by Cathy Yuill
A Story of Experiential Learning: Using the head brain, the body brain and the heart brain (Robert Cooper)
A Definition of Learning: "Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience" (David Kolb).
This Animation doll family symbolizes "experienced based learning". They are a tribute to seminal thinkers such as Dewey, Piaget, Lewin, Mazlow, Rogers and Erikson who laid this firm foundation; and I have chosen David Kolb to anchor this aspect of Whole System Coaching because for the past ten years David Kolb has taken me on a fascinating and dense journey trough these great minds and included them in his learning.
"When a concrete experience is enriched by reflection, given meaning by thinking, and transformed by action, the new experience created becomes richer, broader, and deeper" (David Kolb). All genuine learning comes about through experiment and experience. There needs to be an organic connection between education and personal experience. Learning is a cyclic process of adaptation and reflection as opposed to content and outcomes. Knowledge is transformed both objectively and subjectively.
To understand learning we need to understand the nature of knowledge (and vice versa). Learning is a journey; learning is slowing down; learning is a social activity, learning is participative. It involves a social process based on carefully cultivated experience which challenges every concept of 'teaching'. Learning embodies in three stages: acquisition, specialization, integration (or embodiment) (David Kolb X11). A future learning society requires a realization that learning is a lifelong task, essential for personal development and career success. Learning is the real life integration of theory and practice.
"The experiential learning model pictures the workplace as a learning environment that can enhance and supplement formal education and can foster development through meaningful work and career development opportunities. And it stresses the role of formal education in lifelong learning and the development of individuals to their full potential as citizens, family members and human beings" David Kolb, Experiential Learning, p.4
We all learn in different ways. This learning doll family symbolizes David Kolb's four diverse learning styles; David Kolb's learning cycle consists of four stages: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. The cycle can be entered at any point but Kolb believes that in order to learn we must complete the whole cycle.
While all four styles are available and necessary for an integral learning experience, each individual has a unique orientation to one and a unique mix of the other three, rendering the 'one size fits all' approach to teachingais less than effective. Each person's learning style is a combination of four learning modes. He however favours one of these modes as his orientating preferred quadrant.
Note: "A combination of all four of the elementary learning forms produces the highest level of learning, emphasizing and developing all four modes of the learning process". David Kolb, p.66
The converger encompasses abstract conceptualization (AC) and active experimentation (AE). The converger is relatively unemotional and prefers things to people. Strengths lie in becoming a deep expert and working with facts and deductive reasoning.
The accommodator is best at Concrete Experience (CE) and Active Experimentation (AE). His greatest strength lies in doing things; in carrying out plans and experiments and being involved in new experiences; a risk taker who excels at adapting to immediate situations. Where the theory doesn't fit, this person will override the rules and respond intuitively. This is my preferred style. Dorothy in the Narrative doll family is an example of this learning style.
The Assimilator's dominant learning abilities are Abstact Conceptualization (AC) and Reflective Observation(RO). He is able to create theoretical models and excell an inductive reasoning and integrating disparate observations. This learner prefers abstract concepts to practical appliction of the concepts or people. This learner's strengths lie in research and planning.
The Diverger is best at concrete experience (CE) and reflective observation (RO). A key strength is imaginative ability. This learner can view concrete situations from many perspectives and generate ideas. People oriented with broad cultural interests.
Creating a Learning Environment
All four of these environments should be integrated into a single learning experience.
- 'affective' - emphasizes the experiencing of concrete events
- 'symbolic' - emphasizes abstract conceptualization
- 'perceptual' - stresses observation and appreciation
- 'behavioural' - environment stresses action taking in situations with real consequences
Learning Dolls: Individual
The following learning principles are depicted in the five dolls with each doll representing one of David Kolb's learning modes. The smallest depicts the value and importance of integrating all four modes.
- about slowing down
- a neverending journey
- a social activity
- for sharing
- developing an abundance mentality
- for embodiment
- about growing consciousness
- being in and learning from nature
- from the inside out
- not sustainable in isolation
- about not being controlled
Everyone, teacher, student, facilitator should be actively involved in the learning process. In this diverse cross pollination, all four learning modes to be integrated (David Kolb)
- Concrete Experiencer
- Reflective Observer
- Abstract Conceptualizer
- Active experimenter
Learning can only happen through our own unique channel of receptivity and cannot be prescribed. It is a lifelong ongoing process. The key is to be awake and to be aware.
