Abstract Conceptualization: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Experiential Learning
  • 1:55 Abstract Conceptualization
  • 3:03 Examples of Abstract…
  • 4:31 Abstract…
  • 5:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Abstract conceptualization is an important part of the experiential learning process and can be a preferred learning style for many people. Through this lesson, you'll learn how to define abstract conceptualization and explore some examples of how it helps us to learn.

Experiential Learning

Although we might not always realize it, we learn new things every day. It could be something small, like finding a new way to get to work or something important like a new area of interest or a new direction for our lives. More often than not, we don't set out to learn these things, we simply learn them by participating in the world around us. Nevertheless, these moments of experiential learning can be profound and are, in some cases, very effective ways to acquire new knowledge and skills.

The concept of experiential learning, that is to say learning by doing, is the foundation of American philosopher David Kolb's theory of learning styles. In the mid-1980s, Kolb established what is referred to as the experiential learning cycle, which posits that experiential learning occurs in stages across a continuum. In simple terms, we might think of experiential learning like this: I went to play football for the first time and now I know how to play football. However, Kolb's research found that the process is more complicated and unfolds through the following steps:

  1. Concrete experience: You actively participate in a new experience.
  2. Reflective observation: You watch others around you and consider the various aspects of the experience.
  3. Abstract conceptualization: Based on your observations and reflections, you form theories and conclusions about the experience.
  4. Active experimentation: You test your theories and conclusions to find out whether or not you're correct.

Abstract Conceptualization

In general, each step of Kolb's cycle is pretty straightforward. However, the third step, abstract conceptualization, can be somewhat complicated and deserves a closer look.

When it comes to abstract conceptualization, one of the best ways to understand what it is might be to first understand what it isn't. Abstract concepts are the opposite of concrete examples, or the things that you can experience with the senses. For instance, a cheeseburger is a concrete example because you can see it, smell it, and taste it. Concrete examples are tangible things that have clear definitions.

As the opposite of concrete examples, abstract concepts are intangible things like love, hate, or friendship. You know that these things exist, but they're intangible and their applications can vary depending on when and how they're used. To engage in abstract conceptualization means to use evidence to form ideas and theories that are separate from a specific concrete example.

Examples of Abstract Conceptualization

In the context of Kolb's experiential learning cycle, we can go back to the example of football in order to better understand the abstract conceptualization phase. First, you know that the activity you're engaging in is called football, and based on your observation and reflection, you know that the game involves running, throwing a ball, catching, and scoring points. When you reach the conceptualization stage, you begin to think about the experience as an abstract concept: it's a game or sport, people play it to have fun or to get exercise, there's competition, and so on. This abstract conceptualization helps you to form theories and better understand the experience, which you then put to the test in the active experimentation phase.

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