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Experiential Learning and Its Critics: Preserving the Role of Experience in Management Learning and Education Author(s): D.

Christopher Kayes Reviewed work(s): Source: Academy of Management Learning & Education, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Dec., 2002), pp. 137-149 Published by: Academy of Management Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40214146 . Accessed: 21/08/2012 02:48
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Academy of Management Learning and Education, 2002. Vol. 1, No. 2. 137-149.

ExperientialLearningand Its Critics:Preservingthe Role of Experiencein Management Learningand Education

D. CHRISTOPHER KAYES The George Washington University

In thisarticle,I considerJohn Dewey's dual reformist-preservationist agenda for debates about therole ofexperiencein management ofcurrent educationin thecontext experience-based approaches to managementlearning learning.I argue for preserving by revisingtheconceptofexperienceto moreclearlyaccountfortherelationship betweenpersonal and social (i.e., tacit/explicit) and knowledge.Byreviewing, comparing, (ELT)and reconceptualizing learningtheory extending critiquesofKolb's experiential thelearningprocessbased on poststructural analysis ofpsychoanalyst Jacque Lacan, I oflanguage and social action.Thisperspective is defineexperiencewithinthecontext criticalreflection and otherexperience-based to action,cognition, contrasted approaches formanagementtheory, to managementlearning.Implications pedagogy,and practice in thelearningprocess.Future suggestgreateremphasison language and conversation forresearchare explored. directions "A philosophyof education,like any theory, has to be statedin words,in symbols." -John Dewey (1938:28) Althougha number of variants of experiential have been proposed,Kolb's (1984) learningtheory (ELT)continuesto be learningtheory experiential ofmanagement theories one ofthemostinfluential of this analysis as the basis and serves learning refereed Over articles, 1,500 studies, (Vince,1998). on Kolb since conducted and dissertations, papers 1971(A. Kolb & Kolb, 2002)provideinsightinto a broad range of managementlearning processes Hunt, 1976; Dixon,1994; (Carlsson,Keane, & Martin, & Sims, 1983; 1987;Lengnick-Hall Sanders, 1997; Van der Hiejden, 1996).Althoughcountless mansee "experiagement scholars and practitioners ence" as centralto managementlearning,the notionofexperiencein management learninghas not of soattention. Criticisms critical without gone called experience-based learning arise forboth
Thanks to Clyde Croswell,GordonDehler,David Schwandt, on Michael Reynolds, and Russ Vince forhelpfulcomments ofthispaper. earlierdrafts 137

and theoreti1980) empirical(Freedman& Stumpf, cal reasons (Holman, Pavlica, & Thorpe, 1997; Hopkins, 1993;Miettinen, 1998;Reynolds,1999;Vince, have come sug1998). Alongwiththese criticisms or modifications to theconcept gested alternatives ofexperience. I respond to these criticisms by extendingELT based on poststructural analysis (Lacan, 1977)to the role of language in constructing exhighlight This remains consisperience. reconceptualization tent withthetheoretical rootsofexperiential learnbut it in the context of the ing, places linguistic in thesocial sciences. This extensionseeks to turn nature of preserve the dialectic and integrative the experientiallearnlearningwhile redirecting ing agenda to consider more fullythe complex relationshipbetween personal and social knowlthe debate in ELT also proedge. More generally, vides thebasis toaddress several important issues the nature of regarding management learningas a its and profession, study, appropriate pedagogy. Fromthe outset,this analysis presentsitselfas an exercise in abstract conceptualization,and thus,containsan irony: Experienceis treatedin a this irony, howpurelyabstractway. Recognizing


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forfuture workthatcan ever,creates momentum morecompletely with these abstractions integrate the experiencesof managers. Like the American philosopherJohn Dewey, who sought to simultavalues of educaneouslypreservethe underlying tionalinstitutions and reform theiragenda, I seek in thisarticle,to preservethe underlying value of experiential learning theory and refocus its agenda withinmanagementlearningand education.

thisanalysis focuseson Kolb's experienAlthough tial theory, a briefreviewof learningapproaches on managehelps to locate Kolb in the literature mentlearning.One methodof organizingthe diverse set of agendas, theories,and assumptions thatcomposetheliterature on management learning lies in epistemology: studyof the natureand structure of knowledge.Epistemology concernsitself with building a vocabulary that constitutes In the legitimateknowledgewithina profession. contextof management learning, epistemology seeks toidentify how theorists learningas a justify relevantaspect of managementby respondingto thequestion,"Whyis learningimportant formanexclusive, agers?" Four general,but not mutually agendas appear in managementlearning:action, and experience. reflection, cognition, Action Actionapproaches to managementlearning emphasize thebehavioralchanges thattake place in managers when solving organizationalproblems & Schon, 1978;Revans, 1980;Schon, 1983; (Argyris Action-driven Wenger,1998). learningapproaches seek to improvemanagerial behaviors that increase effectiveness in achieving goal-directed outcomes.This approach often conceives oflearnand quantifilinear,deterministic, ing as rational, able. Actionapproaches legitimizelearningas a process thatenables managers to detectand preventerrors, or suctransfer information, accurately achieve goals. cessfully Cognition Cognitive approaches emphasize the intra-and that occur within interpersonaltransformations and between managers (Goleman, 1998; Kegan, 1994;Klein,1998;Senge, 1990;Wegner,1987).Cognitiveapproaches to managementlearningfocus less on behavioralchanges and moreon changes

