Training of trainers – NFL and interactive methods in Youth work – ACHIEVE

Lesson 10 – Experiential learning theory – text

text lesson

David Kolb publishes his model of learning styles in 1984 after years of preparation, research, and development. Apart from the learning styles model the study also includes the Theory of Experiential Learning. In his publications, mostly in the book “Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and developmentKolb praises the earlier work on experiential learning of Rogers, Jung, Paige (1900). Today Kolb’s Learning Styles’ Model (MLS) and the Theory of Experiential Learning (TEL) are recognized by academicians, teachers, managers and trainers as the most essential and founding achievement in the field and as a fundamental concept for understanding and explaining the human behavior during learning and when helping the others to learn.

Kolb sets the learning cycle as a main principle in his TEL. The cycle consists of 4 stages:kolb_cycle

  1. Concrete experience
  2. Reflective observation
  3. Forming abstract concepts
  4. Testing the application of the concept in new situation

The explanation goes like this:

The concrete or direct experiences provide materials for observation and thought. There observations and thoughts lead to realization and formation of abstract concepts. The abstract concepts on their turn can be actively used in new environment and by thus create experiences.

  • In the most ideal case the student faces all stages – of experience, of reflection, of consideration and of application.
  • The learning cycle can start at any of the stages
  • The cycle can be open (a continuous spiral)

The Learning cycle in terms of the process and the facilitator

Concrete Experience


The participants gather information and acquire specific type of experience. The experience is always related to playing games and having fun.

Techniques and Instruments

  • Individual and group activities (can be carried out individually, in couples, in a group of three people, small groups, between different group formations or bigger groups)
  • Interpersonal interaction
  • Almost every activity related to the self-evaluation of the leader
  • Creation of products and modules
  • Problem solving
  • Information sharing
  • Giving and receiving of feedback
  • Case solving
  • Role plays


To have a shared experience, to develop common database which to be used during the next stages.

The model is based on inductive learning. That means that a discovery (no matter what happens during a given activity, or if it is expected or not) becomes a base for critical analysis and the participants can acquire knowledge by random discoveries.


  • The facilitator has to be careful not to generate excessive amount of information or an environment which will impede the discussion of the results.
  • If the process stops after this stage that means that the training is left at fortuity and the facilitator is not capable of achieving the learning goals that were set.

Observation and Reflection



The participants already have individual and shared experience from a certain activity and discuss what they saw and felt during the event (on cognitive, emotional and behavioral level).

Techniques and Instruments

  • Video recording of the events during the first stage (to facilitate the transition from the initial stage, for a latter discussion)
  • Sharing in small group and generating information of what the participants felt and saw
  • Reflection of the experience of all participants from the big groups on flipchart
  • Use of free associations on various subjects related to the activity from the first stage
  • Working in couples questioning each other about the first stage (What? How?)
  • Evaluation of productivity, contentment, level of trust, communication, leadership
  • Structured interview of the participants about their experience during the activity
  • Structured and free-style discussions


The personal experience of each participant becomes available to the whole group.


The participants have to be kept within the topic of sharing observations and reactions. The facilitator has to be attentive and prevent them from jumping to the Reflection stage straight to the Summary phase (the deduction of principles on the grounds of what have already happened).



This is the so called group dynamic sub-stage of the cycle and can be seen as the most important step in the experiential training. The reflection is a systematic research of the shared experiences of the participants. During the process they reconstruct the models and the interactions from the information sharing activity carried out at the Observation phase. The participants have to answer the question “What have actually happened?” in relation to the group dynamics processes and not in relation to the actual meaning of the event.

Techniques and Instruments

  • Feedback focused on the roles of the participants and their influence during the activity at the first stage
  • Observation of the process by statements, panel discussions
  • Thematic discussions in search of repetitive topics in the trainees’ statements
  • Questionnaires developed for the purpose
  • Research of data that was gathered on the previous sub-stage
  • Use of key words for direction of discussion


  • In order to successfully continue to the next step the facilitator has to carefully plan how the information will be processed. “Non-saying” of the things or information which remains unprocessed will prevent the participants from further learning or at least will distract them.
  • This stage has to be completely closed before the next one as the feeling (the understanding) of the group dynamics in the activity is crucial for the learning process and the understanding of human relationships out of the training. The participants often try to pass on to the next stage with unprocessed contents.
  • After the Reflection sub-stage is closed the participants are ready (and have to be encouraged) to abandon the contents of the group dynamic processes and to focus on the knowledge gathered. This is the moment when the willingness to learn comes to the surface. The next question which has to be answered is: “So what?”

Formation of Abstract Concepts and Conclusions


The participants research the previously gathered knowledge in an artificial learning environment and try to transfer it to the real world. They examine situations in their personal and professional life which are similar to the ones experienced during the training. The task is to extract some general principles or rules from the previous stage which can be applied in real life.

