The learning cycle and types of learners

The KOLB learning cycle

This is a bit of a philosophical one to start with, but it's important that you get a good idea about what learning is before you try and teach. The following diagram depicts the learning cycle as perceived by the prominent behaviourist, David Kolb.

Kolb divides learning into four phases (diagram below):

  1. Presentation of concrete experience, in our case the English language.
  2. Analysis of the subject material through reflective observation.
  3. Practice use of the material through abstract conceptualisation that in non-Kolb terms, means using the material in a controlled, simulated environment.
  4. Application of the material through active experimentation, in other words using what has been learned in real situations.

As a teacher you will definitely be involved in the first three stages. Initially to present [PRESENT] the material that will be studied and to answer any questions that your students may have [REFLECTIVE OBSERVATION] about the explanation you give.

Once the material has been presented you'll move on to give examples of when the material you have introduced for study could be used [ANALYSE]. You should also ask your students for their input as well to see if they can relate to what you want to teach [ABSTRACT CONCEPTUALISATION]. Once they have a decent grasp of the idea, you then get them to practice [PRACTICE] and experiment [ACTIVE EXPERIMENTATION] with the material.

Stage 4 [APPLY] and [CONCRETE EXPERIENCE] is when the student is out of the classroom and having to use what was learned in the classroom in real life.

Kolb's cycle very much mirrors the learning experience and identifies the key points you'll need when you teach. It's a simple but very powerful structure.

Types of students

xAnother prominent educationalist, Bernice McCarthy Ph.D., helps us by giving us a statistical classification for learner types.


Feeling and watching, seeking personal associations, meaning, involvement. The key question is WHY?


Listening to and thinking about information, seeking facts, thinking things through, learning what the experts think. The key question is WHAT?

Common Sense

Thinking and doing, experimenting, building, creating usability. The key question is HOW?


Seeking hidden possibilities, exploring, learning by trial and error, self discovery. The key question is IF?

McCarthy has also published some statistics about learning styles.

30% of students learn by listening

  • Learn from spoken instruction.
  • Written information has little meaning until it has been heard.

65% of students learn by seeing and writing

  • Relate most effectively to written information, notes, diagrams, and pictures.
  • Can be verbal (sees words) or pictorial (sees pictures).
  • Think in pictures, uses colour.

5% of students learn by doing

  • Remember what was done, not seen or talked about.
  • Don’t “hear” things well.
  • Learn through touch and movement in space.


To be a good teacher you must be able to adapt to Kolb's structure of helping students through the learning process. You have to be able to know when and, just as importantly, when not to talk in order to let the students evolve. Your skill lies as much in your knowledge of English as it does in being able to manage how you and your students interact. You are a guide to the attainment of knowledge so you must understand the learning process in order to be able to teach effectively. Kolb's cycle means that you must be an effective communicator when teaching. Our course will teach you how to teach using the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) and Presentation, Practice and Production (PPP) styles.

You must also appreciate what type of learners you have in the classroom. Most people don't fit neatly into McCarthy's definitions as one person is capable of exhibiting different aspects towards learning as per the McCarthy descriptions. Your role is to spot what type of learning role each of your students is exhibiting in order for you to match your teaching style to their level of knowledge reception. This adaptation by you to your students' needs is called Learner Centred teaching and you'll hear a lot more about it on the course.

Last modified: Sunday, 20 January 2019, 11:33 AM