in how managers think.Cognitivelearningaids inand orderly managers in developingcoherent terpretationsof their environment.Cognitive learningfocuseson individualand groupthinking perception,mental processes such as memory, Fromthis models, schemas, and representations. of the mind, line of thinking, cognitivestructures or perception, such as brain chemistry, memory, limitthe natureof what can be known.As in the action approach,problemsolvingis an important aspect of cognitive learning, but the cognitive of the problemrestsin represencharacterization tationratherthan behavior.The ultimategoal of orderly reprecognitionlies in creatingcoherent, sentationsof complex problemsin the minds of managers. Reflection Reflective learningfoapproaches to management and questioncus on the process of self-discovery ing thatleads managers to develop a comprehenThisincludesthe sive view ofmanagerialpractice. ofmansocial, and cultural historical, implications agement (Dehler,Welsh, & Lewis, 2001;Mezirow, 1991;Reynolds,1999;Vince, 1998). By encouraging on their assumptions critically managersto reflect reflective and beliefs, approachesaid managersin perspective-limiting achievingemancipationfrom assumptions. Their concern for holistic understanding of a situation distinguishesreflective from cognitiveapproaches because a holisticunderstanding often leads to greater complexity. simWhereasthecognitive approachleads toward the reflective approach leads toward plification, complication.Accordingto the reflectiveview, leads to incomplete underoversimplification surfaces how power,status, standing.Reflection and how manlead to repression and bureaucracy these social agers mightseek emancipationfrom reflective forces. approacheslegitimize Ultimately, learning in managementas a means to develop bettersocietbetterorganizations, fundamentally ies, and a betterworldby freeing managers from socially embedded assumptions. Experience approaches to learningfocuson how Experiential new experiences managersacquire and transform sense and how theseexperienceslead to a greater or development ofsatisfaction, (Heron, motivation, 1992;Kolb, 1984;Nonaka, 1994;Reason, 1994;Torbert, 1972).By fullyinvolvingmanagers in new approacheshelp managexperiential experiences, ers develop more holistic views of themselves.




the Thisholisticsense ofone's existenceimproves nature of managerial work.Experience is often synonymouswith emotions and their deeper meaning.Thus,in experiential approaches,knowledge is conceivedofas being largelypersonaland individual. These approachesare distinguished by and value a concernwiththe innateself-direction of the manager as a person,ratherthan withthe for achievingthe goals manageras an instrument of the larger organization. Experiential apin managementby proaches maintainlegitimacy how betterpersons make better demonstrating managers. This typology providesa briefsynthesisof the complex terrain of management learning. Of course,fewapproaches fit neatlyintoany one catseveral. Neverand manymay cut through egory, theless, such a typology organizes the emerging studyof managementlearningin a way thatdescribes individuallearningin relationto broader Kolb'sELT occupractices. Arguably, management pies a unique place in the studyof management epistemollearningbecause it integrates multiple Whatdistinoflearning. theory ogies intoa formal for any single aspect guishesELT is notitsconcern but ratherits concernforthe interacof learning, tion between multipleaspects. That is, learning and resolution of lies in thedeliberaterecognition recognition, multiplelearningdemands. Action, four and experiencerepresent flection, interdepenholisdentprocesses,each ofwhichis requiredfor tic integrativelearning. ELT integratesall four management learning processes into a single wheremanagers resolve the emergent framework experientialtensionsbetween experience,reflec-

and action. Table 1 juxtaposes tion,abstraction, the four approaches to managementlearningand the corresponding dimensionof ELT. In the next section,I elaborate on Kolb's ELT and advocate in the lexicon of mangiving it special attention agement learning because it occupies a unique theoretical place between structural predeterminism and subjectivehumanism.

As an integrative ELT restson a diverseset theory, of theoretical traditions, includingDewey's pragLewin'ssocial-psychology, matism, Piaget's cognithertive-development, Rogers's client-centered apy, Maslow's humanism, and Perls' Gestalt (Kolb,1984:15).Kolb's theory therapy spans thelife from cycleofhumandevelopment youngchildhood to adulthoodand encompasses activitiessuch as career choice,education,problemsolving,and inI focushere on the theterpersonal relationships. ory's application to management learning. ELT proposes a comprehensive theory groundedin the humanistconceptthatpeople have a naturalcapacityto learn.Experienceacts as thecatalystfor - a engaging in the process of dialectic inquiry tothedata of processthatis based on and confined humanexperience. Learningas "theprocess whereby knowledgeis createdthrough the transformation ofexperience" (Kolb,1984:41) restson six assumptions:Learning (a) is a process,not an outcome;(b) derives from experience; (c) requires an individual to resolve dialecticallyopposed demands; (d) is holisticand between a per(e) requires interplay integrative;

TABLE1 ManagementLearningEpistemologies
Epistemology Proponents Process Outcome of Conception Knowledge Experiential Learning Dimension

