Step four of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model. Application: The End and The Beginning of Experiential Learning

In our last blog, we learned about the third step of Kolb’s model: Conceptualization. In this installment, we’ll talk about Application, the end AND the beginning of experiential learning.

Leeds Beckett of Skills for Learning said, “To learn from our experiences, it is not sufficient just to have them. Rather, any experience has the potential to yield learning, but only if we pass through all Kolb’s stages by reflecting on our experiences, interpreting them and testing our interpretations.” And so, experiential learning is a virtuous cycle we can journey through again and again.

What is Application in Kolb’s Model?

The critical question(s) at this stage of the Kolb experiential learning model are:

  • “How can I translate these principles that I’ve stated to my own circumstances? To my team? To my organization?”
  • In my everyday challenges, am I taking the time to go through this process all the way to application?
  • Do I then have processes or mechanisms in place that provide accountability to ensure I’ll apply what I’ve learned?

Application is the step in which you’re able to test out your conclusions. To implement thinking or approaches that are thus “proven out” in reality.

The new experiences you have, going forward, will either support or challenge the principles you’ve developed through the experiential learning cycle. And if you then re-enter the learning cycle, the principles you’ve begun to apply can be further solidified or modified as new experiences reveal the greater depths of reality.

Back To Our Real-Life Example of Application

Again, referencing the “being-late-to-work-because-of-being-stuck-in-traffic” example from the Reflection & Discussion blog, once you have identified and analyzed the issue, you may decide you need to leave ten minutes earlier each day to mitigate against traffic delays. Or try a different route. Or work from home! Then, tomorrow you try it out.

The End and The Beginning for General Ewell and For You

IF you’ve been reading this series with us, you will remember General Ewell’s dilemma: How to act on unclear orders from his superior.  To use this as an experience and apply the lesson, we must go through the same experiential learning cycle as though it were our very own experience. For Ewell, well, hopefully he pursued more clarity from Lee in the next battle.  But, for you, if you were to extract and apply a principle, you might say as a leader you’d make it a regular discipline to provide clear orders to those you manage. Or as a subordinate you might say to pursue clarity of direction with abandon! Each leader going through the experience will have slight nuances from the examination of the story as it is then applied to their personal circumstances, strengths, and weaknesses as a leader.

How Can You Implement “Application” in Real Life?

In the case of our leadership experiences, participants take away a short list of one or two personal commitments that they have identified from the experience. These personal commitments are specific changes a person will make as a direct result of what they have learned. For some companies, the commitments are in written form. For other organizations, it takes shape as peer coaching conversations or by assigning partners in mutual accountability. Application in your daily life is typically most effective with some accountability device. That can be personal accountability or with a peer or mentor.  Application can also be facilitated through executive coaching with an individual or team coach.

The critical factor is not necessarily how accountability and application is achieved, but rather, that it IS achieved. Having some mechanism in place to ensure you’re accountable to yourself or to another will greatly support your change initiative.

What’s The Takeaway?

Application is a critical step to learning and progressing, both as an individual/leader and as an organization. Two or three profound insights from an experiential learning opportunity can significantly impact you. For example, an increased bottom line, improved organizational performance, greater employee retention, and last, but not least, a more engaged and committed workforce.

Interested in reading more about Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model? Click here for all the parts of this series!


P.S. Consider immersing yourself in a Leadership Experience to examine your everyday challenges and priorities to discover new possibilities to achieving your goals.