David Kolb Life – Biographical Study


The ideas of David Kolb have shaped the ways in which many adults approach their leaning. Moreover, his theories have influenced the practices of many educators who try to assist such students. The models that he developed continue to be applied by school teachers who work with children or adolescents. So, it is possible to say that his ideas are quite influential.

This paper is aimed at discussing the life of this scholar and the major milestones of his career. It is also necessary to examine his works and explain their importance. By looking at the biography of David Kolb, especially his education, one can better understand the relevance of his theories nowadays. On the whole, one can say that David Kolb’s theories can be disputed or even criticized by modern researchers, but they are still considered by educators and learners. This is the main argument that can be put forward.

The life and career of David Kolb

David Kolb was born in 1939 at the time when America was passing through a period of rapid economic and social change (Maltby, Day & Macaskill, 2010, p. 419). At first, he attended Knox College where he obtained his BA in social psychology (Maltby, Day & Macaskill, 2010, p. 419). Later, he continued his studies at Harvard where, he earned his MA and Ph.D. degrees (Maltby, Day & Macaskill, 2010, p. 419).

It should be noted that during his studies he took great interest in organizational behavior, social change as well as career development (Cartwright, 2003, p. 92). One should remember that David Kolb’s education was influenced by changing perspectives on education. In particular, it became apparent that an individual could be able to acquire knowledge and skills independently. Moreover, researchers began to attach more importance to the strategies that learner used when they could not rely on the assistance of professional teachers. To a great extent, these principles affected the future work of this scholar and his views on education and learning.

Special attention should be paid to David Kolb’s cooperation with other researchers. When he was working in Case Western Reverser University, he did research together with Roger Fry. They developed a famous model of experiential learning (Moore, 2004, p. 169).

This model was introduced in 1975 and it earned David Kolb the reputation of an influential learning theorist. It should be mentioned that David Kolb focused on such stages of learning as observation and reflection, concrete experience, the development of abstracts concepts and the test of new ideas. (Cartwright, 2003, p. 89). The most important argument made by David Kolb is that learning can be regarded as an endless repetition of these stages. To a large extent, this model was the basis of later research that Kolb conducted. It is possible to say that this was an important milestone in the career of David Kolb.

Furthermore, in 1981, David Kolb founded a company named Experience Based Learning Systems (Baker, Jensen, & Kolb, 2002, p. 234). This organization helps those individuals who want to continue education after graduation. Moreover, it works with companies that intend to offer training to their employees (Baker, Jensen, & Kolb, 2002, p. 234). This institution encourages the cooperation of educators, researchers, learners, and managers. So, one should not assume that David Kolb has worked only in academia.

As an educator, David Kolb has a very diverse sphere of interests. He has taught courses in such subjects as organizational behavior, change management, personality theory and so forth (Kolb, 2012, p. 14). In the course of his career, he has published fifteen books that are related to learning styles, group learning, organizational behavior, and career development (Kolb, 2012, p. 14).

For instance, one can refer to such works as Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development, Innovation in professional education and many other books that were written either independently and in cooperation with other researchers (Kolb, 2012, p. 4). These books continue to be read by many teachers and people who attempt to improve their learning strategies. Apart from that, he published many research articles describing learning in different settings, especially in organizations (Kolb, 2012, p. 10). These articles are still of great interest to people who study learning theory.

Currently, David Kolb works in the Weatherhead School of Management; he is a professor of organizational behavior (Kolb, 2012, p. 3). One can say that this scholar achieved recognition of other researchers and educators. For instance, David Kolb received the Morris T. Kelton Adult and Experiential Learning Award (Kolb, 2012, p. 3). Moreover, his workers have been praised by people who work as business administrators. To a great extent, these awards indicate the theories developed by David Kolb have found practical application. Therefore, his academic career has been quite successful.

The main theories and ideas introduced by David Kolb

On the whole, one can say that David Kolb has made remarkable academic achievements and his ideas have profoundly affected the practices of many teachers and strategies of adult learners. At this point, it is vital to examine his theories in more detail. First of all, his works were primarily intended for people who wanted to continue their education due to some reasons such as the need to achieve professional growth. In most cases, they already received some formal education.

