The learning cycle and different kinds of writing

Many professional courses make use of what is known as a 'learning cycle' (Kolb 1984). The idea is that on a professional course you can learn in different ways at different stages, through different kinds of activities that are designed to help you to integrate theory and practice. These stages comprise:

1. An actual, concrete experience - for example, an interview you have carried out.

2. Your reflection on the experience, when you analyse and make sense of the activity for yourself, and think about what you may have learnt from it. For example, did the way you conducted the interview give you the information you needed?

3. Generalizing, which involves placing what has happened in a wider framework, typically based on your reading about the subject.

4. Application and planning - for example, when you plan an interview you draw on your own experience of what an interview is like and on ideas from reading about different types of interview. You may also draw on an experience of an interview you have already done.

Learning from experience is assumed to involve all of these stages, sometimes sequentially, sometimes together, and not necessarily in the same sequence. For example, you might get taught a theory before engaging in fieldwork and need to return to it later. You might, however, begin with practical work, the experience'. Different kinds of learning can take place at each of the stages in the learning cycle and each calls for its own kind of writing.

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