From Kurt Lewin's Experiential Learning Theory and Carl Jung's dialectic tension, David Kolb developed the theoretical underpinnings for the Learning Style Inventory (LSI) in the early 1970s (Schultz, 1985). The LSI is based on a theory of experiential learning that describes the learning process as a cycle. The model's focus is on how individuals perceive and process information. Perceptions and information processing influence learning style which is indicative of one's learning preference and can vary from situation to situation (mcFadden, 1986).
Emphasis is on the role of experience in learning. The LSI contains only cognitive traits and is usually classified as a learning style (not a cognitive style) because it grows out of a learning theory. Learning is seen as a four-step process, and style is the preference for two adjoining steps. Each preference is for one end of a bi-polar dimension, Abstract Conceptualization versus Concrete Experience and Active Experimentation versus Reflective Observation. The insrument has been associated with learning throughout its history. Kolb classifies it as a theory combining cognitive cognitive and socio-econmic perspectives of the learning process. In addition to the works of Kurt Lewin, the roots of the LSI can be traced to influences from John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Carl Jung.
The LSI was designed with three objectives in mind, 1) it should be brief and straightforward, 2) it should activate the same processes that a learning situation does, and 3) should be valid for predicting behavior related to experiential learning. The styles are Converger, Diverger, Assimilator, and Accomodator. Style is developed during adolescence and young adulthood by the interaction of the individual and the environment; style is somewhat subject to change and gives way to integration of the four steps after mid-career (Bonham, 1987).
Kolb postulated that learning requires the use of polar opposites. He suggested that there are two primary dimensions to the learning process. The first dimension represents the concrete experiencing of events at one end and abstract conceptualization at the other. The other dimension has active experimentation at one extreme and reflective observation at the other. Thus, in the process of learning, one moves in varying degrees from actor to observer, from specific involvement to general analystic detachment (Kolb, 1976).
The four learning styles, with their respective predmoinant learning abilities and characteristics as proposed by Kolb are:
Converger: Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experimentation. Through hypothetical deductive reasoning convergers can focus on specific problems. Convergers excel where there appears to be just one solution to a problem. They are often viewed as unemotional, and seem to prefer being occupied with things and ideas rather than people.
Diverger: Concrete Experience and Reflective Observation. Divergers tend to view things from many perspectives and then synergize, organize them into a meaningful gestalts. The exact opposite of Convergers. They tend to be imaginative and artistic. Divergers are viewed as emotional. They are found working in aeas such as humanities and liberal arts.
Assimilator: Abstract Conceptualization and Reflective Observation. Inductive reasoning, and synthesizing different observations into integrated explanations is the strength of Assimilators. They are excellent at examining data and devising theoretical models. They are, however, disinterested in practical applications of these models.
Accomodator: Concrete Experience and Active Experimentation. Rather than using their analytic ability, Accomodators tend to rely on other people for information. Of the four learning styles they take more risks than the other three. Their main strength is carrying out plans, being involved in new experiences, and solving problems through trial and error (Holtzman, 1988).
The LSI has been used mostly in education, management training and medical settings. It has been used to help learners and teachers understand the learning process and preference for different kinds of education experience (McFadden, 1986). Sewall (1988) reports that the LSI is biased towards the upper range of general education; to the precentages of each demographic group above and below the 50th eprcentile. Sewall also notes that no norm tables are provided and that internal consistency of the instruments, as a whole, is relatively low (.79 and .83 on split-half coefficients). Alpha coefficients range from .43 to .73 with an average of .53 suggesting reliability instability over time.
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Peter L. Heineman
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