Learning in different ways: Part One

The learning process seen as a process of adaptation of man to his environment is a process that occurs when a person learns, intentionally or accidentally, collectively or individually, in any environment (physical or virtual) and moment, through different contexts, throughout life (lifelong learning) and through different technologies (seamless learning).


In this broad vision, experiential learning is central to this process of adaptation to the physical and social environment, and for this same reason said learning is a key piece in the way the individual relates to the world and creates his (cosmo-) vision of it and is an inseparable part of the integral functioning of the organism: think, feel, perceive, behave.

This is not the first article we dedicate to the so-called TAC Technologies of Learning and Knowledge. See our posts Blended Learning, Design Learning, Ecologies of Learning, Seamless learning, TAC4, New teaching / learning models and Expanding the capacity to learn.

Kolb’s contributions

Psychologist David Kolb developed his theory of learning styles for the first time in 1984. He believed that our individual learning styles emerge due to three causal factors: genetics, life experiences and environmental demands.

In addition to identifying four different learning styles, Kolb also developed a theory of experiential learning and an inventory of learning styles.

Kolb in his theory of experiential learning, describes a cycle of four stages:

  1. In the first place, the immediate and concrete experiences which serve as the basis for observation.
  2. Next, the individual reflects on these observations and begins to construct a general theory of what this information can mean.
  3. In the next cycle, the learner forms abstract concepts and generalizations based on their hypotheses.
  4. Finally, the student tests the implications of their concepts in new situations.

In some spiritual traditions, we think that humans are basically asleep, going through life in a semi-conscious way, strangely disconnected from our own lives. The way to learn is to awaken to consciously attend to our experiences and then deliberately choose how our beliefs and choices influence. The spiral of learning from experience (experiencing, reflecting, thinking and acting) is the process by which we can consciously choose, direct and control our life (see our post about consciousness).

Kolb’s learning styles are based on two main dimensions: active / reflexive and abstract / concrete, which allows him to identify four learning styles: convergent, divergent, assimilating and accommodating.

  1. Convergent (Combine abstract conceptualization and active experimentation)
  • They are good at the practical application of ideas
  • They are good in situations where there is more than one answer
  • They are not emotional, they prefer things to people
  • Technical interests
  • Characteristics of individuals in Engineering


  1. Divergent (Combine concrete experience and reflective observation)
  • Imaginative ability, they are good at generating ideas
  • They can see situations from different perspectives
  • Emotional, they are interested in people
  • They are characterized by being individuals with a background in Liberal Arts or Humanities
  • Characteristics of individuals in the area of Counseling, Personnel Administration and Specialist in Organizational Development


  1. Assimilators (Combine abstract conceptualization and reflexive observation)
  • Ability to create theoretical models
  • Inductive reasoning
  • They are more concerned with concepts than people, less interested in the practical use of theories
  • Characteristics of individuals in the area of Science, Planning and Research


  1. Accommodators (Combines the concrete experience and active experimentation)
  • Ability to carry out plans, oriented to action
  • They like new experiences, they are risky
  • They adapt to the immediate circumstances
  • Intuitive, they learn by trial and error
  • Characteristics of individuals in the area of Business

According to Kolb, this conception of learning as a holistic process of adaptation is common to the models of scientific research, problem solving, decision making and creative process.

In one of his recent books (2017) Peterson and Kolb put the emphasis on showing that the way in which we learn is the way in which we live and suggests to readers the use of different forms of learning (9 different ways) to transform their lives (“How you learn is how you live“).

Peterson and Kolb argue that the way of learning is to awaken the force of the learning life that lies within all of us. It is a power that we share with all living beings. The Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela in their search for the defining characteristic of life discovered the process of autopoiesis, the continuous process of remaking ourselves through the learning of experience.

The great humanist psychologist, Abraham Maslow, described the process as “self-realization”: human motivation to develop our full potential. Our learning is guided by this desire to do well, to do better and to achieve our highest aspirations for ourselves and the world. We develop and grow as human beings through learning.

Contemporary theories of adult development describe the course of adult life as a process of learning the challenges of life that culminates in what is called self-authorship: becoming the creator of one’s life story. Self-authorship describes individuals who see themselves as independent beings who are responsible for their actions and control their lives. They trust their experiences and build a belief system around those experiences, developing meaningful relationships and a strong sense of personal identity.

The nine forms of learning proposed by Peterson and Kolb are:

  1. Experimenting
  2. Imagining
  3. Reflecting
  4. Analyzing
  5. Thinking
  6. Deciding
  7. Acting
  8. Initiating
  9. Balancing

Peterson and Kolb begin their list with Experimentar, the gateway to learning. They argue that without new experiences, there can be no real learning. We only recombine and reiterate what we already know. Opening ourselves to new experiences and living those experiences fully with awareness at every moment is necessary for learning, renewal and growth. However, our habits and beliefs tend to act automatically, turning a new experience into an old response pattern. Ironically, what we think we know can be the biggest barrier to our learning.

The Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, says that we actually have two selves: a being that experiences and a being that remembers (thinks of the memory). Our experiencing self perceives and records our feelings and reactions before each moment of our lives. For the being that experiences, life is a succession of momentary experiences-happiness, sadness, wonder, boredom, curiosity, love, pain-that exist only in the present and that are soon replaced by another feeling. In ancient Theravada Buddhism, this succession of experiences is represented as a string of pearls. Similarly, Kahneman thought of this succession of experiences as a chain of moments.

The balance between the experienced self and the remembered self changes throughout our life. As children, we are guided primarily by our experience process and, as a result, we are spontaneous, authentic and able to easily embrace contradiction and change. As we get older, our remembered-thinking self takes over. Our experiences are impacted by memories, beliefs and values ​​that are not always relevant. Carl Rogers argues that the mature adult needs to recapture the child’s ability to directly experience. He describes this as a process of “getting carried away by the immediacy of what one is experiencing, striving to feel and clarify all its complex meanings.” Explain that adults not only experience the present moment but also their memories of the past and predictions about the future, so they must strive to consciously interpret each experience again.

Kolb’s learning dimensions have much in common with the dimensions established in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators, which in turn are related to the psychological types of Carl Gustav Jung.


If you want to know a little bit more …


Kolb, D. A. (1984) Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Prentice-Hall.

Peterson, K. y Kolb, D.A. (2017) How You Learn Is How You Live: Using Nine Ways of Learning to Transform Your Life.  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. San Francisco. 04/17/2017.


Varela, F. J. y Maturana, H.R. (1973) De Máquinas y Seres Vivos: Una teoría sobre la organización biológica. Editorial Universitaria. Santiago de Chile.


Varela, F. J., Maturana, H.R. y Uribe, R. (1974). Autopoiesis: the organization of living systems, its characterization and a model. Bio systems No.5.

Maslow, A.H. (1943) A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review vol. 50. 1943.

Maslow, A.H. (1987) Motivation and Personality (3a. ed.) Addison-Wesley Longman. New York.

Kahneman, D. (2012) Pensar rápido, pensar despacio. Debate. Barcelona.


Rogers, Carl R. (1964) Toward a modern approach to values: The valuing process in the mature person. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. Vol. 68. No. 2. 1964.


Rogers, Carl R. et al. (1980) El proceso de valoración en la persona madura en Persona a Persona. Amorrortu Editores. Buenos Aires.


Jung, C.G. (1923) Psychological Types. Routledge & Kegan Paul. Londres.