learning-cycle

What is a learning cycle?

Learning cycles explain how people learn from experience over multiple phases, with the last phase often followed by the first to facilitate progression.

One of the first proponents of learning cycles was American psychologist and educational philosopher John Dewey.

In his 1933 book How We Think, Dewey described a five-aspect model of reflective thought where the individual first identifies a potential solution and ultimately arrives at a point where it can be tested.

Since that time, several learning cycle frameworks have been developed. Some of these are briefly explained below.

Kolb and Fry’s model

kolb-reflective-cycle
The Kolb reflective cycle was created by American educational theorist David Kolb. In 1984, Kolb created the Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) based on the premise that learning is facilitated by direct experience. In other words, the individual learns through action. The Kolb reflective cycle is a holistic learning and development process based on the reflection of active experiences.

Educational theorists David A. Kolb and Ronald E. Fry developed the experiential learning model (ELM) in 1975.

Fundamentally, the model enables students to learn via real-world experiences, reflect on lessons learned, and apply solutions to future scenarios.

The model, which has applications from business to the military, is a learning cycle comprised of four distinct phases:

Concrete experience

In the first phase, the learner experiences something never encountered before.

Alternatively, they may reinterpret an old experience with new concepts. 

Reflective observation

The learner then reflects on the experience based on the existing knowledge.

In particular, they think about the inconsistencies that occur between experience and understanding.

Abstract conceptualization

Eventually, reflection enables the individual to form a new idea or modify an existing concept.

Put differently, the person has learned from their experience.

Active experimentation

In the final phase, the learner applies their newfound knowledge to real-world contexts to see what happens.

Honey and Mumford’s model

Based on Kolb and Fry’s work, Peter Honey and Alan Mumford developed a similar learning cycle in 1985.

Like their predecessors, Honey and Mumford see learning as having an experience, reflecting on that experience, drawing conclusions, and testing new theories.

However, to describe people who enter and exit the cycle at different points, the pair developed four learning styles:

Activist

Those who learn best from hands-on experience and are not afraid to operate outside their comfort zone.

Theorist

Those who learn best by understanding the models, concepts, and facts behind a topic. 

Pragmatist

These learners are most effective when they can see the real-world application of whatever it is they are studying.

Reflector

As the name suggests, these learners do best when they can observe others and reflect on the experience.

They prefer to collect data from multiple sources or perspectives before tackling a problem.

The 5E learning cycle

5e-instructional-model
The 5E Instructional Model is a framework for improving teaching practices through discussion, observation, critique, and reflection. Teachers and students move through each phase linearly, but some may need to be repeated or cycled through several times to ensure effective learning. This is a form of inquiry-based learning where students are encouraged to discover information and formulate new insights themselves.

The 5E learning cycle was developed by BSCS Science Learning out of Colorado, USA. The cycle contains five phases:

Engage

Frst, the student’s attention must be captured.

Explore

Then, the student is permitted to establish knowledge of a topic via questions and observations.

Explain

Where the student shares what they have learned and participates in an instructor-led discussion.

Extend

Similar to the reflection stage of the ELM model, the student is called upon to apply what they have learned in similar contexts.

Evaluate

Lastly, the instructor assesses whether student knowledge and understanding are valid.

It’s important that evaluation be performed as part of the cycle and not as a standalone event.

ALACT model

A more recent learning cycle with a focus on personal development and student teachers is the ALACT model.

Developed by Fred Korthagen, Angelo Vasalos, and their colleagues, the learning cycle in this model features five phases:

Action

The model first advocates that learning and reflection are most effective when backed by practical experience.

Looking back on the action

Where the individual reflects on the context, their actions, the actions of others, and their feelings or emotions.

Awareness of essential aspects

Here, the individual endeavors to make sense of their experience by thinking about its implications or significance. 

Creating alternative methods of action

Based on information yielded from the second and third phases, the individual determines how they can do better.

Trial

Where new courses of action are “trialled” or adopted.

Key takeaways

  • Learning cycles explain how people learn from experience over multiple phases, with the last phase often followed by the first to facilitate learning. One of the first proponents of the learning cycle was American psychologist and educational philosopher John Dewey.
  • Educational theorists David A. Kolb and Ronald E. Fry developed the experiential learning model (ELM) in 1975, one of the first learning cycle frameworks of the modern age that is still in use today.
  • Other interpretations of the learning cycle are the Honey and Mumford model, the 5E model, and the ALACT model.

Connected Learning Frameworks

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

growth-mindset-vs-fixed-mindset
fixed mindset believes their intelligence and talents are fixed traits that cannot be developed. The two mindsets were developed by American psychologist Carol Dweck while studying human motivation. Both mindsets are comprised of conscious and subconscious thought patterns established at a very young age. In adult life, they have profound implications for personal and professional success. Individuals with a growth mindset devote more time and effort to achieving difficult goals and by extension, are less concerned with the opinions or abilities of others. Individuals with a fixed mindset are sensitive to criticism and may be preoccupied with proving their talents to others.

