Implementing Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory: How People Learn Differently

Though decades old, Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory continues to be updated for modern use and is one of the most widely utilized inventories today. Here's how it can be applied in the workplace.

What is Kolb’s learning style inventory (LSI), and why does it matter? Basically, it’s a list of learning style categories; traits that describe how people learn differently, how they process and apply information. It should matter to anyone serving in a leadership position. Those in leadership roles are at least in part, responsible for educating others or leading learning efforts in their organizations. Kolb’s learning style inventory for leaders can increase the efficiency of all types of training, teaching, coaching for the modern workplace.

What are learning style inventories in general?

In a nutshell, a learning style inventory (LSI) is a list of traits common to various styles of learning according to the theory of a qualified professional.

Kolb, Fleming, and Jackson are all brain scientists who contributed to the serious study of how each of us best assimilates information. Though decades old, Kolb’s LSI continues to be updated for modern use and is one of the most widely utilized inventories today. Here, we will explain the basic concepts of Kolb’s LSI. 

A product of the 1970's: Kolb's learning style inventory

Psychologist David Kolb was a pioneer in the study of learning styles, which began in the 1970s. He published the first version of Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory in 1984. Kolb also launched the related concept of experiential learning at that time.

The idea that learning styles are shaped by the genetics we were born with, the life experiences we incur, and the demands of our environment was a new thought, but it was well-received by many. Eventually, Kolb’s LSI-based questionnaires became one of the best-known types of these diagnostic tools in the business. 

The four types of learning styles according to Kolb:

The Converger 

Those with dominant abilities in this learning style are specialists in the practical application of concepts and theories. Known as good problem solvers, they often perform best in situations where there is one top solution to a problem, one single answer to a question. Convergers seem practical in their analyses and the tasks they perform.  

The Diverger

People with this learning style are talented at getting a good overview of an entire topic or situation. They can easily ferret out small bits of pertinent information, formulate them into an overall solution. They prefer to watch rather than take part in action. They enjoy using their imaginations for being creative. Diverger strengths are opposites to those of the Converger.

The Assimilator

Visualizing and bringing into being theoretical models is one major talent of this learning style. These individuals are often more interested in ideas than people, more focused on the ideas themselves than in their practical applications. Some types of scientists and mathematicians are often classified as assimilators. Planning and research are their strong points. They excel at exploration and analysis. 

The Accommodator

Accommodators are the counterpoint to Assimilators. Accommodators think quickly and make changes with ease when fresh information appears. They take a hands-on, experimental trial and error tactic to problem-solving. They are risk-takers. The people who get things done. Practical in their consideration of learning, they often rely on gut feeling. Accommodators often work in technical positions or in the sales and marketing field. 

Putting the principle into practice

Knowing student learning types makes teaching and learning less stressful

School and university instructors sometimes test students at the start of a class, to determine the best way to present curriculum for a particular group. Career and leadership coaches make use of learning style inventories to offer the best assistance to the people they counsel.  Creators of business training instructional courses also utilize the technique. 

A questionnaire is normally filled out by each person set to be evaluated, to determine their dominant learning type. This information can then be utilized to make learning more efficient and effective for the individual.

Coaching students and employees toward more fulfilling careers

Interestingly: a study of career choices of MIT seniors supports the hypothesis that many people instinctively find their way toward careers relating to their learning type traits.

Using this information to speed up the process of guiding students toward a curriculum they find fulfilling would be a wonderful application of this discovery. Similarly, learning styles can be useful in various types of career coaching and adult learning opportunities – guiding individuals toward an appropriate career or position within a company where their services might be most valuable.

Like every innovation, Kolb’s theories faced a few critics

Whenever an innovative concept is revealed or an invention launched, there are bound to be some critics amid those who sing its praises. Studies like this one questioned the value of Kolb’s LSI.

Some education industry professionals have mentioned, and some research has appeared to indicate that the tests do not tell us how people learn best. Instead, they are believed by many to indicate the way in which those taking the test prefer to learn. 

But even if that’s the case, knowing what techniques a person prefers and actually enjoys when it comes to learning is a valuable tool for creating engagement and perhaps the most necessary trait for learning excellence. 

As you may remember from your school days, each teacher’s style of instruction often captures and holds the attention of a certain type of student. That commonly noted condition points to the value of individual learning style inventories. 

Kolb's Learning Style Inventory continues to be highly valued

Learning style awareness is highly utilized in business and adult learning, and for good reason. It can impact the way people coach and receive coaching, making the experience better for all people involved.

Kolb’s theories have proven themselves useful to professionals in varied fields as modern psychology continue to discuss the merits of Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory. His experiential theory of learning, associated with LSI, remains popular as well. A holistic perception of learning by doing – experiential learning will be covered in a coming post.

For HR leaders who are interested in better coaching strategies that utilize the personalization of Kolb’s LSI, Sounding Board offers solutions-focused executive coaching services. Together, we can help make sure your learning efforts effectively address the reality that people learn differently. 

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