Saturday, 12 May 2007

What use is Kolb?

The Big Question at Learning Circuits on the use of PowerPoint included a reference to "some new research " which was actually a newspaper article about some research. I tracked down the original papers which were interesting about PowerPoint, but included this paper
"Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching"

It slaughters a range of sacred cows including David Kolb's learning cycle and learning styles inventory. Here is a quote from the paper:

"Attempts to validate experiential learning and learning styles (Kolb, 1971, 1984, 1999) appear not to have been completely successful. Iliff (1994), for example, reported in “a
meta-analysis of 101 quantitative LSI studies culled from 275 dissertations and 624 articles that were qualitative, theoretical, and quantitative studies of ELT and the Kolb
Learning Style Inventory” (Kolb, Boyatzis, & Mainemelis, 2001, p. 20) correlations classified as low (< .5) and effect sizes that were weak (.2) to medium (.5). He concluded that the magnitude of these statistics is not sufficient to meet standards of predictive validity to support the use of the measures or the experiential methods for training at work. Similarly, Ruble and Stout (1993), citing a number of studies from 1980 through 1991, concluded that the Kolb Learning Style Inventory (KLSI-1976; Kolb, 1976) has low test–retest reliability, that there is little or no correlation between factors that should correlate with the classification of learning styles, and that it does not enjoy a general acceptance of its usefulness, particularly for research purposes."

I sometimes include the Kolb learning cycle in my courses. Does this mean I should throw it out? I don't think so. It is a matter of asking the right question.

If you ask - does Kolb describe how people learn?

Then the answer has to be "no". There isn't the evidence.

But if you ask - does Kolb describe a way people learn?

Then the answer is almost trivially "yes"

And the really important question becomes "is it useful?". It is the difference between a psychological law and a pragmatic tool for thinking about training. I find Kolb really useful, provided I treat it as a tool and not as a prescription. I generally interpret the experience stage very broadly e.g. it might include the presentation of information or experience the delegates have had before they come on a class. Then it reminds me to allow for reflection, which might be drawing out common factors from the experience in discussion, conceptualisation, bringing it together into some general lessons, and experimentation - OK try it yourselves.

It is not the only way of structuring a class - but it is often a good one.

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