Doll Number Five: Concrete Experiencer
The concrete experiencer represents a receptive, experienced-based approach to learning that relies on intuition. The concrete experiencer is people oriented; theoretical approaches are unhelpful. They prefer to treat each story as unique; specific examples provide the best learning. They relate better to peers than to authority and thrive on feedback and discussion with fellow CE learners.
Doll Number 5: Learning is Intensity - The Gold of the Concrete Experiencer.
This figure is in the shape of an arrow with the focus of one who knows where she is going. There is an intense energy to continue the learning journey. Nothing can hold her back. This picture represents the fire of inquiry; intrinsic motivation, passion and guidance are the key factors in learning. These attributes originate in the lower left quadrant of the brain and are what drives learning. Learning is a journey and it is an energy. The rainbow coloured wings represent the motivation that we carry within. Beneath the wings are our underlying values, beliefs and feelings that fuel the energy to learn.
"Everyone who has burned with intense enquiry has found the sunrise" - Unknown
Moving through Growth and Development
Human development occurs in the process of learning from experience. Knowledge is a transformational and integrative process continuously being created and recreated; not something we acquire and transmit. This picture represents the evolution of consciousness as described by Frederich Nietzshe in his book 'Thus Spake Zarathustra'. He speaks of three levels namely the camel, lion and child. The camel is dull and self-satisfied. From the camel emerges the lion, emerging from lethargy and roaring his truth. From here emerges the child who is neither lethargic nor rebellious, just curious and open to learning, growth and change in an innocent way. As we learn so we are reborn. We need to continually become the child again.
The Shadow of the Concrete Experiencer
When we keep moving without slowing down to reflect we miss the integration of the learning. Active experimentation must be balanced with reflective practice and a space to think through and plan the next course of action or the learning will be limited. Over 'doing' leads to anxiety, tension,stress, anguish and uncertainty. Overdo-ing creates tension in our be-ing.
The Gold of the Concrete Experiencer
All aspects of our lives, material and spiritual should be attended to so that all sources of experience are respected. Adults learn primarily from all aspects their day-to-day lives. Life becomes the classroom. The inner world and the outer world must be developed. The east has remained poor for rejecting the outer world. The West is spiritually stuck for denying the inner world, (Osho). With Integral learning, whole can be developed in body and spirit and in consciousness and in science and in fun. This picture depicts the whole man who can relax and have fun and enjoy depths of understanding and wisdom. He contains and respects and integrates the grace and nurturing of the feminine and he expresses the agentic masculine.
Doll Number Four: Reflective Observer (RO)
This learning mode indicates a reflective, tentative and impartial approach to learning. High RO individuals rely heavily on observation in making judgments. Lectures are the preferred way of learning which allows the impartial, objective observer orientation to dominate the learning process. Introversion in this mode is high.
The Gold of Reflective Observation
This learning style emphasizes understanding as opposed to practical application. A concern with what is true? vs. how does it work? Reflection rather than action is the preferred approach. Internal thoughts and feelings are drawn upon to form opinions. Patience is a high capacity. Impartiality is strong and thoughtful judgment. The picture depicts this serene and considered approach. She is watching the mind and considering all perspectives before responding.
Learning is a Continuous Process and Requires Slowing Down
Savour the quality of getting off the treadmill and coming to rest with time to think and reflect and just observe. Your essence is at ease and you are creating the space for the future to emerge. Learning this way requires us to be cool, calm and centred.
A slow consistent approach to learning enables us to re-evaluate our values during these transforming periods. We re-examine what is important to us in the various domains of our lives - work, family, home, hobbies spirituality, creativity, and decide whether to make changes. This is a more reflective process than the 'subjects and tasks' of practical learning.
The Shadow of the Reflective Observer
Learning can be lonely and 'ice-olating' if not shared. The fear of failure and shame of not knowing and resistance to beginners mind can isolate us and retard the learning. Step up and share your uncertainty – become comfortable in ambiguity, uncertainty and paradox (Sfumato). Step out of your self and be prepared to try new learning and make mistakes.
