Circular Learning Model

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People learn through a circular process of action, conceptualization and evaluation. It involves referring to previous experiences as well as anticipating outcomes. Learning is in that sense a spiral– reflecting, moving on, turning into a new loop with new experiences and qualitatively new challenges.

Based on the observation that people do not learn like computers, whose progress can be shown as a linear progression, David and Alice Kolb state that a learner has to move through several phases. Applying this curricular model we propose specific definitions for these phases. [1]


Concrete Experience

1. In the beginning in a phase of concrete experience the challenge will be defined.

Reflective Observation

2. Reflective observation does help to identify if the implemented action lead to success or not.

Abstract Conceptualization

3. From observation and evaluation we generate models of the reality that allow us to define some rules.

Active experimentation

Action, involvement, trial and error help us to apply these new models and to prove them in new experimentation.

And again we start to enter a new circle with new concrete experience.

Link to Learning to Learn

This model of learning as circular process illustrates, that learners and educators need to view their action regularily from an observative meta-position, in order to define and tackle their challenges. Successful learning from a life-long perspective depends on how learners and facilitators can apply reflection in complex, unique, open-ended situations as part of the competence of learning-to-learn. Situations which often cannot be managed with instructions from schoolbooks or though standard advice.[2]


  1. Kolb, Alice Y.; Kolb David (2005): Learning Styles and Learning Spaces: Enhancing Experiential Learning in Higher Education; in: Academy of Management Learning & Education; Vol. 4, No. 2 (Jun., 2005); pp. 193-212
  2. N. Zimmermann: Mentoring Handbook - Providing Systemic Support for Mentees and Their Projects; Berlin 2012; MitOst; ISBN 978-3-944012-00-1

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Editor of Competendo. Coordinator of the project DIGIT-AL Digital Transformation in Adult Learning for Active Citizenship. Network Secretary of the DARE network. Topics: active citizenship, civil society, digital transformation, non-formal and lifelong learning, capacity building. Blogs here: Blog: Civil Resilience. Email: