Experiential Learning: Kolb and Schon

Through discovering and reading all the different education theories, research and technology, I find myself returning to the concepts of experiential learning (hands on learning), to focus educational approach for the adult learner. The education delivered is thus more relevant, meaningful and engaging for participants and facilitators. You can add problem based and collaborative training to this philosophy to provide a more rounded education session.

“Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes” (Kolb, 2008).

Experiential learning (Kolb, 1984) is learning from experiences, and mainly in the active sense and is the cornerstone of nurse development. On the job learning, is a large component of postgraduate nurse training, and is a planned and supported process for the nurse to experience increasingly challenging situations whilst developing knowledge and skills. Piaget’s concept of schema theory and the organized structure of memories elicit that past experience and the knowledge we possess develop over time (Winn and Snyder, 1996). This schematic learning process really exemplifies nurse’s development in the workplace environment. To complete Kolb’s learning cycle: Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation are required in the learning process.

Reflection in action, reflection on action

Schon’s reflection theory focuses on everyday action by professional workers. Reflection-in-action” and “reflection-on-action” provides critical reflection on what informs practice and how they subsequently develop or hinder workplace practices.

  • Reflecting and deciding what works best at that particular time, for that unique event/incident (Reflection-in-action).
  • Reflecting post an event on how practice can be developed (Reflection-on-action).


Reflection is a major component of development and learning throughout nurse training , and applying Gibbs (1988) and Johns (2009) reflective processes in nursing, help make sense of experiences and summarise events. Be careful not to try to make every reflection ‘a critical event’, sometimes we can miss the important events of power and hierarchy, as we often focus on the exciting code blue or conflict scenario. Meaning and understanding can be found in everyday workplace activities as healthcare is never without incident.


Kolb, A. Y., & Kolb, D. A. (2008). Experiential Learning Theory: A Dynamic, Holistic Approach to Management Learning. Journal of Education and Development, 17(9), 312-317.

Kolb, D, A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development.

Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by Doing: a Guide to Teaching and Learning Methods. London: FEU.

Johns, C. (2009). Becoming a Reflective Practitioner. Chichester, U.K: Wiley-Blackwell.