The Gold of the Reflective Observer: Sharing
This learning style demonstrtaes an abundance mentality. Share your knowledge and allow it to overflow. This is a key to learning. Learning is essentially a social activity. It takes an abundance mentality to share information openly. Only when the head, heart and body are able to participate in the learning experience (open mind, open heart and open will, Otto Scharmer) does embodied learning take place. This image depicts the celebration of the gift of human learning and integration of that learning.
Learning is a social interactive process based on carefully crafted experience. Sharing learning creates space for challenge, feedback and multi-perspective thinking. Each participant in a learning experience is likely to have different learning needs and a different learning style. This diversity of worldviews is what stimulates learning.
The Abstract Conceptualizer indicates an analytical, conceptual approach to learning that relies on logical thinking and rational evaluation vs. feeling. They have an orientation more towards things and symbols and less towards other people. They are good at systematic planning and quantitive analysis. They learn best in situations that emphasize theory and rigour and discipline. Unstructured learning approaches do not appeal.
The Gold of the Abstract Conceptualizer
Systematic planning and quantitive analysis is a core skill. AC's learn best in situations that emphasize theory and rigour and discipline. They provide accurate maps and manage projects well.
Doll Number Three
The Shadow of the Abstract Conceptualizer: Outsider
The abstract conceptualizer can run the risk of feeling disconnected from others and from his dreams and desires because he does not interact with others in the learning process. When we don't know the limitations, our orienting learning style or get stuck in one groove of learning approach we feel limited and ineffective. Recognise that these are all just stories in your head relying heavily on your own thinking. You have the power within you to open the gate and enter that which you most long to become. The lock is not actually locked. Open it and walk through it to engage in other learning styles and towards your dreams and desires.
The Shadow of the Abstract Conceptualizer: Cognitive Overload
This picture depicts cognitive overload. People have been rewarded for cognitive intelligence above all throughout their lives. What it shuts down is the depending entirely on our heads. This way we can become stuck and overburdened. Our heads carry judgment and our bodies are excluded from the learning. Therefore what people know is not translated to the body.
A result of this imbalance can be anxiety, judgment and absence of multi-perspective learning. Our heads are full of judgement and our bodies get left out of the learning; so we find that we can talk up a storm but it's not translated to the body.
The Shadow of the Abstract Conceptualizer: Control
There is a time and a place for control but if you build it consistently into learning it becomes rigid and resistance sets in. As in the picture, the learner becomes encased as if in a straightjacket and may experience 'being controlled' as restrictive and resistance will set in. This figure is locked into straight lines. The light of learning is deflected off of the figure. There is limited embodiment with the manipulation of abstract symbols and quantitive analysis. Mistakes aren't entertained, nor are curiosity, vulnerability and spontaneity. The prescribed outcome becomes all that matters. With all the value that this style holds, on its own it tends to be bound by rigour and discipline.
Doll Number Two: The Active Experimentor
This style focuses on influencing people and creating change.
Practical application takes precidence over reflective understanding. 'What is the truth?' receives far less attention than 'how does it work?' The emphasis is on doing rather than reflecting or observing. Getting things done is paramount. Risk-taking is possible. Making a difference on the surroundings is highly valued.
Surrendering to learning is to be in the spirit of adventure. At first it feels like a dark forest but gradually it becomes a rainbow of light. It is curiosity that draws us there. Learning requires personal knowledge through exploring. Learning is a fascinating adventure with no end. The very search will help you to grow. Growth is all that is guaranteed. You will feel danger and fear and will wonder into unknown territory sometimes with no map or guide. You may get lost, but that is the only way one grows; by accepting the challenge of the unknown. Become the naive child. "When we move into the trusting spirit of the child, innocent and open and vulnerable, even the smallest things of life can become the greatest adventures". (Osho) Like a child, appreciate the wonder of everything. Embrace the insecurity and accept the challenge of the unknown.
