Adult Learning Theory

‘Learning is better conceptualised not as an outcome but as a continuous process grounded in experience.’ The words of David Kolb couldn’t be more accurate in the present day workplace setting where individuals must adapt and continuously learn through experience instead of relying on a single set of skills or past ideas (Kolb 1996, pp.21). Learning through experience is a key component to developing an individual’s knowledge and abilities. Through experience, individuals receive a more holistic view of themselves as it induces them to acquire and transform new experiences, resulting in them the developing satisfaction, motivation and development on a more personal level (Kayes 2002, pp.138).
Whilst it is not a new idea, experience through learning is recognised in contemporary theories and has been the basis established theories including the adult learning theory and the experiential learning model developed further by Malcolm Knowles and David Kolb respectively. Kolb conceives learning as a four-stage cycle characterised by various learning styles and abilities. The experiential learning model provides a simple description of how experience is translated into concepts (Kolb 1996, pp.21). Knowles on the other hand, popularised the term andragogy, which recognises that adults have different learning styles in comparison to the pedagogical model of learning observed by most institutions.
The emergence of contemporary theories and explanations of how people learn includes: the reinforcement theory, the social learning theory, the expectancy theory and the goal-setting theory. Each of these theories has a distinctive focus on a particular area of learning however they commonly all share elements of requiring experience as a means of learning. Each of these will be further observed by analysing how experience is grounded in each particular theory and how Knowles and Kolb have affected the significance placed on experience.

Kolb’s experiential learning theory...