Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Learning Cycle

David A. Kolb (born 1939) is an American educational theorist whose interests and publications focus on experiential learning.  In his book published in 1984 entitled, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, he put forth his theory that has proven to be an effectual model for transformative learning.  We are indebted for his clarification of the key aspects of learning and summarization into a memorable way.

Perhaps you have heard or stated the phrase, “Experience is the best teacher.” Experience is one of the most powerful ways to learn.  When you fully participate in an experience you must use your mind, your eyes, nose, ears and often your fingers and mouth.  Your senses are fully engaged to reinforce lessons being observed.  Consider Kolb’s four-part model:

1. Experience: Learning results from a process of observation through some concrete experience. Many people never take the time to maximize an experience so that deeper learning can occur. For those who harvest the fruit of experience, they develop habits of observation.

2. Reflection: Observations can become transformational when they are assimilated and distilled into core concepts from which new insights and implications can be drawn. The implications must be tested for validity. Depending on one’s learning style this part of the process will involve study, dialogue, or further experimentation.  Reflection can be done in some refreshing personal way or in community.  However, it is essential to prioritize space for reflection.

3. Conclusion: Potential implications from reflection on experience must be processed through thinking and feeling. Although we all make quick decisions about experiences for good or bad, memorable or forgettable, few are given critical evaluation. After weighing the probable correctness of learning, one can experiment further.

4. Application: The learning cycle concludes one revolution when conclusions are put into action. This is an intentional process of testing to see if the experience, reflection, and conclusion resulted in a worthy new integration for living. Again, some people do this more intuitively, but for leaders committed to helping others maximize their learning this becomes a natural and reoccurring cycle.

NOTE: A sad reality more often than not is that people draw conclusions after experiences without taking the time for reflection. The result of short-circuiting this process is shallow or inaccurate conclusions.  Reflection is an essential skill every effective leader must exhibit.

How did Jesus facilitate such learning with the disciples? One incident of many is seen in Mark chapter 8 after the feeding of the 4,000.  Remember, there was a prior feeding of some 5,000 (Mark 6) so sufficient time for learning from multiple experiences had occurred.  While in the boat traveling to the other side of the lake, Jesus facilitates reflection by cautioning against the “leaven” of the Pharisees (verse 15).  The disciples apparently had not accurately reflected upon their experiences so they made false assumptions about what Jesus was asking.  Jesus then provides a laser-focused explanation, challenging their lack of observation and reflection, which inhibited sound conclusions (verses 17-21).  The goal was for increased understanding and ongoing application but it could not happen without going through the learning cycle.

How well do you steward your life experiences? What habits have you developed to prioritize reflection for deeper learning?  How well do you encourage and nurture reflection for those you lead?  A disciple is a learner and a good learner or developer of learners will engage in such experiential learning.

Next blog: Developmental Dialogue

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Leading with a Developmental Bias

In the last two blog postings, the topic of leading with a developmental bias was introduced through articles by Dr. Keith Webb. In particular, the focus was on developing younger leaders.  It is not hard to make a case for giving priority to younger leaders since they will or should be taking over all kinds of leadership roles in the near future.  However, just as every leader should maintain a life-long learning posture, all great organizations should help facilitate learning for leaders at every stage of life.

There are two important concepts to grasp when we lead with a developmental bias: the first has to do with our mindset.  When you as a leader meet with someone, for whatever reason, what is foremost in your thinking?  Hopefully it is not largely to share what you are thinking about or just to pass on information, as helpful as these contributions can be at times.  The way you approach an interpersonal encounter will tell whether you think developmentally or not.  Every encounter can become a learning experience for both parties.  What makes the difference is the mindset in which you engage others.

A developmental mindset will listen well, ask questions, ask for clarification, and restate what has been heard to ensure understanding of where the person is coming from. A developer helps people think about how they can make progress from where they are currently at to where they need to be.  Discernment is needed to focus the conversation where it becomes beneficial to the person.  There is great satisfaction to leave an encounter, even one of only a few minutes, with the other person feeling or saying that he or she has been heard and that you have been of significant help.

Along with having a developmental mindset, a leader with a developmental bias needs to demonstrate intentionality.  Every encounter can be developmental to some degree.  What is required is the ability to turn an opportunity from some normal experience into a developmental one.  If you naturally ask yourself, “What can I learn from this person or conversation?” you will be thinking developmentally.  Such intentionality to learn will always flow over into facilitating learning for the other person as well.  But, the leader needs to develop the conviction and habit of thinking developmentally as a default posture.  The development of others is the priority.

There are so many times in the Gospels when we can see Jesus taking an everyday life experience and turning it into a developmental one for the disciples. Consider the simple incident when the tax collector asked Peter if Jesus paid taxes (Matthew 17:24-27).  Peter answered affirmatively without consulting with Jesus.  Jesus knowing (omnisciently?) of the conversation makes it into a developmental opportunity for Peter.  He addresses Peter by way of a question and then an explanation to help Peter learn about who He is (Son and not a stranger); and what He can do (miracle of the coin in the fishes mouth).  Jesus had a primary concern to help His disciples develop in their thinking about His person and work so that they could lead a movement that would change the world.  Development was Jesus’ mindset and intention.

Think back over some of your more recent encounters with those you lead. How much did you exercise a developmental mindset?  How intentional were you about helping the other person learn?  This is a BIG deal if a leader is to live and lead like Jesus.

Next blog: The Learning Cycle

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