Experience is not the best teacher. It is evaluated experience that makes for truly developmental learning. For those of us who seek to intentionally develop others, especially leaders, helping them to evaluate their experiences will maximize the developmental opportunity.
David A. Kolb (born 1939) is an American educational theorist whose interests and publications focus on experiential learning, the individual and social change, and career development. He was first to identify this model of how adults learn. In the mid 1970’s Peter Honey and Alan Mumford adapted David Kolb’s model for use with a population of middle/senior managers in business. They published their version of the model in The Manual of Learning Styles (1982) and Using Your Learning Styles (1983). Here is their Learning Cycle with minor adaptations.
The Adult Learning Cycle
4 Phases of the Adult Learning Cycle
- Experience – The circumstances, people, responsibilities and opportunities that make up the reality of life.
- Reflection – People need to reflect on their experiences. Questions need to be asked about what happened and why it happened.
- Conclusion – Having reflected, the learner draws conclusions that form applications for future activity.
- Application – Applications form the basis of ongoing activities and experience.
Too often busy leaders fail to stop and reflect adequately upon their leadership experiences. They complete one responsibility and ten more await their immediate attention. They move forward with impressions from past experiences, but not having taken the time to reflect well, these impressions are half-formed thoughts or wrong conclusions that then lead to even poorer applications.
One of a leader developer’s tools for helping others is the ability to help busy leaders to stop long enough to adequately reflect upon their experiences. We do this by asking them questions. Becoming a good questioner is key to helping other adults learn from their experiences.
So, are you a ‘teller’ or an ‘asker?’ How you answer can determine how well you develop other adults.