Achievement of Independent specific, clearly variable; and normative defined, goals practical intraand Order, mental Klein, variable; Senge, Accurate Dependent Cognition Kegan, clear mental coherence, models, Wegner interpersonal structures representation thinking maps, fromIndependent etal., Reflection Dehler Emancipation Self-analysis; of Mezirow, variable; social, questioning assumptions, Vince and and historical, assumptions complete Reynolds, cultural complex perspective new Self-direction and Dependent Heron, Reason, Discovery; variable; Experience Kolb, Torbert selfexperiences; personal; unique emotional understanding toindividual involvement Action Knowles, Argyris, Revans, Schon, Wenger

to Solutions management problems

Active experimentation

Abstract conceptualization Reflective observation

Concrete experience


and Education Learning AcademyofManagement Concrete Experience ^^-^^^


son and environment; and (f)resultsin knowledge creation(pp. 25-38). The LearningProcess to ELT,managers learn by recognizing According and responding to a diverse set of environmental and personal demands. Learninginvolvesthe inof dimensions betweentwointerdependent terplay Each knowledge:acquisition and transformation. dimension requiresan individualto resolvea dialecticor a set ofcompeting learningtensions.The knowledgeacquisition dimensionrequiresan individualto resolvethetensionbetweenapprehension (concreteexperience)versus comprehension (abstract conceptualization). Apprehension requires an individual to accept new knowledge and directexperience through sensoryperception In conwiththe world(i.e., feelingsor emotions). occurs when an individual trast,comprehension abstractconceptsand gathersknowledgethrough occurs symbolicrepresentations. Comprehension whena personbreaksdownexperienceintomeaningfulevents and places themwithina symbolic systemofcultureand society. Knowledge acquired throughapprehension or comprehension readily interactswiththe second learning dimension: knowledge transformation. The transformation dimensionof learningis also characterized by a dialectical tension:knowledge intention(reflectiveobservation) versus knowlIn the edge extension (active experimentation). a learnermoves process of learningby intention, inwardto reflect acquired knowlupon previously learningby extensionrequires edge. In contrast, the individualto move beyondthe self to interact withan externalenvironment. Taken in concert, these four processes constitute the learningcycle.As managers resolve these ditheir orchestrate alectal tensions, way around they thecyclicalprocessoflearningas depictedin Figure 1. Taken as a whole,learningdescribesa conto diversepersonal tinuousprocess ofresponding the and environmental demands that arise from interaction between experience,concept, reflec- albeit notnecessarand actionin a cyclical tion, ilyorderly fashion. is not the only Kolb's learningtheory Although modelto employthisdialecticinquiry experiential it provides one of the few (e.g., Kegan, Torbert), comprehensive and fully generalized models. statedand and explicitly Kolb's theory is formally has generatedan extensivebody of empiricalresearch and theoretical attention. Since Kolb first developed the theoryin the late 1960s,ELT has influenced a diverserange ofmanagement topics,
Active ^ Experimentation

^ Reflective Observation


Abstract ^ Conceptualization

FIGURE 1 The Experiential LearningCycle (Sims, 1983),reincludingperson-job interaction teams (Carlsson,Keane, search and development & Martin, 1976),organizational systems (Dixon, 1994), strategy development (Van der Heijden, education(Lengnick1996), design ofmanagement Hall & Sanders, 1997)and job counseling (Hunt, (1998)suggests a reason forthis 1987).Miettinen influence: [ELT] combines spontaneity,feelings and deep individualinsightswiththe possibility It mainof rational thoughtand reflection. beliefin everyindividutains thehumanistic al's capacityto growand learn,so important Itincludes theconceptoflifelong for learning. a positive ideology that is evidentlyimportantforadult education(p. 170).

Despite its persistentpopularityor possibly beof has also been thetarget cause ofit,Kolb'stheory ofELT converge Criticisms muchcriticalscrutiny. on twofronts: (a) empiricalvalidationofthetheory in the LearningStyle Inand its instrumentation limitations. (LSI) and, (b) its theoretical ventory EmpiricalLimitations instrument The LSI is a self-report initiallydetool forstudentsand signed as a self-diagnostic managers to assess theirlearningalong the four dimensionsof experientiallearning.Researchers also propose the measure as a means to validate several aspects of ELT. Beginningin the 1970s, concernsdeveloped overthepsychometric properIn ties of the measure (Freedman& Stumpf, 1980).