Techniques and Instruments

  • Individual analyses (written and oral) such as: “I have learned…”; “I am starting to learn…”, “I have learned again…”
  • Writing and declaration of statements of what is true and applicable in real world
  • Completion of sentences: “The effectiveness of the situational leadership depends on….”
  • Focusing on the process of summary of key concepts such as leadership, communication, feelings, etc. through discussion
  • Development of products which visualize the conclusions
  • At this stage the facilitator can present theoretical material in the form of a lecture to add to the learning. This technique gives a learning framework of what was created inductively and to some extend aims to check the realistic orientation of the process. The information introduced by the facilitator has to be directly related to the conclusions made by the participants. The risk of using this technique is that if the external information is not internalized (without sense of ownership) it can encourage the dependency of the participants from the facilitator as a source of knowledge and can lead to a decrease of their dedication during the final stage. The last is a common phenomenon during the deductive process.


The structured experience becomes useful in practice.


  • In fact this stage aims to transfer in practice what was learnt during the structured experience. If this process is omitted or varnished the learning will look artificial and be inapplicable in practice.
  • The facilitator has to stay objective about the knowledge gathered, noting only the reactions of the participants to the conclusions which seem contradictory or incomplete.
  • If the purpose of the stage is omitted or remains unclear to the participants it is very likely that the knowledge will be superficial.
  • The conclusion phase has to be completed before opening a discussion for the changes needed because often the participants are impatient about the final stage of the training cycle.

Testing the Concept Application in a New Situation


This last step of the cycle of experiential learning is the reason for which the structured experience was created. The main question here is: “Now what?” The facilitator helps the participants to apply the generalizations in actual situations in which they get included. The possibility that the knowledge gets perceived and intern-analyzed can be reduced by ignoring the discussion. Particular attention should be paid in examining the ways in which the individual (or the group) will use the knowledge generated during the structured experience in order for them to plan more effective behavior.

Techniques and Instruments

  • Consulting in groups of two or three people
  • Helping each other during the problematic situation in real life and application of the conclusions
  • Goal setting – development of applications about desired criteria such as performance at work, realism, observation
  • Small groups – discussion of the specific conclusions about what can be achieved more effectively
  • Practical sessions – role plays related to practicing the “new behavior” in real situations
  • The experience shows that the participants are more eager to apply the change or the new knowledge if they already shared it with others. The sharing of the acquired knowledge encourages the others to experiment with their own behavior.

Something else:

  • It is important to mention that all of the time we speak about a learning cycle which means that the application of the knowledge leads to new experience that is examined inductively.
  • In fact the structured experience contributes to the use of the daily experience as a source of information for the conscious studying of the human relationships. Such education is part of our daily life as we never stop studying.
  • The main goal of the training is the transfer of the knowledge gathered from training programs to situations at the working place or from a training situation to our personal and professional daily life.
  • The achievement of the experiential learning is that it creates a sense of belonging to what was learnt by the development of all steps of the learning cycle. The applications of the model underline the necessity of adequate planning and enough time secured for every stage of the cycle.

The experience from applying the model shows several problematic situations:

  • A threat exists that the participants focus on only one of the stages because they feel that the changed behavior is threatening (risk-related) or emotionally demanding.
  • Some participants may have indulgent or mocking behavior because they do not see how the training relates to the problems in their personal or professional life.
  • Due to various reasons (time and money economy, lack of experience of the facilitator, etc.) in some trainings the participants can be tempted to discover and spend most of the time (during the early stages of the model) and the last three stages get limited to 30 minutes or less. In reality in the most cases when long-term changes cannot be registered in the behavior of the trainees the problem does not lie within them but in the design of the training.
  • Part of the participants complete their training filled with good intentions but soon they go back to their old ways of behavior.


A cat once laid down on a hot stove. It got burnt and never repeated the same mistake but it also never laid down on a cold stove because it did not gather all the knowledge from the concrete experience. So the experiential learning gives us the chance to be a bit smarter than the cat.


Acknowledgement of above article is made on an “await claim” basis. The copyright holder has not been traced. Any information enabling us to contact the copyright holder would be appreciated


The training program “Training of Trainers” is an educational product that is currently missing in the partner countries – Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania. Due to the early stage of development of the youth sector and youth work in these countries the educational materials aimed at non-formal learning are still limited and insufficient. The lack of adequate educational framework for training of youth workers in the field of formal education leads to inefficient use of the capacity of professionals.

This course fills a gap in the youth sector, namely the need of methodologies for the preparation of trainers, who are able to train youth workers. This course will set the basis for the preparation of teams of trainers of youth workers. The course will serve the goal of development of youth work in the participating countries and other interested parties. A large number of youth workers can be trained according to the methodology at national and international level to use and promote non-formal learning as a tool to enhance the realization of young people in the labor market and increase their social cohesion.

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