A well-known way of describing experiential learning takes the form of a circle.
Experiential learning (after Lewin and Kolb)
The process begins with a person carrying out an action and then seeing the effect of the action on and in the situation. Following this, a second step is to understand these effects in the situation . This is so that if the same action were taken in similar circumstances it would be possible to anticipate what would follow from the action. In the third step these observations and reflections are then brought together into a 'theory' from which new implications for action can be worked out. The last step is then to use the 'theory' as a guide to acting in a new situation.
We can see that the stages in this model link to the various elements we have already discussed. Concrete experience is used to validate and test abstract concepts or 'theories'. This is made possible by feedback from the situation. Here these steps are shown as a circular movement. In reality, these things may be happening all at once. Furthermore, if learning has taken place then, as Kurt Lewin put it, such a process could be seen as a spiral of steps, 'each of which is composed of a circle of planning, action, and fact-finding about the result of the action.'.
If we apply this to, say, some work we may be doing with a group around their relationships with their carer(s) or parent(s) - we can see how it fits together. We may begin by asking people to return to situations and attend to their feelings . We can then encourage them to make links with other relationships and situations; or to things that have happened previously. From there we may be able to help them to make judgements and begin to build theories about why they act in this way or that . We can then encourage them to think about what they may do differently when, say, faced with their carer(s) or parent(s) demanding that they act in this way or that. They then take that into a future situation  - which in turn stimulates further reflection and thought.
ReferencesKurt Lewin (1948) Resolving Social Conflicts, New York: Harper & Row, page 206.
For a more detailed discusion: experiential learning.
Taken from Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith (2005) Informal Education. Conversation, democracy and learning, Nottingham: Educational Heretics Press.
© Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith
Acknowledgement: The workshop picture representing experiential learning is from the EFEO Action Workshops in 2008. It was taken by devilarts and is copyrighted. It is reproduced here under a Creative Commons licence (Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic) flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/devilarts/2458317215/.
First published October 18, 1999. Last update: July 08, 2014