response, Kolb redesigned the LSI in 1985 and again in 1999.Initialresultsindicate thatthe updated versions largely address earlier concerns (see Greer & Dunlap, 1997;Yahya, 1998).One remainingissue lies in the use of an ipsative measure forcross-subject comparison.A measure is ipsative when a high score on one dimensionresults in a correspondingly low score on another where dimension, creatinga statisticallimitation the sum of squares foreach variable is equal to zero. The self-referential nature of ipsative measures creates problemswithusing factor analysis todetermine internal construct and, in thevalidity Recent research, ory,inflatesinternalreliability. indicatesthatipsativity creates onlymihowever, norempiricaldeviationsthatare easily corrected using simple statisticalprocedures(Greer& Dunfuture workis needed to unlap, 1997).Although derstand the internalcharacteristics of the LSI, have addressed manyof updates totheinstrument the concerns,especially when the instrument is used forself-diagnosis of individuallearnerpreferences. Theoretical Limitations in the1990s, a second form ofcriticism Beginning and the basis of this inquiry began to emerge. Such criticisms generally argue thatELT decontextualizes the learningprocess and providesonlya accountofthe manyfactors limited thatinfluence Critics learning. proposethatemphasis on individual experiencecomes at theexpense ofpsychodynamic,social, and institutional aspects oflearning (Holmanet al., 1997;Reynolds,1999;Vince,1998). Psychodynamic Vince(1998) thepsychodynamic represents critique ofELT.First, ELTdoes and pointstofivelimitations notadequately considerthecontext ofpowerrelations such as social status,gender,and cultural dominance.Second,ELT fails to give ample status on to the influenceof these power differentials learning.Third,Vince believes that ELT fails to focuson the"hereand now"ofexperience, instead reflection. giving undue status to retrospective Fourth,ELT ignores the "unconscious" learning processes and defense mechanismsthat may inhibitlearning.Fifth, he concludes that ELT does or higher notadequately proposea "secondorder" metalearning process,such as questioningtheasof learningcommunities (p. 309).Reynsumptions olds (1999)echoes such criticisms by suggesting thatELT promotesa largely "individualizedperspective"on thelearningprocessat theexpense of

social and politicalinfluences. Vince's (1998)alternative places greateremphasis on powerand psychodynamics in the learning process whichincludes emotionssuch as anxiety, fear,and doubt (see, e.g., p. 310).These emotions manifestthemselvesin denial, avoidance, and a thatare more varietyof otherlearninginhibitors accountable to therealitiesofpowerrelationships and social context(p. 331). Similarly,Reynolds (1999)advocates greateremphasis on criticaltheofcommuoryor "reflexivity." Drawingon theories nicativeaction (e.g.,Habermas),Reynoldsemphasizes the role of criticalreflection over reflective observationin an attemptto unmask the seeminglyobjectiveroleofexperience.Challengingthe - and as a result learnnotion that experience ing is an objective and rational process, Reynolds focuses on the emancipatory powerof learning. Emancipationmoves the learnerto recognize his orherphilosophicalassumptions and howthey influencethe learning process. Critics fromthe psychodynamics perspectivequestion the nature oflearningand suggest relaxingseveral assumptions of the initial theory, includingits emphasis on experience,and call forgreateremphasis on reflective practicesin the learningprocess. Social A second line of criticism proposes a comprehensive rethinking of ELT to moreexplicitly account forsocial aspects oflearning.Holmanet al. (1997), forexample, reinterpret experientiallearningby (1978)social learningthedrawingon Vygotsky's ory.Holman et al. view individual learningas a the social and historical process inseparable from position of the learner.As an alternativeto the fourfold process of experience,reflection, conceptualization,and action, theypropose a series of acts such as "rhetoric, and social literary argument response" (p. 143).Holman et al. believe thatthe natureofELT overemphasizes theroleof cognitive theindividualand "decontextualizes" thelearning thesocial perspective process.Criticsfrom emphasize social activity overemotions tocounteract perceived cognitivebias in ELT. Institutional A thirdset of criticisms focuses on the humanist ofELT.Miettinen for (1998), epistemology example, argues that ELT is foundedon a misreadingof Lewin,Dewey,and Piaget and thatits diversetheoreticalfoundations leave ELT's agenda searching foran epistemologicalhome. Because ELT lacks institutional theargument strong standing, goes, it


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cloutnecessarytocontribute lacks theinstitutional and thus,ELT remainsimto codifiedknowledge, any one profession. Hopkins potentin furthering a phenomeno(1993)argues a similarpoint from thatKolb's strucby proposing logical perspective and failureto account forthe tural reductionism process nature of experience representsan "aggressive"attack on the process natureof experiinstitutional critics ence in learning.In summary, or integration propose two solutions:termination ofexperiential learningtheories. ofELT suggestthat Taken as a whole,criticisms of individthe theory's emphasis on the centrality ual experiencehas come at the expense of psysocial, and institutional aspects of chodynamic, include the introduction of learning.Alternatives social learning theory, criticaltheory, psychodyas well as all-outinnamics and phenomenology, ofthe theory itself. stitutional boycotts

sheds lighton ELT by highlightCriticalscrutiny ing ambiguities,omissions,and potentiallimitationsof Kolb's initialformulation; however,these critics'success at providing adequate reinterpreor extensionsto guide future alternatives, tations, on the topic of management researchand theory of Muchofthecriticism remains unclear. learning ELT seems preoccupied with the learning cycle and the concept of learning styles. Because cridistillELT intoa simple formula, they tiques often of riskreplacingthis broad and diverse tradition that are with alternatives managementlearning intoxicatingly simple. Reynolds(1999)recognizes amountto "simofELT often thatcharacterizations of Kolb's work" reductions (p. 539).Such replistic terriold theoretical leads to revisiting ductionism fail to al. for Holman et (1997), example, tory. influence constructivist acknowledge Vygotsky's on ELT (Kolb,1984:133)butproposeto reconceptualize ELT in constructionist terms, seeminglyunaware oftheiroversight. Mostimportant, critiquesofELT fail to preserve rethe fundamental assumptionsof ELT by first, of the inherent about potential laxingassumptions human beings to learn (i.e., humanism)and second, abandoning the belief that learning lies in problem solving (i.e., pragmatism).Critical apin thisreproblematic proachesseem particularly social criticism in critical and Rooted theory gard. such theoretical influences Habermas, Marx), (e.g., lie in oppositionto the pragmatic-humanism suggested by the likes of Dewey and Maslow. Thus, arises from much of the criticism fundamentally

