Kobl’s Experiential Learning Cycle in Qigong


The American psychologist, David Kolb is renowned in educational circles for his Learning Style Inventory which helps us to understand an individual’s learning process. The model is broadly based on the interaction of four key aspects of learning, namely:

  • Concrete Experiences
  • Reflective Observation
  • Abstract Conceptualisation
  • Active Experimentation

While we are all likely to engage in all four of these aspects, we will tend to prioritise certain aspects and spend less time on others. 

Understanding this process in relation to our own learning styles can be beneficial in noticing the points at which we may be able to enhance our learning ability. 

Understanding this process in more general terms will be hugely beneficial in identifying suitable pacing for classes in order to ensure the required space is provided for experiencing the form, reflecting on the experience, considering the implications and then adapting.


The diagram below (taken from Saul Macleod’s article in Simply Psychology) will help us to explore this process in more detail:

Concrete Experience

If we start the cycle at the point of the Concrete Experience phase, we find ourselves in the situation that we are learning about. It could be that this is the first time through the experience, or it could be an experience that we have had before and we are now looking at changing our relationship with it. 

In a Qigong class scenario, this is most likely to be experiencing the form, but it could equally be in a conversation or talk. When facilitating, we need to be aware of this part of the process so that we can set our students up for the subsequent stages.

Reflective Observation (What happened?)

Following on from the Concrete Experience phase, we move into Reflective Observation. At this stage we are reflecting on the experience and gathering the facts. This is the point at which we can ask ourselves (or others) “what happened” questions like: What went well? What was difficult? When was your sense of….? 

In a qigong class, this could be the point at which you ask for feedback from our students. It is also interesting that when feedback is provided, it quite often reminds others of their experience and helps them to reflect for themselves. 

Creating the space for this kind of reflection in a class scenario can be invaluable not only in helping students become more aware of the impact of the session, but also in ensuring that the next phase of the teaching is relevant and accessible for the group.

Abstract Conceptualisation (So what?)

Following the reflective observation stage, explanations and new ideas can start to surface and questions can arise. This “so what?” stage is the point at which we can build our understanding of the experience in a way that will help us to build a solid foundation on which to build the strategy for change that comes next.

In a qigong class, this stage of learning is about bringing the observations together in a coherent way so that we can then best choose how to move forward as a group. 

This is also the stage that lesson plans can fall apart as we can never accurately preempt the experience of others. Because of this, it’s important to be able to listen carefully to the observations to ensure that any concepts that are offered are relevant and help to maintain coherence within the group. 

Taking time at this stage of the learning process can really help to foster a sense of belonging and coherence. It can help to dictate a suitable pace of progression for the group and will really help with engagement.

Active Experimentation (Now what?)

Having observed and conceptualised, this is the point at which we can develop a plan to move forward with the understanding that we have just gained. It’s important to say that this new understanding may not be better than our previous level of understanding, but we should be free to explore and experiment without safe boundaries and learn in our own way.

In a class scenario, this is the point at which we can develop a plan for adapting the experience to best fit with the group’s needs and it is important the intention is clearly expressed within the group so that everyone is able to continue to explore and learn.

Comparisons into Chinese Philosophy:

The iterative cycle of experiential learning that David Kolb has outlined is comparable to the process that we see within the 5 Element Theory in Chinese Medicine. 

This should be no real surprise as the 5 Element Theory is an observation of natural cycles and learning is, after all, a natural process.

In simple terms we move from the active, fire aspect of doing through to the reflective, water aspect of planning and then back to the fire aspect of doing. 

In this representation of the natural cycle we have the contracting aspect of metal and the expanding aspect of wood that can be compared to the reflective and experimentation phases in Kolb’s cycle.

While the 5 Elements lacks the insight that Kolb’s model has for education and learning, it is an interesting comparison, especially if you are working around the 5 element theory with your students.


As with all models of learning, some of the stages outlined in Kolb’s model will be easier and more natural for some than for others. We may have a tendency to rush through the observation stage and jump way too quickly into the conceptualisation stage. It’s possible that we get stuck in the conceptualisation stage and don’t really want to commit to the experimentation stage, we may just enjoy the experiential stage way too much and not want to move away from that.

As a teacher, and as a learner, it’s important to give ourselves and our students time to be in each of these stages. It’s an important consideration for class planning, it’s an important consideration for self-development.

Embracing models such as this will help to enhance our learning and the learning of those that we work with. Understanding that this has relevance into 5 element theory will help us to hold onto both the Experiential Learning Cycle and the 5 Element Theory as useful frameworks that point towards a deeper truth.

To find out more about the work of David Kolb through EBLS LLC https://learningfromexperience.com/ and there are a wide array of resources available online.

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