model, is practice — falling under the stage of Active Experimentation. Practice is where the intention-action gap is closed. This is the space between knowing something theoretically and being able to apply that knowledge in a real-world setting. Without the practice stage, the learner remains stuck in a state of "knowing" without "doing."

Imagine a management training program where participants learn various leadership techniques. They understand the theories, they discuss them, and they even reflect on how these principles relate to their past experiences. Yet, until they actively practice these techniques—perhaps through role-playing exercises, simulations, or real-world projects — they haven't truly learned them. Practice provides the testing ground for abstract concepts and theories; it's where the rubber meets the road.

Kolb's Learning Cycle presents a holistic view of the learning process, emphasizing the critical importance of applying what we've learned. Despite the absence of evidence for learning styles, the core principle remains valid: for effective learning to happen, we need to close the intention-action gap. And the key to closing that gap is practice. Whether you're a trainer, a learner, or an organizational leader, it's time to incorporate more 'doing' into our learning processes. Because in the realm of impactful training and enduring learning, practice isn't just the game-changer — it's the only game in town.


Here are three youtube video's showing that learning styles are a myth:

Video 1
Video 2
Video 3




The Truth About Kolb's Learning Cycle: Why Practice Makes Perfect in Closing the Intention-Action Gap

28 min