different assumptionsabout thenatureofmanagementlearning. In attempts to emancipatemanagersfrom social critical theoristsseem uneasily prestructures, pared to stripmanagers of the verytool thatmay enable emancipationin the first place: belief in one's potentialforchange. The criticalpedagogy, as Kegan (1994)argues, oftenrequiresthe attainmentofsocial-cognitive skillsthatare theresultof Critical apyears of highlyspecialized training. proaches may help individuals gain insightinto theirsocial context, but thisoften leaves the individual strandedin a complex world,without the The appropriatetools to reorderthis complexity. newly "emancipated" may experience more rebecomestripped oftheir pressionthaneveras they own capacityto respondto new,morechallenging demands that come with emancipation. Ultithecriticalagenda lacks a developmental mately, pedagogy thatenables the individualto manage theincreasingly once complexdemandsthatresult emancipationhas been achieved. thatELT lacks sufficient instiFinally,criticisms tutionalstandingto influence academic advancement(Freedman& Stumpf, 1980;Miettinen, 1998) from a kindofprofessional maysuffer myopiathat constrainslearningresearch to a highlyconsensual body of knowledge. This emanates froma modernist (i.e.,essentialist)idea ofone best way to disgo about knowledgecreationin a professional cipline. The issue of paradigmaticdiscipline in from the recent managementlearningcan profit in organizational conversations studiesfocusedon the natureof low consensus fields(Astley& Zammuto,1992;Van Maanen, 1995).The debate in orof the ganizational studies,which is reminiscent in lies whether the Miettinen, arguments posed by field should adopt diverse paradigms, perspectives,and theoriesor convergeon a limitedset of variables, methods,and guiding theories.If the studyof managementlearningseeks to increase use experilearningin theacademy,thenit might as a guide. Ifthebest learnential learningtheory thenthe best aping systemsengenderdiversity, to facilitate management learning is to proach the fieldof inclusion.An albroaden,notnarrow, ternative comes from Geertz's(1983) idea approach of "blurred in which scholars enlist mulgenres," the complexsocial tiple disciplinesto understand - with of phenomenon managementlearning.ELT its humanistideology,pragmatistaim, scientific - provides and interdisciplinary roots justification, a lucid example ofsuch blurring. blurred Honoring visions in lightofinstitutional myopiapromisesa continuous,although not unique, challenge for managementlearningtheory.




four thelimiCritics propose waystodeal with on psychodynamics tations ofELT:(a) reemphasis ofkeyeleand social processes, (b) replacement with ments ofthetheory critical (c) inpedagogy, with other and (d)outright bantheories, tegration Theseproposals to a keyproblem ishment. point toadequately with ELT:itsfailure account for the betweensocial and personallearnrelationship ensolutions, however, ing.Each oftheproposed orrelaxing thekeyassumptions tailsabandoning ofcompeting demands ofELTandtheresolution of and action. abstraction, reflection, experience, toprivileging oneaspect solutions amount Current overanother and thusselectively deoflearning nature oflearning. theholistic valuing Analternative one that the preserves approach, acdialectic nature ofexperience butmorefully for itssocialaspects, lies inbroadening the counts theoretical base of ELT in lightof poststructural an agendabegins with a more comSuch analysis. between the account of the relationship perplex of ofexperience and thesocial world sonalworld A summary abstraction. of the critics, proposed thelimitations ofeach, as well as the solutions, in thenextsections are disresponses proposed in 2. Table played

of experience is a personal Apprehension be known subjective processthatcannot by others to them except bythecommunication ofthecomprehensions that we use todescribe our immediate experience. Comprehension, on theother a hand,is an objective process, toolofculture, as Engelswouldcall it.From this it follows thatthereare two kindsof thecombiknowledge: personalknowledge, nation ofmydirect ofexperiapprehensions ence and the sociallyacquiredcomprehensions I use to explainthisexperience and and social knowledge, the guidemyactions; transindependent, sociallyand culturally mitted network ofwords, andimages symbols thatis based solelyon comprehension (105; emphasis original). little attention Yet,because he devotes (less than twopages) to expanding on theprecisenature of thisrelationship, he leaves thetheory to critopen A response icism. tothesecriticisms lies ina more oftherelationship between complete explanation and social In the next section personal knowledge. I propose a conceptual framework that on expands Kolb'sinitialformulation by enlisting poststructural analysis(Lacan,1977).

Kolb(1984) linkspersonalto social knowledge world ofconcrete where thepersonal experience of in dialectic tothesocial world rests opposition writes: Kolb abstract language.

