As in the diagram below, David Kolb’s Models of learning is based on two preference dimensions, giving four different styles of learning.

The experimenter, like the concrete experiencer, takes a hands-on route to see if their ideas will work, whilst the reflective observers prefer to watch and think to work things out.
1) Divergers (Concrete experiencer/Reflective observer)

Divergers take experiences and think deeply about them, thus diverging from a single experience to multiple possibilities in terms of what this might mean. They like to ask ‘why’, and will start from detail to constructively work up to the big picture. They enjoy participating and working with others but they like a calm ship and fret over conflicts. They are generally influenced by other people and like to receive constructive feedback and their logic leads to exploration which leads to discovery.

2) Convergers (Abstract conceptualization/Active experimenter)

Convergers think about things and then try out their ideas to see if they work in practice. They like to ask ‘how’ about a situation, understanding how things work in practice. They like facts and will seek to make things efficient by making small and careful changes. They prefer to work by themselves, thinking carefully and acting independently. They learn through interaction and computer-based learning is more effective with them than other methods.

3) Accomodators (Concrete experiencer/Active experimenter)

Accommodators have the most hands-on approach, with a strong preference for doing rather than thinking. They like to ask ‘what if?’ and ‘why not?’ to support their action-first approach. They do not like routine and will take creative risks to see what happens. They like to explore complexity by direct interaction and learn better by themselves than with other people. As might be expected, they like hands-on and practical learning rather than lectures.

4) Assimilators (Abstract conceptualizer/Reflective observer)

Assimilators have the most cognitive approach, preferring to think than to act. Asking ‘What is there I can know?’ . They prefer lectures for learning, with demonstrations where possible, and will respect the knowledge of experts. They will also learn through conversation that takes a logical and thoughtful approach. Give them reading material, especially academic stuff and they will absorb it right away. Do not teach through play all the time with them as they like to stay serious.

When one comes across the word “intelligence” it invokes images of books, classrooms, and serious- looking professors. But, real learning is just as likely to involve wrenches, breaking a sweat, and repairmen examining the parts of a bicycle. After graduating with a PhD in philosophy and getting a job at a highly-regarded think tank, author Matthew Crawford became frustrated with the fact that his work was so abstract. He wanted to do something. So, he quit the think tank and opened up a motorcycle repair shop. It may sound unusual for such an educated person to choose manual labor. But, Crawford found that working on a trade was, in fact, more intellectually stimulating.

Look at banks in the early 90s, instead of analyzing the facts to determine if a loan applicant is creditworthy, the banker simply entered information into a computer. In many cases, doing things in the workplace became fragmented and lost its intellectual quality. One of the most important steps lifelong learners can take is eliminating their prejudice about manual work. Realize that thinking-jobs are no better than doing-jobs. In fact, in many cases doing-jobs require more intellectual stamina. Many disciplines evolved from purely practical concerns. For example, much of geometry came about from observational astronomy and land surveying. Even philosophy developed from certain problems of living. In India at least, there is a definite disconnect between learning and putting knowledge into action in our society. In a nutshell, if we embrace practical knowledge we would begin to bridge the artificial separation between thinking and doing.

My recommendations on enriching your learning experience:

  1. Take up short assignments or work for a year before taking up a degree course.
  2. Do not follow only one author or textbook; keep your mind open to various perspectives.
  3. Go away for long periods to get away from city life to focus your skills
  4. Live independently most of the time so that you are well-versed to solving problems rather than your family rescuing you all the time.
  5. Adopt different approaches to learning as I explained above through Kolb’s diagram.
  6. Keep your mind occupied by practicing newly acquired skills.

If you are reading this and not currently working towards the ability to DO something, set a new goal for yourself. You can work on any basic skill such as gardening, cooking, plumbing, cleaning your attic or store room, sewing, photography, browsing your visiting cards and making calls, changing a tyre or develop a passion for something you are interested in. Practice makes a person perfect that is why having practical knowledge is more important than mere theoretical knowledge. Discover the possibilities, make a choice, and work actively towards your goal. Get excited and you will notice that practical learning will enrich your life in ways you never dreamt of.

References: Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential Learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall