The human brain is a perplexing organ. Its ability to learn countless things and the way it stores memories — these things never fail to amaze us. How does the brain learn?

David Kolb published his experiential learning theory (ELT) model in 1984.

He sets out four separate learning styles which are based on a four-stage learning cycle. Covering the learning process of individuals with different learning styles, this model allows us to understand how the human brain learns.

How the Brain Learns: The Learning Theory

According to Kolb, the human brain learns new things in four stages:

  1. Concrete experience (CE)
  2. Reflective observation (RO)
  3. Abstract conceptualization (AC)
  4. Active experimentation (AE)

How this learning cycle works

Kolb introduces this cycle of learning as the main principle in his ELT, which was expressed as the four stages of learning.

Immediate, or ‘concrete’, experiences are the basis for observations and reflections. These observations and reflections are gathered and associated with existing concepts in our mind, and then they are conceptualized in an abstract sense. This produces new implications, which are then ‘actively tested’, creating new experiences.

The Learning Styles

Kolb’s four learning styles can be described as follows:

  1. Diverging (Feeling + Watching CE/RO)
    People with this learning style are able to look at things with different perspectives. They are observers and tend to be empathetic and sensitive. They prefer to observe more than do things, and use their own imagination to solve problems.
  2. Assimilating (Watching + Thinking AC/RO)
    This type of learner prefers a logical, concise approach to new ideas, concepts, and people. They learn through clear explanations instead of practical opportunity, and excel at understanding wide-ranging information and organizing it accordingly in a clear way.
  3. Converging (Doing + Thinking AC/AE)
    People with converging styles are more inclined to doing instead of feeling, and they tend to prefer logical instructions to apply to practical problems. They prefer technical tasks and tend to do better in environments in which they are exposed to active problem-solving.
  4. Accommodating (Doing + Feeling CE/AE)
    This learning style is ‘hands-on’, and they rely on intuition instead of logic. They work on theories and use them in a practical approach. They typically act on ‘gut’ instincts instead of clear, logical analysis. They prefer to work in teams to complete tasks.