Poststructuralism encompassesa diverseset of theoretical movements that agendas and cultural

TABLE2 and Responses to Experiential Critiques Learning

Critique Proponents CritiqueofELT ProposedSolution Limitation Poststructural Response

account of Reconceptualize Misreads basic Holman etal. Limited Explicates relationship dialectic socialprocesses basedon nature of between socialand constructivist learning; privileges personal knowledge abstract theory concepts Lackshistorical Placegreater Relaxes dialectic nature of Vince, assumption Extends Psychodynamic on context and about dialectic and embeds emphasis Reynolds learning; of holistic nature of inhistorical, recognition reflexivity; experience to eliminate barriers context of learning; privileges systemic defensive barriers reflexivity; lacks learning language developmental component Basedon modernist Integrates Doesn't fit & and Institutional Freeman use; neatly Discontinue personal into a single with notion of"pure" socialknowledge into integrate Stumpf, other institutional theories; science; Hopkins, ignores multiparadigmatic study Miettinen paradigm and oflearning as "blurred purify theory practice multidisciplinary genre" nature of management learning Social

144 Es (Need) *Z

and Education Learning AcademyofManagement other 7' (Internal Representation)


Social Exchange

^ Ego (Identity)

-^ Other (Social Action)

FIGURE 2 The L Schema

emergedin responseto structural predeterminism. Poststructuralism's concern with the nature of knowledge and language distinguishes it from whichis moreconcernedwithispostmodernism, sues of power,politics,and culture(Agger,1991). The psychoanalysisof Jacques Lacan providesa bemeans to express a moreprecise relationship tweenpersonal and social knowledgein managementlearning. LikeKolb,Lacan proposesa middle and subpredeterminism way between structural ofjective experience. Lacan's poststructuralism which fersa generalized model of development and the limitations recognizesboththe centrality Lacan was influof individualism (Harland,1987). enced by a diverse set of thinkerssuch as the linguist Saussure, phenomenologist Merleauand structural Levi-Strauss, anthropologist Ponty, work contribhis novelistphilosopher Sartre, thus, nature and diverse utes to the interdisciplinary theoretical rootsofELT. Lacan believes thathuman developmentalprocesses can be explained by lookingat how lanand intrapersonal guage mediates betweeninterofLacan's complexand phenomena.A distillation simoftenobscure theoryreveals an underlying refrom the arises Individualdevelopment plicity: representalationshipbetweenneed, internalized and social interaction.1 -identification, tion, self betweenthese eleWhile the precise relationship is dementsremains elusive, an approximation
1Because Lacan oftenwrotein obscure language, using his social processes,and ofdifferent schematodescribea number the relationshipbetween variables at various reconfigured pointsin his career,the schema has caused muchconfusion amongstscholars.In fact,it's not clear if the "L" represents Lacan or the originalshape of the schema. For the sake of to the robustness fullattention and ease, without accessibility familiar a more ofthetheory, thisanalysis employs vocabulary. forthe schema can be foundin source information Primary in Grosz(1990). Lacan (1977) and a commentary

in the L its graphic representation rived through Schema. The L Schema betweenthesevariLacan depictstherelationship as presented ables using the L schema (1977:193), in Figure2. As a graphicdepictionofthedevelopto mentalprocess,theschema providesa heuristic and between the understand relationship personal social dimensionsof learning(Grosz,1990:73) by to experience. structure concedingan underlying how shows The schema development begins withindividualneed (Es),whichis a purely biological or emotional state. Being purely physicalof repreemotional,need has no immediateform in becomes so it sentation, represented symbolic (other). formthroughinternalizedrepresentation biothe transforms The internalized representation an albeit in need imagsymbol, logical-emotional Need and its ined and imperfect representation. remain personal prointernalizedrepresentation cesses until theyare exchanged with the social This social exchange occurs as the environment. of need is organized internalizedrepresentation Self-identificacoherent intoa seemingly identity. tion(Ego) arises whentheinternalized representaextion takes on social face. Self-identification the it within need the symbolic by placing presses of the social order.In this way, selfframework identificationrepresents an ordering process, where needs are given coherence,location,and meaning withinthe larger universeof language. strivesto create an orderly As self-identification and coherentsense of the self, it threatensthe tension-filled process of dialectic inquiry.Since on a predefined based is grammatical language works it structure, naturally against thedialectic language, as choosingorderovertension.Further, is notjust a reflection ofsocial knowledge, a form




its verycontent ofneed,butforms by predetermining its structure. in thisdevelopSocial action (Other)intervenes mental process by engaging language in direct a kind Social actionrepresents humaninteraction. wherethe orderand coheroflanguage-in-actionf become subject to the ence of self-identification whimsicaldemands of social relations.Social aceithercontion,in turn, shapes need by providing or disregardfor the self'srepresentation firmation in its publiclyaccessible form. The movementbetween personal and social - is not a purely - the social exchange knowledge representational process; rather,it representsa transformational process loss. This loss, or "fracture," emerges as internalized representation and as social interaction transforms reguidentity and inbetween intralates need. The movement an inexact transforlearningreflects terpersonal a process thatcreates schism,separation, mation, and distance between the individual's internal need and its social expression. Familiaritywith Freudian psychoanalysis reveals therootsoftheschema.Lacan extendsFreud of the id, ego, egohis characterization through ideal, and superego as developmentalprocesses that arise from language. Need is akin to id, or -representabiologicallydrivenprocesses and self tion is akin to ego-ideal, the imaginaryperfect Identifiof the need in symbolicterms. projection holisticself cationis akintoego- theintegrated, is akin to superego,the while social interaction

function. The fracture that intervening regulatory occurs as a person moves from intra-to interpersonal developmentreconceptualizesthe distinction between the unconscious and the conscious mindand the recognition of the limitsof the egoideal.
A "Twist" on Kolb

