The Benefits of Kolb’s Four-Stage Experiential Learning Cycle

The Benefits of Kolb's Four-Stage Experiential Learning Cycle

Kolb’s four-stage experiential learning cycle is implemented in many aspects of life. It can be found in schools, workplaces, and mental health facilities. You may have even used it before without even knowing it. But what exactly is the experiential learning cycle?

What Is Kolb’s Four-Stage Experiential Learning Cycle?

David Kolb is an educational theorist who advocates for the value of hands-on experience as a way of learning. Kolb believes that experiential learning is the best way to deeply understand and apply concepts. This line of thinking is the basis for the Montessori educational model as well. In Montessori schools, children are encouraged to explore their individual interests in a hands-on setting. For example, if a child shows an interest in science, their teacher might set them up with age-appropriate science experiments in the classroom. This method has been shown to be effective in fostering creative, passionate children who absorb information more fully than those in traditional schools. 

The benefits of hands-on learning aren’t limited to children. Experiential learning can be implemented in therapy for people of all ages. It can be particularly beneficial for those struggling with substance use disorder (SUD). Since addiction is a uniquely stubborn and complex disease, it can be helpful to use non-traditional approaches like the experiential learning cycle. Laguna Shores Recovery Center offers a variety of experiential therapy options to fit your goals and interests. Talk with your treatment team to get set up with the hands-on therapy that will work for you. Some of the therapeutic options include:

  • Art therapy
  • Equine therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Horticulture therapy
  • Adventure therapy
  • Mindfulness and/or meditation
  • Yoga

The Four Stages of the Experiential Learning Cycle

Kolb’s experiential learning cycle is the practice of actively engaging with experiences and bettering yourself through them. So what exactly are the four stages of the experiential learning cycle?

Concrete Experience

The first stage is the fun part. This is when you’re actively experiencing something that you haven’t before. It’s new, so it might feel strange or uncomfortable, but change often is. 

In a therapy setting, this doesn’t necessarily have to be something crazy like sky-diving. Doing a new mindfulness exercise that you’ve never done before counts as a concrete experience. These principles can even be applied to talk therapy if you approach a topic that you haven’t before. It’s all about doing something new and learning from it. 

Whatever the experience is, it should generally be guided by a professional. Safety is key, especially if it is something a little more daring (like adventure therapy, for example). A mental health professional or therapist is also there to guide you through the four stages, making sure that you hit each one to get the most out of the experience. After you’ve done this process in therapy, you can of course practice it in your day-to-day life as well. 

Reflective Observation

The next stage is reflective observation. This stage occurs a bit while you’re experiencing something new and after the experience is over. You’ll naturally be observing things as they happen, but it’s important to be intentional about your observation. Try to keep yourself grounded at the moment and really feel what’s happening around you and inside of you. You might ask yourself questions like, “What emotions did I have throughout this experience? Which parts were the hardest, and which were the most enjoyable? What biases or preconceived notions did I have that were challenged by this experience?” 

If you’re having a hard time reflecting on your own, don’t worry. Your therapist or guide can help you come up with those reflective questions to ask yourself. After an experiential therapy session, it’s normal to have a debriefing conversation with your leader so that you get the most out of the experience. Remember to give yourself the time and judgment-free space to reflect honestly. 

Abstract Conceptualization

Stage three may be a little more difficult than the first two. It involves taking the experience and the observations you just had and turning it into something more conceptual. That means asking yourself questions like, “What did I learn from that experience? What can my observations tell me about myself? How does that experience connect to my recovery journey?” These might sound like difficult questions, but there are no wrong answers. Trust what you feel. If you get stuck, it’s always okay to ask your therapist or leader for help. 

Another important question to answer in the third stage of the experiential learning cycle is this: “How can I apply what I experienced today to other parts of my life?” This question is crucial because it sets you up for the fourth and final stage of the cycle. 

Active Experimentation

The last stage is active experimentation, which is exactly what it sounds like. It involves taking what you gained from the initial experience and testing how it fits in other parts of your life. For example, perhaps you did art therapy for the first time and observed that you had difficulty accepting when you made mistakes. From that, you might conceptualize that practicing acceptance of failure and being gracious with yourself could be helpful in other aspects of your life. Then, in active experimentation, you’ll actually do that. You might try positive self-talk the next time you burn your toast in the morning and see how that feels. 

Repeating this process through every new experience can lead to active self-betterment and a deeper understanding of your addiction. That’s why Laguna Shores Recovery Center utilizes the experiential learning cycle in our hands-on therapeutic options. 

We want to help you get sober, but that’s just the first step toward a life of wellness. Maintaining your sobriety means taking an active role in your recovery. Experiential therapy is a great way to do that. At Laguna Shores Recovery Center, located in Orange County, California, we offer a variety of experiential treatment options that could be beneficial to you. We combine traditional talk therapy with hands-on experiences to give you the best treatment outcome possible. We want to help you work through the underlying issues that cause your addiction, but the first step starts with you. To find out more, please don’t hesitate to call us at (866) 774-1532.The Benefits of Kolb’s Four-Stage Experiential Learning Cycle