Critique of Experiential Learning

This article will provide a critique of the theory of experiential learning. Overall, the theory is widely accepted and is one of the most utilized learning models in education.
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Cynthia Joffrion


July 23, 2010 - PRLog -- This article will provide a critique of the theory of experiential learning.  Overall, the theory is widely accepted and is one of the most utilized learning models in education.  In fact, Kayes (2002) explains that the Experiential Learning Theory and model of Dialectic Inquiry provide two of the only models that remain both comprehensive and fully generalized.  Although a number of variants of the Experiential Learning Theory have been proposed, the original theory continues to be one of the most influential (Vince, 1998). Despite the wide acceptance of Kolb’s theory, there are salient issues concerning the structure and validity of its use.  Kolb’s work has been criticized for logical inconsistencies in theory construction and for the psychometric properties of the Learning Style Inventory.  This critique will address Kolb’s theory and provide criticisms related to the two areas.  The first area that will be examined is the empirical limitations of the theory.  The second area will target the LSI and its limitations.
   In order to provide a critic of Kolb’s theory, it is necessary to understand its framework and history.  The framework includes two main constructs, the four-stage learning cycle and the assessment of the LSI.  In the 1970s, critical analysis began to emerge regarding the theoretical limitations of Kolb’s theory.  Critics mainly called attention to the LSI and questioned the psychometric properties of the measure (Freed & Stumpf, 1980).  In response to the criticism, Kolb redesigned the inventory in 1985.  Research results indicated that the updated versions largely addressed earlier concerns related to measurement validity (Greer & Dunlap, 1997; Loo, 1999); however, critics still pointed out several issues concerning data validity and ipsative measurement of the revised model of the LSI.
   According to Greer & Dunlap ( 1997) the main issue with ipsative measure is its use of cross-subject comparison.  The LSI assesses the learning style of an individual; therefore, it is difficult to predict the performance of others in relation to the scores of an individual.  This is due to the fact that the measurement offers little correlation or comparative strength between one person and another.  For example, an individual may have a high score in one area and a low score in another area.  This type of preposition does not allow for predictability in terms of application to other learners.  
The LSI’s use of cross-subject comparison presents a problem with using factor analysis to determine internal construct validity.  The internal reliability is inflated.  This is because the factor analysis provides an empirical basis for reducing variables to a few factors.  This is done by combining variables that are moderately or highly correlated with each other.  According to Kayes (2002), this has a statistical limitation in cases where the sum of the square for each variable is equal to zero.  In addition, the normative and ipsative correlation matrices are used to show that the factor pattern induced by ipsativety will overwhelm any factor structure seen with normative factor analysis, making it uninterpretable (William & Cornwell, 1994).  This makes it difficult to determine a person’s scalable scores related to the variables.
     The LSI measure is an ipsative instrument; however, it can be argued that it does not take into account the social aspect of learning.  Lewin (1948) described the social learning process as continuous and non-linear.  In addition, Vygotsky’s (1978) Social Learning Theory viewed individual learning as a process connected to the social and historical position of the learner.  Kolb’s cycle of action and the LSI emphasized the role of the individual and put the role of continuous non-linear learning into context.  
    Keeton-Morris  (1998) states that the cognitive nature of Kolb’s theory overemphasizes the role of the individual and “decontextualizes” the learning process.(p.18)  In fact Kolb (1999) acknowledges Holman’s criticism, saying that the latter’s recent critique has been more focused on the theory than the instrument examining the intellectual origins and underlying assumptions of  the Experiential Learning Theory; however, if the role of the learner is disproportionate to the process, results from the measure instrument would not have consistency and validity.
    There are notable concerns related to the stability of individual learning styles over time.  Truluck and Courtenay (1999) found that older individuals above the age of 65 demonstrated an age-related trend to become more reflective and observant in the learning environment.  The LSI does not take this into consideration, which therefore contributes to the psychometric issues.
    Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory and the LSI emphasize the central role of the experiences and the individual.  By analyzing Kolb’s conceptual constructs, several critical issues which focus on the psychometric properties of the LSI are apparent.  Despite the critical issues, Kolb’s work is highly regarded, and the LSI is still widely used.
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