Lacan's logic extendsto experiential learningand is graphically represented in Figure 3, the K schema (Kayes, 2001).The K schema presentsa moreprecise conceptualization betweenpersonal and social knowledgein thevocabularyofELT.In regard to the learningcycle,concreteexperience in an emotionalstate becomes (need) manifested in reflective observation (internalized represented Abstract (identirepresentation). conceptualization mechanismby which ty)serves as the integrating experiencebecomes organized.Finally,active exservesas a sym(social interaction) perimentation bolic smorgasbord, the necessaryraw generating material fromwhich experience arises. Importheinteraction betweenpersonaland social tantly, of knowledge,represented by k, is characteristic the Lacanian fracture that arises from the social - the process loss thatoccursas knowlexchange edge moves betweensocial and personal forms. The K schema represents a "twist" on Kolb's initial formulation oftheinterdependent relationship betweensocial and personalknowledgebydepictterms. ing experientiallearningin poststructural



Experience / I \ ^

\ \ f


Reflection z (Internal Representation)

/ / I Explicit V

Action Social Knowledge \ I / / (Social Action)

Abstraction \ N. (Identity)

FIGURE 3 The K Schema


and Education Learning AcademyofManagement


The model preservessimultaneously the dialectical relationships between learningdemands, the sequence of the learningprocess,and the importance ofexperiencein the learningprocess,albeit terms. Expeconceivingofexperiencein symbolic rience is structured like language. Experience maintainsa centralrole in the learningprocess, but not a privilegedone, as the symbolicorder the range ofavailable experience.The constrains of language in learningis consistent importance such as thework withELT's theoretical influences, as well as management of Dewey and Vygotsky tradition. in the experiential learningtheorists

current discussionsabout The K schema refocuses ELT from its basic assumptionsto deconstructing buildingon themand preservestheroleofindividual experiencein the learning process. This approcess of proach emphasizes the tension-filled learningas a vacillationbetween social and perwithother Thiscontrasts sonal knowledge. experiential approaches to managementlearning (e.g., because here, see also Torbert, 1993; 1972) Hopkins, experience emerges from available language not from elusive mental or emotional structures, processes.Experienceno longermaintainsa privthesocial world; inaccessible from ileged category of rather, experiencealways relies on the context existingsocial knowledge.The language- experiELT from more ence connection also distinguishes purely cognitive approaches to management learning and challenges the notion that ELT is a cognitivetheory (Holman et al., fundamentally While Van der Heijden,1996). 1997; Miettinen, 1998; cognitiveapproaches focus on concepts,categories, and mental models, ELT focuses on words, linguisticprocesses, and theirgroundingin the directexperienceof managers.ELT findsits resoin a process lutionin Hegel's dialectic,continually between the the interplay of fluxand movement, social and personal; whereas cognitionreflects Descartes' cogito,images located more precisely in the individualmind. like a If the idea that experience is structured learning language seems acceptable,experiential reflective from be distinguished approaches might as well. In an experientialapproach,learnersbecome emancipated by developing vocabularies, to theelementsoflanguage, and particattending as opposed to ipating in engaging conversations about abstractconcepts developingunderstanding An expesuch as society, power,and bureaucracy.

riential approach is more closely aligned with Hunt's(1987) processes emphasison theinteractive between individuals and how these interactions aroundthelearningcycle.Anmovement facilitate between ELT and actionlies other distinction to orientedapproaches managementlearning.If and endingpoint experienceprovidesthe starting conthen for experienceitself knowledgecreation, normative not the measure of knowledge, stitutes objectivestandards,or defensemechaprinciples, nisms. This characterizesknowledgecreationas - albeit an adequate onean imperfect process and that may leave managers feeling fractured defensive. or twisted notjust feelingnormal moves as knowledge thefracturing Additionally, with conflicts forms between personal and social knowloforganizational current conceptualizations ortacit(social as beingeither explicit edge creation betweenpersonaland orpersonal).The movement social knowledgeis nota clean one (e.g.,Nonaka, - something is always lost in the process. A 1994) better approach would be to characterize the between tacit and explicitknowledge movement as dialectic and to suggest that this movement ortwisted as fractured best be characterized might or categorical. thancontinuous rather coherthatlanguage provides Despiteproposing little done I have to experience, ence and structure to make the termslanguage and experienceany less obscure. This remainingobscurityimplies workin conceptualizforfuture several directions terms. For example, ing ELT in poststructural Lacan uses the termlanguage in a verylimited to a language such as (elitist?)way- referring Frenchor English to the exclusion of a morediverse set of symbolicsystems,such as numbers, viewof art,ornonverbal languages. Such a limited to whentrying underlanguage seems constrictive stand the varietyof symbolicsystems used by managers in organizations.Developing a more precise vocabulary for what constitutesa language in managementlearningprovidesa startanwork. theoretical future Linguistic ing pointfor and literary semiotics, analysis should thropology, for thisstudythan sources ofinspiration be better more structural approaches to language such as syntaxand grammar. forPractice Implications definA poststructural approach to ELT argues for lanin concrete ing managerialpracticegrounded guage- not as an elusive organizationalprocess of higher level abstractions,such as strategies, Methodsthat increase systems,or environments. of knowledge vocabularies, introduceproximity




