David A. Kolb is an American educational theorist who developed an experiential-based theory of learning. Kolb’s theory focuses on how adults transform experience into knowledge. Kolb believes that experience shapes the way a person gains knowledge, and this in turn steers cognitive development. Kolb’s theory involves a four-stage cycle of learning and four separate learning styles.

Four Stages of Learning

The experiential learning cycle begins when a person has a new experience or a re-encounter with a previous situation. The second stage involves reflective observation during which a person considers any inconsistencies between what he experiences and understands. Abstract conceptualization follows observation, where a new idea or modification of previous idea forms. The fourth stage is active experimentation. This is when the learner applies the new idea to the world around him and observes the results. It is possible to start the cycle at any stage and follow it until complete, but learning cannot occur if the learner gets stuck at one stage and does not follow through with the entire cycle.

Learning Style and Preferences

The purpose of the learning styles inventory is to help learners understand their own learning style and provide a research tool in the area of experiential learning. Learning style is result of two preferences: active experimentation or reflective observation. A person can react to an experience in two ways -- by feeling or thinking. It’s not possible to feel and think or do and observe at the same. The possible combinations are feeling and watching, thinking and watching, thinking and doing and feeling and doing. These options create the four learner profiles: divergent, convergent, assimilating and accommodating.

The self-scoring test is a self-description exam where learning style is based on how high a person scores in the following areas: abstract conceptualization, active experimentation, concrete experience and reflective observation.

Divergent and Convergent Learners

Divergent learners score high in concrete experience and reflection. They think deeply about an experience and consider every possibility and angle. Divergent learners will start from one detail and work their way toward gaining a complete perspective. They are creative and do well studying art, literature or history. Divergent learners are good team players who avoid conflict.

Convergent learners are adept at abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. They seek real-world applications of their ideas. They excel in math or work as an engineers. Convergent learners work best independently. Engage convergent learners by setting up experiments and let them do field work to collect data and test their ideas.

Accommodating and Assimilating Learners

Accommodating learners score high in the area of concrete experience and active experimentation. They prefer hands-on learning. They rely on their intuition and feel their way through a situation instead of thinking. Lectures do not engage the accommodating learner. Accommodating learners are risk takers and explorers. These learners enjoy hands-on tasks that they can complete independently.

Assimilating learners do well in abstract conceptualization and reflective observation. They think before they act and enjoy expert lectures. They shun the company of others and prefer to retreat into solving logical puzzles. Assimilating learners start with abstract concepts and organize information. Assimilating learners excel in logic and scientific fields. Assimilating learners are serious students who do not come to school to be entertained, so don't play games with these kind of students. Challenge them with complex ideas and send them home with academic articles to read.