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Better Management Tips - Understanding Learning Styles

Ken Long

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The following notes are an executive summary of the 90 page Kolb Learning Style Inventory- Version 3.1, 2005 Technical Specification. Published by Experience Based Learning Systems, Inc (2005). It's dense, but detailed, and could take you many hours to digest. Here's what's important.


The LSI is a widely accepted instrument, and is based on Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) of which David Kolb is one of the world's leading proponents. The newest version, 3.1 is an update to the instrument based on new norms that come from a research study where n= 7000 respondents. It refines the scales and added some refinement to the 2 axes that constitute the instrument.

The technical specification is in 6 parts, which cover the conceptual basis, a description of the instrument, the characteristics of the normative samples, a summary of the research on internal reliability, and a summary of internal and external validity. The tech spec is the equivalent of a very detailed literature review concerning the instrument and I thought was very professional in its characterization of the views of those who have taken issue with the instrument and commented on its limitations.

Commentary on concept and theory:

  1. The ELT concept considers learning as a function of 2 processes; First you get an experience, and then you transform the experience into knowledge. In this theory, people “create" their knowledge using these 2 processes. Each process consists of a axis or a continuum along which we are said to have a preference .
  2. The “getting experience" axis ranges from pure Concrete Experience (CE) to pure Abstract Conceptualization (AC)
  3. The “transforming experience" axis ranges from pure Reflective Observation (RO) to pure Active Experimentation (AE).
  4. Each of the 2 axes have increments between the 2 pure endpoints which reflect a partial preference of some magnitude for each style
  5. The 2 axes, set perpendicularly, establish the 4 quadrants for learning modes, as we have seen.
  6. The ELT postulates that all learning goes through a 4 step process that includes:
    1. Concrete experience
    2. Observation and reflection
    3. Formation of abstract concepts and generalization
    4. Testing implications of concepts in new situations which generates new concrete experiences, which triggers the cycle to begin again.

The LSI is a powerful tool used throughout the business world as a means of developing self-awareness and for helping you develop your team through better personal understanding. To be a good manager is to know and use effectively all the tools at your disposal.

Ken Long, Chief of Research, Tortoise Capital Management

Adding value through independent research, combining technical analysis and human behavioral psychology

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