between persharing,aid in makingconnections sonal and social knowledge, and organizeexperience in meaningfulways lead to management learning.Several popular methodsforachieving this in management education already exist. These includeexperiential learningapproaches to organizationalbehavior (Osland, Kolb, & Rubin, of life storiesand use of criticalin2001);writing cidentinterviews Cowen, & Kolb, 1995); (Boyatzis, thatorders and storytelling experiencesin sequential and meaningful ways (Klein, 1998). Also, a practical Fisher,Rooke,and Torbert (2000)offer formanagers built around learning more primer effective uses of four"partsof speech"- framing, and inquiring. advocating,illustrating, Two emerging butwell-developed agendas offer thepoststructuralist particular promisefor putting ELT agenda into managementlearning practice. Kegan and Lahey (2001)propose a series of exercises designed to surface internalizedconversations and to transform old language into a new vocabulary.For example, individual complaints become personal commitments, blame becomes and fearsbecomemultiple personalresponsibility, commitments. Social conversations are competing as prizes become ongoing transformed, similarly and rules and procedures become public rewards, agreements. A similar, butless-formal approach to poststructuralistmanagement learning lies in conversa& Kolb,2002), which tionallearning(Baker, Jensen, an alternative to traditional classroomand offers organizational development practiceby engaging individuals in five dialectic conversationalproofmanagement cesses. Unliketraditional methods that structure a learning, conversational learning enables learning within the existing approach of language. As individuals engage in structure a combination of perconversation, theyconfront sonal and social dilemmas that become the raw materialfor learning. Byengagingin conversation with others,individuals experience the familiar ELTactionversusreflection and experienceversus three abstract dialectics, but they also confront social dimensions:time,embodied in the tension betweendiscourseversusrecourse; power,embodied in status versus solidarity;and community, versus relatedness. embodiedin individuality Boththeabove agendas recognizethatlearning involves engaging with diverse, complex, and competingdemands and that multipleformsof these agendas are learningare at work. Although to existinglanguage structures, confined learning occursbydevelopingnew vocabulariesand reconold ones in new ways. Because the lanfiguring guage necessaryto participatein these processes

becomes increasingly their complex, agendas also embodydevelopmental processes. This analysis has been an exercise in abstract Futureworkis needed to fully conceptualization. integratepoststructural theorywith the concrete experienceof managers. A few examples of how such integration occurs,however, already appear in the extantmanagementliterature. In Bell and Nkomo(2001), in experientiallearningtakes form thatdescribe the strugglesof personal narratives in theface ofmultiple finding professional identity competing language communities. In WyssFlamm's (2002) account of learning teams in an educationalsetting, experiential learningemerges when personal differences generatesocial knowledge by juxtaposing language. Vince (in press) utilizesa case studyto show thatwhenexperience is not engaged socially and remainspersonal,it has littleimpacton management learning, regardless of whetherthe settingis organizationalor more traditionally educational. These examples withquantitative measuggestthatpreoccupation sures and validation of ELT has come at the expense of exploring managementlearningin more Torbert (1972)continuesto be a qualitativeterms. good source for understandingthe qualitativein experiential distinction quantitative learning. Yet even qualitative studies must be stated in to expressexperience; words,in symbols, thus,the dilemmabetweensocial and personal knowledge posed here comes full circle. Ultimately, experimustalso be stated in words. ence, like theories, continuesto exercise Experiential learningtheory considerable influencein managementlearning and education despite persistentcriticismfrom several fronts. Researchersand practitioners alike enlist experiential learning for its explanatory and practical significance.Criticschalstrength the lenge theoryforits emphasis on individual experienceat the expense of social, political,and culturalaspects of learning.Explicatingthe relationshipbetween personal and social knowledge in poststructural termsprovidesa compellingreto current criticisms. Not unlike Dewey's sponse for reform agenda learning proposednearly7 decades ago, a betterunderstanding of the role of in the language learningprocess promisesto preservetheroleofexperiencein management learnwhile its on the ing refocusing agenda relationship betweenpersonal and social knowledge.
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Academy of Management Learning and Education


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D. ChristopherKayes is assistant professoroforganizational behavior and development at the George Washington University.He earned his PhD in organizational behavior from Case Western Reserve University. His research focuses on how experience is transformedinto knowledge including experiential learning, learning styles, and critical thinking in groups and teams.