A Series on Teaching Strategies for Librarians: Teaching Taxonomies (Kolb Model and Kohlberg’s Stages)

This post is part three point two of a fourteen part series, Teaching Strategies, that is based on a series of education workshops. I’m documenting the content for myself, but hopefully it will also be useful to (1) librarians looking for more theoretical background for their own teaching and (2) for librarians looking to better understand education models as they look for new ways to support and participate in the educational missions of their institutions.

As we discussed in the last post, understanding the experience of your students can help you determine the best way to present information or fit into the learning process. This post explores two more ways of thinking about your students’ experience.

Kolb Model of Experiential Learning

“Learning is an holistic process of adaptation to the world.” -Kolb (1984) in “Experiential Learning”

As another person approaching learning as an holistic process, I’ve really come to like Kolb. His model looks something like this:

Kolb Model - Google Docs

This is a useful framework for a number of reasons, one of which being that you might start anywhere in this cycle, as might your students. For example, I learn best by forming abstract concepts based on previous ones, test them out in new situations, gain some experiences, and reflecting on those. Some learn best by doing first, thinking about it, forming concepts that can be tested, and testing. Some learn best by watching something and observing/reflecting, etc.

You might also think of it like this:

Active Experimentation Plan
Concrete Experience Do
Reflective Observation Observe
Abstract Conceptualization Think

Preferences for where one starts in this cycle also connect to learning styles.

  • Assimilators prefer to be presented with sound logical theories to consider.
  • Convergers want to be provided with practical applications of concepts and theories.
  • Accomodators prefer to have “hands on” experiences.
  • Divergers want to be allowed to observe and collect a wide range of information.
It’s important to note that this is about learning preference. I am a diverger in terms of how I approach my work, but I am an assimilator when I am learning.
At this point, I think this framework can be stressful for any teacher. All four preferences will be in my class! What order do I even put this unit of teaching in?? In a small group, I’ve had successful informal discussion with the class to get at their preferences and sometimes it falls into two or three areas, at least knocking out one. In a larger class that’d be virtually impossible.
You can set up students for success, though. You can provide some background information ahead of time for assimilators (like in the Flipped model). Or you could briefly go over theory before diving into active learning activities. Or, likewise, you could start with an assigment that everyone has to struggle with a bit before explaining the theory, which would cater to the doers, but be sure to stop by and talk with students who want more information first and share it out.
For the most part, though, students (like you probably remember from your own student days) just deal with classes in however information is presented. Doing a very small amount to show flexibility in this will speak volumes to students about your consideration for their learning.

Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development

Kohlberg’s Stages should remind you a bit of Perry’s work that we discussed last time. Instead of a system that maps neatly to a four year experiences, Kohlberg has six stages that take place over a lifetime.
There’s quite a bit we could talk about here, but this chart mostly summarizes the highlights:


As with Perry’s understanding how the student thinks about knowledge, and your role as instructor, can help you present information in a way most likely to be accepted by the student. Thinking about where students are likely to be on the continuum can help you determine the information that’s most relevant as well. If students are predisposed to want to know true facts from an expert, you can give them specific steps for how to use the database or catalog. If students are predisposed to question and to doubt expertise in an instructor, you can create activities that will allow students to struggle with information and come to conclusions on their own.
There are so many cognitive theories or perspectives out there, so we’re going to stop here for now. But if you’re using another one that you find particularly useful, please leave it in the comments! I love knowing what other folks find relevant in their own teaching.

3 thoughts on “A Series on Teaching Strategies for Librarians: Teaching Taxonomies (Kolb Model and Kohlberg’s Stages)

  1. i’m loving this series, can’t wait to read them all! looks like your table for kolb is a bit off (unless active experimentation really can be thought of as row 1 cell 2!).

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