Constructive Feedback

constructive-feedback
Constructive feedback is supportive in nature and designed to help employees improve or correct their performance or behavior. Note that the intention of such feedback is to achieve a positive outcome for the employee based on comments, advice, or suggestions.

High-Performance Coaching

high-performance-coaching
High-performance coaches work with individuals in personal and professional contexts to enable them to reach their full potential. While these sorts of coaches are commonly associated with sports, it should be noted that the act of coaching is a specific type of behavior that is also useful in business and leadership

Training of Trainers

training-of-trainers-model-tot
The training of trainers model seeks to engage master instructors in coaching new, less experienced instructors with a particular topic or skill. The training of trainers (ToT) model is a framework used by master instructors to train new instructors, enabling them to subsequently train other people in their organization.

Active Listening

active-listening
Active listening is the process of listening attentively while someone speaks and displaying understanding through verbal and non-verbal techniques. Active listening is a fundamental part of good communication, fostering a positive connection and building trust between individuals.

Active Recall

active-recal
Active recall enables the practitioner to remember information by moving it from short-term to long-term memory, where it can be easily retrieved. The technique is also known as active retrieval or practice testing. With active recall, the process is reversed since learning occurs when the student retrieves information from the brain.

Baptism by Fire

baptism-by-fire
The phrase “baptism by fire” originates from the Bible in Matthew 3:11. In Christianity, the phrase was associated with personal trials and tribulations and was also used to describe the martyrdom of an individual. Many years later, it was associated with a soldier going to war for the first time. Here, the baptism was the battle itself.  “Baptism by fire” is a phrase used to describe the process of an employee learning something the hard way with great difficulty. 

Dreyfus Model

dreyfus-model-of-skill-acquisition
The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition was developed by brothers Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1980. The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition is a learning progression framework. It argues that as one learns a new skill via external instruction, they pass through five stages of development: novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert.

Kolb Learning Cycle

kolb-reflective-cycle
The Kolb reflective cycle was created by American educational theorist David Kolb. In 1984, Kolb created the Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) based on the premise that learning is facilitated by direct experience. In other words, the individual learns through action. The Kolb reflective cycle is a holistic learning and development process based on the reflection of active experiences.

Method of Loci

method-of-loci
The Method of Loci is a mnemonic strategy for memorizing information. The Method of Loci gets its name from the word “loci”, which is the plural of locus – meaning location or place. It is a form of memorization where an individual places information they want to remember along with points of an imaginary journey. By retracing the same route through the journey, the individual can recall the information in a specific order. For this reason, many consider this memory tool a location-based mnemonic.

Experience Curve

experience-curve
The Experience Curve argues that the more experience a business has in manufacturing a product, the more it can lower costs. As a company gains un know-how, it also gains in terms of labor efficiency, technology-driven learning, product efficiency, and shared experience, to reduce the cost per unit as the cumulative volume of production increases.

Feynman Technique

feynman-technique
The Feynman Technique is a mental model and strategy for learning something new and committing it to memory. It is often used in exam preparation and for understanding difficult concepts. Physicist Richard Feynman elaborated this method, and it’s a powerful technique to explain anything.

Learning Organization

learning-organization
Learning organizations are those that encourage adaptative and generative learning where employees are motivated to think outside the box to solve problems. While many definitions of a learning organization exist today, author Peter Senge first popularized the term in his book The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organisation during the 1990s.

Forgetting Curve

forgetting-curve
The forgetting curve was first proposed in 1885 by Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist and pioneer of experimental research into memory.  The forgetting curve illustrates the rate at which information is lost over time if the individual does not make effort to retain it.

Instructor-Led Training

instructor-led-training
Instructor-led training is a more traditional, top-down, teacher-oriented approach to learning that occurs in online or offline classroom environments. The approach connects instructors with students to encourage discussion and interaction in a group or individual context, with many enjoying ILT over other methods as they can seek direct clarification on a topic from the source.  Instructor-led training (ILT), therefore, encompasses any form of training provided by an instructor in an online or offline classroom setting.

5 Whys Method

5-whys-method
The 5 Whys method is an interrogative problem-solving technique that seeks to understand cause-and-effect relationships. At its core, the technique is used to identify the root cause of a problem by asking the question of why five times. This might unlock new ways to think about a problem and therefore devise a creative solution to solve it.

Single-Loop Learning

single-loop-learning
Single-loop learning was developed by Dr. Chris Argyris, a well-respected author and Harvard Business School professor in the area of metacognitive thinking. He defined single-loop learning as “learning that changes strategies of action (i.e. the how) in ways that leave the values of a theory of action unchanged (i.e. the why).”  Single-loop learning is a learning process where people, groups, or organizations modify their actions based on the difference between expected and actual outcomes.

Spaced Repetition

spaced-repetition
Spaced repetition is a technique where individuals review lessons at increasing intervals to memorize information. Spaced repetition is based on the premise that the brain learns more effectively when the individual “spaces out” the learning process. Thus, it can be used as a mnemonic technique to transform short-term memory into long-term memory.

