David Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle vs Jack Mezirow’s Transformational Learning

While the two models; Experiential learning and Transformational Learning, may seem superficially similar, however, they carry profound differences in their fundamental beliefs. As Adventure Learning Facilitators, we stem from a robust system built around exposing our participants towards various experiences, but we must also be scientifically or pseudo-scientifically (at very least) aware of the various models that explain the behaviors and the cognitive process behind their behaviors.

This article focuses on two main models, namely Mezirow’s Transformational Learning Cycle and Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, and how they could explain the process of teambuilding; as a summary, Transformational learning could be a useful model during sales/programme management while ELC is still very much a foundation system for us.

Meizrow’s Transformational Learning Cycle describes our understanding of experience as predisposed by our frames of references. In assigning meaning to events and experiences; our existing attitudes, beliefs, values and feelings will inevitably impact our perspectives. His model relates transformation to the process of being critically aware of the presence of said predispositions and existing perspective constrain our perspectives and understanding towards the environment; and reformulating or reconstructing these assumptions to permit a more integrative and inclusive perspective and empowering the individual to act on these new understandings.

An example of Transformational Learning process; James has always felt people who engage in F1 racing were irresponsible and constantly addicted to a need for speed while risking their lives. After his friend Lebron revealed that he had been taking part in such F1 trainings over the years, James began to question his feelings and attitudes towards such racers. Over time, he changed his point of view about these racers. Instead of thinking that they were speed addicts, he began to feel that they are courageous for challenging themselves.

Meirow’s theory is more learner centric as it fundamentally believes that the experience is a trigger event that sparks the learner to be conscious of his/her existing predisposition/perspective, after which the learner begins a process of re-examining his/her assumptions and finally reintegrate these newly founded beliefs into his/her perspective. thus ‘transforming’ his/her perspective.

Another critical analysis of this theory is that for this process to flow, the prerequisite is that the learner must be critically aware of his/her own predisposed assumptions, but more importantly, take the initiative to reframe and re-examine his/her thoughts.

In our context of Adventure learning and/or Teambuilding, the participants would come into the programmes with predisposed perspectives of their colleagues and assumptions of the activities they would be going through; what this model signifies in our day-to-day context, is that the paradigm shift at the end of the programme may or may not be significantly impactful for each individuals to trigger them to take any actions towards their re-integrated thoughts. Despite our best efforts, our teambuilding efforts may only scratch the surface of reframing those perspectives or possible discriminations. Hence, action plans would be an imperial additional process to ensure a full flow of the said process.

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle believes that learning is a process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experiences; of which, he identified 4 processes in learning with each process dictating a different learning style to reinforce learning.

  • · The first stage, concrete experience (CE) – the learner actively experiences (in FOCUS Adventure’s context) a teambuilding activity of either a competitive or collaborative nature.
  • · The second stage, reflective observation (RO) – the facilitator facilitates the reflection process along with sharing from different learners /team members, allowing the learner/team to consciously reflect on that experience.
  • · The third stage, abstract conceptualization (AC) – the learner/team attempts to conceptualize a theory or model of what is observed, or categorize the experience into past experiences.
  • · The fourth stage, active experimentation (AE) – the team/learner would then try to plan out how to test a theory/model or rather (in our context), application back into their team settings.


Kolb identified four learning styles which correspond to these stages. The styles highlight conditions under which learners learn better. These styles are:

  • · Divergers (at the stages of Concrete experience/Reflective observation) – learn by observing and collecting a wide range of information to create a big picture. They like to ask “why”.
  • · Assimilators (at the stage of Reflective observation/Abstract conceptualisation) – learn better when presented with theories and conceptual workflows to think about. They enjoy structuring and organizing information, and ask, “What else is there to learn‟?
  • · Convergers (Abstract conceptualisation/Active experimentation) – learn through practical application of concepts and theories after thinking through. They think about the “how‟.
  • · Accommodators (Active experimentation / Concrete experience) – learn better when provided with an opportunity to try things out. They enjoy creativity and complexity. They ask “what if‟ and “why not‟.

Hence, Experiential Learning brings about the flow, where adventure learning is concerned, with the experience (in our context) as an adventure, followed by shared or directed debrief which refer to Reflective observation in the ELC, individual sharing would then ??

An Example: Application All 4 stages of the cycle engage learners in different ways. In guiding a learner to a complete understanding and application of a new concept, the cycle requires the adult educator to conduct activities that fall into the four stages (Rogers, 2002). References: Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Rogers, A. (2002). Teaching Adults. 3rd ed. Buckingham: Open University Press.