Psychologist and educational theorist David Kolb developed a four-stage learning cycle designed to describe how learning by experience takes place. This experiential learning cycle contains four different phases: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. According to Kolb, we can begin at any point in this cycle. Learning, he suggests, is essentially a process that involves looping around and around this cycle.
It is the four phases of this cycle that serve as the basis for Kolb's learning styles. While learning styles are often criticized as overly simplistic or lacking in empirical research, Kolb's model remains one of the most popular today.
Each of the four learning styles is characterized by preferences in two areas of the learning cycle. For example, people with an assimilating learning style prefer to learn though abstract conceptualization and reflective observation. In other words, they like to think about abstract ideas and combine these thoughts with their own observations. The accomodating learning style, on the other hand, is characterized by preferences for concrete experience and active experimentation. These learners like to gain hands-on-experience and then experiment with different methods and ideas. Assimilators tend to be watchers, while accomodators tend to be doers.
Learn more about all four styles as well as some of the major support and criticism for the theory in this overview of Kolb's learning styles