This is why the ideas of this learning theorist were considered by HR managers or business administrators. In David Kolb’s view, independent learning can be successful provided that a person understands the way in which he/she acquires knowledge or skills (Maltby, Day & Macaskill, 2010, p. 419). This is why he developed the so-called Learning Style Inventory. It is a set of questions related to the learning strategies of a person (Maltby, Day & Macaskill, 2010, p. 419). On the basis of these questions, a person can determine which approach is most suitable for him/her.

Among these approaches, one can distinguish concrete experience learning, active experimentation, reflection, and conceptualization (Maltby, Day & Macaskill, 2010, p. 419). This inventory has been of great use to many individuals who want to learn independently. The thing is that they need to determine which strategy best suits their needs and abilities, especially when their learning is self-directed. Furthermore, this questionnaire has been applied by my businesses that try to encourage the professional growth of their employees. So, this learning style inventory is an important tool developed by David Kolb.

Apart from that, in his work, this scholar was able to identify specific learning styles. In particular, this author speaks about such learners as convergers, divergers, assimilators, and accommodators (Kolb as cited in Hills, 2003, p. 102).

In his opinion, a student inevitably prefers one of these styles (Kolb as cited in Hills, 2003, p. 102). David Kolb explains the differences between them by looking at the strategies that these people use when acquiring knowledge. For example, assimilators rely on reason and logic in order to transform one’s observation into structured knowledge (Kolb as cited in Hills, 2003, p. 102). In part, the ideas that David Kolb introduced in his books and articles significantly affected the works of educators.

They pay close attention to the learning style of their students and make sure an individual can learn through experience, observation, or conceptualization. In this way, they can ensure that students perform successfully in the classroom. Moreover, this classification of learning styles is important for adults since these people want to know how they can best improve their professional skills. This is one of the reasons the ideas of David Kolb enjoy significant popularity among many people, even very accomplished professionals.

Nevertheless, one should take into account that some researchers may disagree with David Kolb’s classification of learning styles because he does not pay much attention to the goals that a person sets when he/she learns (Maltby, Day & Macaskill, 2010, p. 419). Apart from that, he does not explain why the learning strategies of an individual can change depending upon the goals of education, setting, and type of knowledge that a learner is interested in. This is the issue that is not properly addressed in David Kolb’s books or articles. Yet, despite this criticism, the ideas of David Kolb are still important to educators who strive to develop more effective instruction methods or write textbooks.

Moreover, the models developed by this author are aimed at describing the process of learning and its specific stages. This is one of the reasons why he introduced the notion of the learning cycle. On the whole, this cycle can be represented as a set of such steps as concrete experience, observation, abstract conceptualization, and experimentation. Learning takes place when people repeat these steps.

This is one of the main achievements that David Kolb made because this model is now widely adopted by teachers who need to plan lessons and design the activities of students. David Kolb’s framework helps teachers make learning activities more interesting for teachers and adolescence. Additionally, this idea of the learning cycle is taken into account by people who have to study independently. These individuals have to understand how they can gain knowledge or do research without the assistance of teachers. So, these are the main achievements of David Kolb.


On the whole, this discussion shows that David Kolb can certainly be viewed as a prominent adult learning theorist whose works and ideas have been of great relevance to professional educators and adult students. By describing various stages of learning and identifying various learning styles, he greatly improved the work of teachers who can work either with adults or adolescents.

Certainly, some of his ideas can be questioned nowadays, but they continue to be applied in educational institutions. Moreover, they have greatly benefited many adults who prefer self-guided learning. This is the reason one should pay attention to David Kolb’s contribution to the theory of learning.

Reference List

Baker, A., Jensen, P., & Kolb, D. (2002). Conversational Learning: An Experiential Approach to Knowledge Creation. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Cartwright, R. (2003). Implementing a Training and Development Strategy. Boston: John Wiley & Sons.

Hills, H. (2003). Individual Preferences in e-Learning. Boston: Gower Publishing, Ltd.

Kolb, D. (2012). Curriculum Vitae.

Maltby, J., Day, L., & Macaskill, A. (2010). Personality, Individual Differences and Intelligence. New York: Pearson Education.

Moore, J. (2004). Elements of Quality Online Education: Wisdom from the Sloan Consortium: Into the Mainstream. Needham: Olin College – Sloan-C.

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