Blended Learning

blended-learning
Blended learning is a broad and imprecise field that makes it difficult to define. However, in most cases, it is considered to be a form of hybrid learning that combines online and offline instructional methods.

VAK Learning

vak-learning-styles-model

Lessons Learned

lessons-learned
The term lessons learned refers to the various experiences project team members have while participating in a project. Lessons are shared in a review session which usually occurs once the project has been completed, with any improvements or best practices incorporated into subsequent projects. 

Post-Mortem Analysis

post-mortem-analysis
Post-mortem analyses review projects from start to finish to determine process improvements and ensure that inefficiencies are not repeated in the future. In the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), this process is referred to as “lessons learned”.

Instructor-Led Training

instructor-led-training
Instructor-led training is a more traditional, top-down, teacher-oriented approach to learning that occurs in online or offline classroom environments. The approach connects instructors with students to encourage discussion and interaction in a group or individual context, with many enjoying ILT over other methods as they can seek direct clarification on a topic from the source.  Instructor-led training (ILT), therefore, encompasses any form of training provided by an instructor in an online or offline classroom setting.

5E Instructional Model

5e-instructional-model
The 5E Instructional Model is a framework for improving teaching practices through discussion, observation, critique, and reflection. Teachers and students move through each phase linearly, but some may need to be repeated or cycled through several times to ensure effective learning. This is a form of inquiry-based learning where students are encouraged to discover information and formulate new insights themselves.

Related Strategy Concepts: Read Next: Mental ModelsBiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon EffectDecision-Making Matrix.

Related Business Concepts

Agile Leadership

agile-leadership
Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Adaptive Leadership

adaptive-leadership
Adaptive leadership is a model used by leaders to help individuals adapt to complex or rapidly changing environments. Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components (precious or expendable, experimentation and smart risks, disciplined assessment). Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.

Delegative Leadership

delegative-leadership
Developed by business consultants Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1960s, delegative leadership is a leadership style where authority figures empower subordinates to exercise autonomy. For this reason, it is also called laissez-faire leadership. In some cases, this type of leadership can lead to increases in work quality and decision-making. In a few other cases, this type of leadership needs to be balanced out to prevent a lack of direction and cohesiveness of the team.

Distributed Leadership

distributed-leadership
Distributed leadership is based on the premise that leadership responsibilities and accountability are shared by those with the relevant skills or expertise so that the shared responsibility and accountability of multiple individuals within a workplace, bulds up as a fluid and emergent property (not controlled or held by one individual). Distributed leadership is based on eight hallmarks, or principles: shared responsibility, shared power, synergy, leadership capacity, organizational learning, equitable and ethical climate, democratic and investigative culture, and macro-community engagement.

Micromanagement

micromanagement
Micromanagement is about tightly controlling or observing employees’ work. Although in some cases, this management style might be understood, especially for small-scale projects, generally speaking, micromanagement has a negative connotation mainly because it shows a lack of trust and freedom in the workplace, which leads to adverse outcomes.

RASCI Matrix

rasci-matrix
A RASCI matrix is used to assign and then display the various roles and responsibilities in a project, service, or process. It is sometimes called a RASCI Responsibility Matrix. The RASCI matrix is essentially a project management tool that provides important clarification for organizations involved in complex projects.

Organizational Structure

organizational-structure
An organizational structure allows companies to shape their business model according to several criteria (like products, segments, geography and so on) that would enable information to flow through the organizational layers for better decision-making, cultural development, and goals alignment across employees, managers, and executives. 

Tactical Management

tactical-management
Tactical management involves choosing an appropriate course of action to achieve a strategic plan or objective. Therefore, tactical management comprises the set of daily operations that support long strategy delivery. It may involve risk management, regular meetings, conflict resolution, and problem-solving.

High-Performance Management

high-performance-management
High-performance management involves the implementation of HR practices that are internally consistent and aligned with organizational strategy. Importantly, high-performance management is a continual process where several different but integrated activities create a performance management cycle. It is not a process that should be performed once a year and then hidden in a filing cabinet.

Scientific Management

scientific-management
Scientific Management Theory was created by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911 as a means of encouraging industrial companies to switch to mass production. With a background in mechanical engineering, he applied engineering principles to workplace productivity on the factory floor. Scientific Management Theory seeks to find the most efficient way of performing a job in the workplace.

Change Management

change-management

TQM Framework

total-quality-management
The Total Quality Management (TQM) framework is a technique based on the premise that employees continuously work on their ability to provide value to customers. Importantly, the word “total” means that all employees are involved in the process – regardless of whether they work in development, production, or fulfillment.

Agile Project Management

Agile Management
Agile Project Management (AgilePM) seeks to bring order to chaotic corporate environments using several tools, techniques, and elements of the project lifecycle. Fundamentally, agile project management aims to deliver maximum value according to specific business priorities in the time and budget allocated. AgilePM is particularly useful in situations where the drive to deliver is greater than the perceived risk.

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