Using the Kolb Learning Cycle in Organization of a Management Textbook


KURI, Nidia Pavan1, SACOMANO NETO, Mario2 & ESCRIVAO FILHO, Edmundo2

1 Centro de Tecnologia Educacional para Engenharia, Escola de Engenharia de Sao Carlos – Universidade de Sao Paulo, 13560-250 Sao Carlos–Sao Paulo - Brasil
2 Area de Engenharia de Producao – Programa de Aperfeicoamento de Ensino, Escola de Engenharia de Sao Carlos – Universidade de Sao Paulo, 13560-250 Sao Carlos–Sao Paulo - Brasil


Abstract: The young teacher, in particular the one of engineering, could carry out his activities of teaching in a more effective and efficient way if in his professional formation, the curriculum also contemplate same pedagogic disciplines or if while student has the opportunity of teaching practice, through the participation in programs especially instituted to offer pedagogic preparation.

Coming to the encounter of that need, the University of Sao Paulo–USP, established the Improvement Teaching Program, destined to improve the masters degree students' formation through supervised practice in didactic activities of graduation. The student integration to the program is made by means of participation in project, that should contain the plan of activities they would develop in specific disciplines under the responsible teacher's supervision.

This paper summarizes the experience of implementation of that Program in ”The Evolution of Management Thought” Course, tought in the Production Engineering Area, of the School of Engineering of Sao Carlos–USP. The observations and discussions regarding the procedures adopted for the the classes and the different types of subjects and difficulties found by the students gave to the teacher and the participant of the Program clear indicatives that the learning in that course could be improved if students could count on a textbook to complement the formal classes. But how should that resource be organized in way to assist to the different styles of the students' learning? The answer to this question appeared then as a challenge: to use the Kolb’s Learning Cycle as reference in the course textbook organization.


1  Introduction

Usually, the new engineering teachers begin their careers very well prepared according to the contents of technical disciplines that they will teach, but most of them never studied a formal course in education and haven’t enough knowledge about the learning process or how the students learn.

The missing pedagogic training is not a new fact, nor so unknown. A lot of teaching institutions are determined in supplying that deficiency, like the case of the University of Sao Paulo (USP) that instituted the Improvement Teaching Program, destined to improve the masters degree student's formation through the participation in didactic activities of the graduation.

The implementation of that Program in ”The Evolution of Management Thought”, Course thought in the of Production Engineering of the School of Engineering of Sao Carlos–USP, comes presenting quite significant results and one of those is related here partially, since the task is not still ended: it is the redesigning of the course and a textbook organization using as reference the Kolb Learning Cycle [KOLB 1984] in the restructuring of the several topics and learning activities.

2  The improvement teaching program

Established in 1995, the aim of Improvement Teaching Program of the University of Sao Paulo is to place the master and doctorate students in direct contact with the didactic and educational subjects of the graduation teaching.

The student integration to the program is made by means of participation in project that should contain the plan of activities they would develop, during a semester, in specific courses under the responsible teacher's supervision. Usually, these activities refer to the:

Those tasks should not exceed 6 weekly hours and they should be compatible with the student's regular activities in to masters degree. The effective participation in the of Improvement Teaching Program guarantees it a cost help, through the payment of a monthly scholarship.

The information obtained through the observations and the results of the discussions regarding the teaching procedures adopted in the discipline are registered and they consist on a report to be submitted to the appreciation of a Central Commission that will evaluate the student performance to the end of each period. That Commission is composed by Vice - Rector and Pro-rectors of the University and for a representative of the students. It has for purpose to establish and to disclose registration approaches and candidates' selection; to select registered candidates, by means of exam of the participation projects; and, finally to evaluate the accomplished work.

3  The program in ”The Evolution of Management Thought” course

The Improvement Teaching Program was implemented in ”The Evolution of Management Thought” course during the second semester of 1998.

A The Textbook Organization: An Idea

The observations accomplished by the participant of the Program class to class, the weekly discussions and the difficulties presented by the students in relation to certain concepts of the matter or to the subjects debated in class supplied the responsible teacher for the course and to the participant himself, clear indications that the learning in the discipline could be improved if the subjects and the learning activities were usually introduced to the students in a different way from that used in the classes and generally adopted in the didactic books.

The conscience that the teaching procedures used affected the students differently and that the adoption varied techniques and learning activities assisted partially to the different preferences manifested in class induced both teacher and participant to a reorganization of the treated subjects in the course. For that, they took as reference the Kolb Learning Cycle and each topic of the course would be approached then in way to assist to the four stages of the cycle. The task was then initiated and the revision of the didactic material lead to the idea of the organization of a textbook to complement the learning in the course.

B The data collection

The information regarding the course has been collected in two ways: the first of them is through the accompaniment of the classes, where the student develops a report class the class standing out the topical ones more important of the treated subject, the most outstanding authors, the students' doubts and the approach of the subject done by the teacher. These weekly reports are important as much as a referencial for the teacher when he goes teach again this discipline to other groups of students and it could illuminate and approach subjects that were doubts to the current students, as for the structure mapping to be adopted when organizing the textbook.

The second form information collection happens during the accomplishment of the weekly meetings between the responsible teacher and the student. During those meetings the teaching procedures adopted in the classes are debated, the difficulties presented by the students and the best ways to structure the subject of the class specifically already observed. This structuring is made with base in the Kolb Learning Cycle that will be detailed in the topic to proceed.

