Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle

Exploring the learning model that is central to the experiential learning provided by business simulations.











Site Map

Contact Us

Management is to do with doing not just knowing. Experiential learning either on the job or on courses provides a link between knowing and doing. Kolb (1985) describes the experiential learning process as a cycle consisting of four stages.

Active Experimentation

With simulations decision-making provides an opportunity for participants to experiment actively with the simulated environment. Because there is no real money involved participants are able to take greater risks than in the real world. However, having said that, since participants see the simulation as a test of their management prowess, they still try to make the "best" decisions.

Concrete Experiences

The simulation model provides these by taking the decisions and implementing them to produce results. Obviously, the simulation model is not as complex as the "real world". But, provided the simulation has been designed to meet specific development objectives (rather than just attempt to replicate reality), this simplification is a benefit. It allows the experience to be compressed (months and years into hours). A well-designed simulation simplifies thorough focus. This focus, when appropriate, reduces the uncertainty and ambiguity of the "real world" and so allows the links between decisions and results to be clarified.

Reflective Observation

For simulations this occurs in several ways. First, as teams analyse their results and compare them with their objectives they are forced to discuss and reflect. Another opportunity occurs during the review session where teams and the tutor share their perceptions. If the simulation is more than a few hours duration, participants can reflect during refreshment breaks and, perhaps, overnight. (I am not suggesting that participants should lie awake at night worrying about the simulation. Rather, I am suggesting that, as the mind "replays" and organises the day in sleep, learning takes place.)

Abstract Conceptualisation

Involves the generalisation of the knowledge gained and is, perhaps, the most important aspect of the simulation review session. Abstract conceptualisation is particularly important for today's managers. Because today's world is changing so rapidly, because competition is increasing and becoming global, managers must be able to solve "new" problems. In other words, they cannot just apply conventional wisdom and hope that this is right. For example, recently Just In Time (JIT) has been presented as a panacea but, applied thoughtlessly, it is a disaster. For one simulation, a decision involved setting the amount of finished product inventory and frequently, quite senior managers arbitrarily cut these inventory levels. They justified their decision based on JIT philosophy without considering the impact on product availability in the marketplace and the "erratic" patterns of demand.

Mapping with the Decision-Making Cycle

  • Active Experimentation maps to Make Decisions
  • Concrete Experience maps to Simulate
  • Reflective Observation maps to Analyse Results
  • Abstract Conceptualisation maps to Replanning

The "short-circuited" experiential

Perhaps the worst problem is where the learners get so engrossed in making decisions and simulation they short-circuit the learning process as they oscillate between Active Experimentation and Concrete Experience. This means that they do not spend time on the Reflective Observation and Abstract Conceptualisation necessary for learning.

Our extensive experience in actually using business simulations on courses means that we know how to virtually eliminate this problem at the design stage [1]. But it is impossible to fully eliminate during design because it's occurrence is impacted by the maturity of the learners. However, our Tutor Support System ensures the trainer can identify and eliminate the problem as he or she manages learning.

[1] Hall, Jeremy J. S, B. (1995) Computerised Business Simulations: The Need for Unfriendly Interfaces in Journal of Intelligent Systems Volume 5: Nos. 2-4 Freund Publishing, London

2002 Jeremy J. S. B. Hall

Most recent update: 20/10/10
Hall Marketing, Studio 11, Colman's Wharf, 45 Morris Road, London E14 6PA, ENGLAND
Phone  +44 (0)20 7537 2982 E-mail