Experiential Learning Theory, version 3
To get into the specifics of ELT, version 3 is a classic four-quadrant model. Each quadrant is the intersection of two nodal preferences, which are mapped to the axes radiating from the center point. As previously noted in the first part of this series, ELT is less a categorization to deterministically apply how individuals will react, as a map of how we are likely to act. It is inherent in the underlying theory that different types of situations can elicit varying preferences, and that our abilities to intentionally choose perspectives, to become more flexible, can be learned over time.
To define some of these terms; opposite position on the axes indicates a degree of inherent tension between the preferences:
- Concrete Experience values what has happened, or is happening; direct experience.
- Mental Abstraction values sense making through thinking; mental models.
- Active Experimentation values learning through taking in new information and directly trying new things; transform experience and abstractions into behavior by trying.
- Reflective Observation values learning through taking in new information and comparing it to past experiences; connect direct experience to general knowledge.
Between these nodes are learning styles:
- Diverging perspectives prefer to reflect on past experience and value generating options and ideas. People with this preference tend to ask a lot of questions like “what has worked in the past?” or “what do others think?” or “what about this?”
- Assimilating perspectives prefer to apply mental models to past experience and value comparative analysis between ideas. People with this preference tend to like to have time to think things through, often introspectively.
- Converging perspectives prefer to work toward practical outcomes through goals and explicit decisions. People with this preference tend to create structure around ambiguity and to get to a decision quickly.
- Accommodating perspectives value trying new things and figuring out corrections along the way, often by intuition or emotional feedback rather than any logical or analytical rigor.
Effective decisions move through several stages. The length and depth of each stage varies by context, though either becoming mired or skipping over one can have dramatic results that are often not welcomed.
It is critical to understand that the fitness of any specific perspective, and its corresponding strength, is entirely contextual. For example, when we are in the diverging phase of a deciding conversation, having a diverging perspective lead will be the most likely to generate the greatest number of high quality ideas. On the contrary, having a converging perspective in this phase will tend to rush to a decision, introducing risk through insufficient ideation and analysis. Understanding when any particular conversation benefits from shifting between phases, such as diverging to comparing, can be developed over time and is a hallmark of skilled facilitation. There are additional dynamics that influence the relative strength of each perspective, including the levels of organizational authority, status, or influence or each individual. Another type of dynamic will be explored in Part 3 through Kantor’s Four Player Model.