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ELC: Using the Elementary Learning Cycle for Success!


ELC – The Experiential Learning Cycle

I know, this sound like a seventies progressive rock-band!

Actually, its something seriously academic and really quite profound yet simple at the same time.

You see, the ELC tells how we, as adults, learn about things.

Have you ever wondered how you learn?

The truth is that all humans learn by ‘mistake’. Well, I say mistake but the better word is the one used by Peter Jones (featured in this previous post) – ‘feedback.’ Of course, its not the actual feedback itself that changes us, it’s what we actually learn from that feedback.

How can we learn from ‘feedback’ effectively?

The answer to that is by using the ELC.

The Experiential Learning Cycle is something that came about as a result of the work an academic called David Kolb in 1984. His process (based around an understanding of learning by doing) was broken down into four re-occuring phases which operated in a cyclical format. His theory was that knowledge could be stableised through the process of actual experience, linked to these phases.

For those of you who are academically-minded (like me), you can read about the full theory here by clicking on this link:

However, I suspect everybody esle would prefer a more prosaic, or simplified version. Basically, Kolbs Cycle can be summed up by following an easy formula as follows:

What? So What? Now What?

This makes it a very simple three stage process to follow. Let me explain some more:

  1. What? – This is literally ‘what happened’? There’s no need to go into any major analysis at this point. All you really need to do is make a statement of what actually occurred. Say, for instance, you submitted a manuscript to a publisher for a children’s non-fiction book. Unfortunately, you received a rejection but at least got some feedback as well. That’s it! That’s the ‘what?’ phase. Its a starting point for you to recognise what happened, effectively a launching pad to investigate and review the experience more closely in order to try and see what can be learned from the experience.
  2. So What? – This is where the analysis begins. This is where you ask yourself what exactly happened, how it happened and why it happened. This needs to be fairly detailed. In other words you need to examine exactly what happened during this experience. If it was a team debriefing an incident, for instance, then you’d be discussing the matter in detail. However, let’s stick with our publishing example. What you need to do is analyse why it was that the manuscript wasn’t accepted. What was it about your work you didn’t like? What was in the feedback that suggested it wasn’t really the sort of book they’d want to publish? What were its strengths yet obvious weaknesses? Was the feedback constructive or maybe overly critical? If it was the latter, why was this the case? It’s also at this stage that you can identify points to learn from and take forward.
  3. Now What? – Now you’ve analysed the situation and maybe identified things that perhaps haven’t quite gone to plan (as significant learning points), what are you going to do now? How are you going to apply these learning points in order to improve for next time? In other words, what will you do better?

‘What, So What, Now What’ is a great little analysis tool for self-reflection and as an aid to learning. If you follow the ELC correctly, you will be guaranteed to learn effectively from feedback. Learning from feedback is a surefire way of setting yourself on the path to success!

Action Step:

Put the ELC into practice with ‘What, So What, Now What’ so that you can enjoy greater success. As ever, you can use the following table to assist:

WHAT? What happened? What is the incident you want feedback on?     


SO WHAT? Analyse what happened? What went well, what went not so well? How did things go, how would you liked them to have gone? Put as much detail as you can here.          



NOW WHAT? What are you going to do in future? What will you do better next time? What would you change and what would you keep the same? If you encountered the same incident or issue again, how would you like things to be? What would success look, hear or feel like?          




What do you think? Have you found this useful? Please leave a comment below. It’d be great to hear your feedback!

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