The Gold of the Active Experimentor: It's a Journey
Learning is a journey. It is life-long and never-ending. It is a continuity and always 'going towards'. While there are many stations along the way there is no final learning destination. This picture symbolizes movement and change. It can be external and physical and it can be internal from one way of being to the next. Travelling needs to be experienced as an adventure and growth. Sometimes it brings breakthrough and ecstasy and sometimes it is uncertain and uncomfortable. Travelling through learning need not be a struggle if we are prepared to become the beginner, make mistakes and embrace the new. Learning can only happen with an attitude of openness and acceptance. New learning experiences need to be invited in; that is being alive; no learning, no life.
Doll Number One: The Integration of Four Learning Styles
All four of these learning environments should be integrated into a single learning experience.
This picture represents an energy field. All the individuals taking part in the circle make a unique contribution to create a unified and vital whole. It is like a flower with many petals, which together make a more beautiful whole. As a learner you become a participant in life versus a spectator. Learning is participation; it is a social activity. By participating with others, you make your contribution to creating something greater and more beautiful than each of us could manage alone. Your participation will contribute something precious to the whole. And you will gain more perspective in the process of sharing knowledge.
Mastery of Self... and of learning
"Mastery resists definition yet it can be instantly recognised" - George Leonard
This picture encompasses the principle of mastery. Mastering lifelong learning allows you to be followed and supported as a leader and for people to soak up your presence and be inspired by your example. The master prefers to share rather than take the lead. The master creates an energy field that supports each individual in finding his own light. (Causal and Subtle energy.) The key is to keep on moving through the learning journey. Never stop As you travel, if the master in you is awakened, you will act on that which is fulfilling to your unique purpose for existence.
This picture depicts mastery not over others but of you, of your destiny. It is about mastery not of the mind but beyond the mind mastery of the whole of you. Mastery is a journey with no destination and there are few maps to help us find this path. On this path you learn about learning.
George Leonard gives us a map for mastery:
- First step: Instruction Sit at the feet of a master
- Second Step: Practice, practice, practice
- Third Step: Surrender to the learing journey
- Fourth step: Intentionality Mental toughness and awareness
- Fifth step: The edge Paradoxically, challenge previous limit.
This learner knows that nature is our greatest teacher; and that learning happens in the simple everyday activities, if we allow it. No need to force the learning; no need to overanalize. Just wake up more and be aware of the richness and connections of our everyday experience.
"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" – Marcel Proust
Each person has a particular orientation towards how they best learn. It is important that all learning styles are understood, appreciated and catered for in programme design. Observe whether all four learning styles are taken into account when considering or designing learning programmes so that new learning muscles can be built in the areas where least attention has been paid.
"All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind" – Martin H Fischer
Leonardo Da Vinci lived his entire life in the spirit of 'Curiosita'. Most everything that he wrote was in the form of a question. He had an insatiable curiosity for life and an unrelenting quest for lifelong learning.
"You can teach a student a lesson for the day, but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the process as long as he lives"- Clay P Bedford
"Learning is not compulsory; neither is survival" – W Edwards Deming
A focus on 'thinking narratively' as a comprehensive frame for learning about all aspects of the story is key to sense-making. The learning happens as the story emerges. The story unfolding and the learning that happens is a dynamic process, not a unitary and static commodity. Following and capturing the story allows for connections to be made and all perspectives to be considered and learning to happen.
"Simplicity does not precede complexity but follows it."
Learning is complex. A human system is complex, in the sense that a great many agents are interacting with each other in a great many ways. Diversity in learning styles and worldviews and levels of consciousness causes 'pile-ups' in communication. Learning therefore is a continuous process of making adjustments and creative responses in a world too complex to be predictable.
"I have argued that life, for most people, is a process of discovery – of who we are, what we can do, and, ultimately, why we exist and what we believe. It is a circular process, because when we discover what we are capable of and work out why we exist, it changes the way we see ourselves, which can send us off in new directions, discovering new capabilities and new reasons for our existence. This spiraling journey is the true meaning of lifelong learning, and it remains for those who pursue it, an endlessly fascinating experience, one which enriches not only the individual but all those around.
Those who are tired of the journey are tired of life. They come across as dull and boring and can soon infect their friends and colleagues with their apathy" - Charles Handy