The spiral of experiential learning

19 July 2012

After talking with Lynne Mitchell yesterday, I thought I would try out Scopus”) again.

Starting off withe the classic article on learning from experience (D. A. Kolb, 1976), after five or ten minutes I found myself reading another article on meta-cognition and experiential learning (A. Y. Kolb and D. A. Kolb, 2009). Absolutely fascinating ((Maybe not stage 3 material, but worth a read for those who are interested in knowing more about how people learn, and what might hold them back)).

The article referenced, to my surprise, to some work done by the New Zealand Ministry of Education (2004 [2012]), and in particular to what the Kolbs called the “spiral of experiential learning”. I tracked back through the citation in Kolb and Kolb to original publication and to the following diagram

The spiral of experiential learning

The spiral of experiential learning (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2002 [2014])

I think many people will know I’m enthusiastic about experiential learning and Kolb’s cycle (D. A. Kolb, 1976), but this diagram served as a powerful reminder to me as to my role in students’ learning process; that is “to help students make connections and transfer learning to and from similar and dissimilar learning contexts” (my emphasis added).

The other thing that struck me from the diagram was that, in this process, “student’s questions become more sophisticated, their understanding deepens, and their actions become more effective”. I see this play out every time we use Mike’s Bikes.

At one level, to be successful at Mike’s Bikes, you need to drive your shareholder value–or SHV–ever higher (than your competitors”. SHV is largely a function of profit. So the essential question becomes one of “How do I increase the firm’s profit?” In a MECE sense (see Minto, 2002), there are only two ways to do this. Increase revenue or reduce expenses. That’s it. Ah, the joys of Accounting 101 or similar.

Of course you might–and are likely to–seek to do both simultaneously. So, the next questions is “How to increase revenue” and “How to decrease expenses?” Let’s just think about revenue at the moment. Once again we’re back to basic accounting; revenue is a function of sales and price. The trick–if there is one–is to increase the sales and/or the price. Narrowing our thoughts again, just to sales we can do this either by pulling sales through (making our products really attractive to the end user) or pushing them through (making it really attractive to our distribution channels, so they will push the product on to the end customer). To make out products really attractive to the end consumer, in come the marketers (do the 4Ps, or similar) and the R&D folk (who design a product to meet the markets needs) and the operations folk (to deliver a product that meets the markets needs).

What is a really simple task, rapidly becomes complex; to be truly effective a Mike’s Bikes firm has to be performing in all areas of the business; marketing, sales, R&D, operations, and so on. But not just performing independently of each other, but as a coherent whole. There has to be an integrating plan: is the firm going to be making the equivalent of Suzukis or BMWs?

Early on in the simulation, whether one increases marketing by $1 million or by $1.5 million does not matter too much; later, it will matter if it is, say, $1,800,000 or $1,700,000.

There is so much detail in Mike’s Bikes, as in any real organization, that to be a highly tuned, highly performing organization individuals need to master their own area of the business and understand how what they do impacts and affects the rest of the firm/team.


Kolb, A. Y., & Kolb, D. A. (2009). The learning way meta-cognitive aspects of experiential learning. Simulation & Gaming, 40(3), 297–327. doi:10.11771046878108325713

Kolb, D. A. (1976). Management and the learning process. California Management Review, 8(3), 21–31.

Ministry of Education. (21012). Experiential learning cycle. TKI: Te Kete Ipurangi. Governmental. Retrieved July 19, 2012, from

Minto, B. (2002). The pyramid principle: Logic in writing and thinking (3rd. ed.). London: Pearson Education.