Through this accompaniment class to class and the meetings accomplished between the responsible teacher and the participant of the Program, it is looked for to formulate a theoretical support that supplies subsidies to point which are the most important information that should be outstanding in the book. In these meetings there are discussions referring subjects in the class and which information are indispensable to be approached in the book. In this phase a bibliographical planning is accomplished to enrich the subjects discussed in classroom.It is considered that students' doubts and the points of larger difficulty in learning process. These information give whole registered in the class reports.

C Learning Cycle: The Model

The Kolb model includes two dimensions: the perception and the processing of the information. The perception function is represented in the Figure 1 by a vertical axis in which in its final points and opposites are located the concrete experience (feeling) and the abstract conceptualization (thinking). The processing function is represented by a horizontal axis, in which in its final points and opposites are located the reflexive observation (watching) and the active experimentation (doing). Thus, the way as a person perceive and processes the new information is located in some point of these continuous lines.

In agreement with [HARB, DURRANT & TERRY 1993], with base in these continuums, Kolb identified four different learning types, referring to them as ”learning styles”, that is to say, the way preferred by the which the students answer and they use the stimuli in the context of the learning.

Each one of those learning styles has been characterized by a type of favorite question: 1) Why?, 2) What?, 3) How? and 4) What If? These four questions represent the internal structure of the Learning Cycle that can be seen as a model for learning new concepts.

In this Cycle, the concrete experimentation (feeling) it creates a need for the learning, that induces to the reflexive observation of the experience (watching), that is followed by the introduction of the concepts (thinking) to integrate the new experience that is already known. After the integration, the action is induced (doing) and since this action alters what it is already known, new experiences happen and the cycle repeats. To walk through the cycle means, therefore, to answer the four questins in sequencial order.

The movement through the cycle is accompanied by the choice of teaching procedures and appropriate learning activities to each one of the different styles. Explanations of as the subject of the matter to be learned relates with the experience, interests and with the students' future career it can be a way very interesting to begin the study of each class theme. In that first quadrant, to stimulate discussions, report of experiences and group activities, for example, can be efficient activities to revive the involvement of everybody in relation to the theme to be studied.

Thus, in the first quadrant of the learning cycle, when placing the subject Why?, it is looked for to motivate the student to receive the information and process it. This way the objectives and the preliminary information of each subject create personal involvement and prepare the students for the introduction of the concepts related to each subject.

Obtained the students' involvement with the subject, in the second quadrant the teacher assumes his specialist position and exposes principles, concepts and illustrative facts, supplying models and opening space for activities that make the reflection easier, besides the search of more information for the students themselves. Do the introduction and study of the concepts correspond, therefore, to the second subject of the cycle - What?

Starting from that conceptualization, the following step is to promote the integration of the theory with the practice. So that the students acquire experience with the taught material, the strategy in that third quadrant is to emphasize the application of the principles and learned concepts creating opportunities so that they work actively in very defined tasks, that can be executed in class or out of it, in groups or individually. The important is that the teacher offers orientation and feedback. Does the third quadrant correspond, therefore, to the How? , that is, as to use the concepts processed in applied activities. This phase already corresponds to a form of evaluation of the worked concepts. To supply this stage of the cycle questions already closed regarding the subjects are formulated developed.

In the fourth quadrant, the independent learning, the self-discovery and the creativity are stimulated. The application of the learned material moves now for new way situations to solve ”real” problems. The work in group is an important activity so that the students can share their discoveries. Does this apprenticeship correspond to the evaluation of the objective established, this way one does work with studies of cases, which it allows to the student to do correlations of the concepts previously placed with new situations, through the inquiry What If?. In this phase it does happen the unbalance of the learning implying in the entrance to a new cycle, being come back to the first subject Why?

The use of that model in the engineering teaching assists to three main objectives: to reach all the students through the teaching to each learning style; to stimulate the students to use all the four learning types; and, to teach the students to complete the cycle for themselves so that they think and learn in an independent way. [SHARP, HARB & TERRY 1997]

In agreement with [FELDER 1996], a model of learning styles is useful to balance the instruction in all the dimensions of the model that, essentially, it should gather the all the students' needs. The model presented here satisfies, therefore, that approach.

4  Conclusions

Through the intensive accompaniment of the classes and of the countless discussions on which the best organization and sequence of the subjects and learning activities that they should be adopted in the elaboration of the textbook for the course, were looked for firstly through the learning cycle to motivate the reader to learn the presented material (why?), being followed of the presentation and detailed study of the concepts related to it (what?). In the other two phases of the cycle, it is looked for to evaluate the effectiveness of the learning of the concepts, firstly with shut and direct subjects (how?) and later on with open subjects, passíveis of countless interpretations for the students and therefore, generating of discussions and of different solutions (what if ?).

The use of the learning cycle has helped the selection and the organization of the bibliographical material for the making of the textbook. What is waited with the organization of that texbook is to stimulate independent learning in the course, through a pleasurable reading and very useful to the graduation student's academic formation.


KOLB, D. Experimental Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, , 1984

HARB, J.N., DURRANT, S.O. & TERRY, R.E. Use of the Kolb Learning Cycle and the 4MAT System in Engineering Education. In Journal of Engineering Education, 82, 2, pp.70-77, April 1993

SHARP, J. E., HARB, J.N. & TERRY, R.E. Combining Kolb Learning Styles and Writing to Learn in Engineering Classes. In Journal of Engineering Education, pp.93-101, April 1997

FELDER, R.M. Matters of Stylle. In ASEE Prism, 6(4), p. 18-23, December 1996