Honey and Mumford's variation on the Kolb system

The terms 'activist', 'reflector', 'theorist', and 'pragmatist' are often used to represent the four key stages (or learning steps) in Kolb's model of personality learning type. But they are actually from a learning types model developed by Honey and Mumford. This is based on Kolb's work, but is different in detail and should not be confused. This personality profiling system is useful in determining what type of job you do - or what you should do when working in a team. A good team should contain all of these characters - each brings its own skills and good points, and each counteracts the bad points of others.

Honey and Mumford say of their system:

"Our description of the stages in the learning cycle originated from the work of David Kolb. Kolb uses different words to describe the stages of the learning cycle and four learning styles..."

"...The similarities between his model and ours are greater than the differences.."

"Become smarter at getting a better fit between learning opportunities and the way you learn best. This makes your learning easier, more effective and more enjoyable. It saves you tackling your learning on a hit-and-miss basis. Equipped with information about your learning preferences, you'll have many more hits and fewer misses."

"Expand the 'band width' of experiences from which you derive benefit. Becoming an all-round learner, increases your versatility and helps you learn from a wide variety of different experiences - some formal, some informal, some planned and some spontaneous."

"Improve your learning skills and processes. Increased awareness of how you learn, opens up the whole process to self-scrutiny and improvement. Learning to learn is your most important capability since it provides the gateway to everything else you want to develop."

There is a strong similarity between the Honey and Mumford styles/stages and the corresponding Kolb learning styles:

  • Activist = Accommodating
  • Reflector = Diverging
  • Theorist = Assimilating
  • Pragmatist = Converging

Most people learn by all four, but tend to have one or two dominant traits. Extroverts tend to be activist/pragmatist and introverts reflector/theorist.To be a really effective learner you should also develop the ability to learn in other styles - ones that are 'alien' to you. In doing this you will develop useful skills that will equip you for a career or the workplace. Doing this will also help you appreciate the skills and qualities of those with very different personalities from yourself.


Activists enjoy working in teams but do tend to hog the limelight. They throw themselves headlong into new experiences. They love to have something new to master or think about. They tackle problems by brainstorming. They enjoy the here and now and are happy to be totally immersed in their newest obsession - it gives them a buzz and dominates their thoughts and conversations. They relish immediate experiences - they want it NOW not later - they can therefore be easily distracted by a novel experience and follow 'red herrings' happily. They are open minded, seldom sceptical, and this tends to make them willing to try anything new. Their philosophy is 'I'll try anything once'. They tend to act first and consider the consequences afterwards. Their days are filled with activity.

As soon as the activity or idea has been explored the enthusiasm dies down they are looking for the next obsession. They tend to thrive on the challenge of the new experience butoften get bored with the implementation and long term consolidation of it. They leave that to others.

They are gregarious people constantly involving themselves and others in ventures but, while doing so, they seek to centre all activities around themselves - they tend to be dominant and push ideas along the path they find most stimulating.


Reflectors like to pause and ponder over experiences before they jump in like activists would. They are cautious and like to observe them from many different perspectives before committing themselves. They collect data, both first hand and from others, and prefer to think about things thoroughly before coming to any conclusion. The need to make a thorough collection of data and to look at many alternative analyses of that data results in them tending to postpone reaching definitive conclusions for as long as possible. This is true both for activities and ideas.

Their philosophy is to be cautious. They are thoughtful people who like to consider all possible angles and implications before making a move. They prefer to take a 'back seat' in meetings and discussions. They enjoy observing other people in action. They listen to others and need to get the drift of the argument before making their own points known - in fact they prefer not to make them known until they have to!

They tend to adopt a low profile and have a slightly distant, tolerant, unruffled air about them. When they do act it is in accordance of their view of the full picture surrounding the discussion - the background to the event (or topic) and the observations and opinions of others as well as their own.


Theorists adapt and integrate observations into complex but logically sound theories. They think problems through in a vertical logical way. They assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories. They tend to be perfectionists who won't rest easy until things are tidy and fit into a rational scheme They like to analyse and synthesize.

They are keen to think of processes in terms of basic assumptions, principles, theories, models and systems. Their philosophy prizes rationality and logic. "If it's logical it's good" Questions they frequently ask are "Does it make sense?" "How does it fit with that?" "What are the basic assumptions?"

They tend to be detached, analytical and dedicated to rational objectivity rather than anything subjective or ambiguous. Their approach to problems is consistently logical. It is their mental 'mind set' and they rigidly reject anything that doesn't fit in with it. They prefer to maximize certainty and feel uncomfortable with subjective arguments, lateral thinking and anything flippant.


The pragmatists are keen on trying out ideas, theories and techniques to see if they work out in practice They positively search out new ideas and take the first opportunity to experiment with applications. They are the sort of people who return from management courses brimming with new ideas they want to try out in practice.

They like to get on with things and act quickly and confidently on ideas that attract them. They tend to be impatient with ruminating and open-ended discussions. They are essentially practical, down to earth people who like making practical decisions and solving problems.

They respond to problems and opportunities 'as a challenge'. Their philosophy is 'There is always a better way' and "If it works it's good'.

General Description
'here and now', gregarious, seek challenge and immediate experience, open-minded, bored with implementation.

Flexible and open minded.

Happy to have a go.

Happy to be exposed to new situations.

Optimistic about anything new.

Unlikely to resist change.

Tendency to take the immediately obvious action without thinking.

Often takes unnecessary risks.

Tendency to do too much themselves and hog the limelight.

Rush into action without sufficient preparation.

Get bored with implementation/consolidation.

'stand back', gather data, ponder and analyze, delay reaching conclusions, listen before speaking, thoughtful.


Thorough and methodical.


Good at listing to others.

Rarely jumps to conclusions.

Tendency to hold back from direct participation.

Slow to make up their minds and reach a decision.

Tendency to be too cautious and not take enough risks.

Not - assertive - they aren't particularly forthcoming and have no 'small talk".

think things through in logical steps, assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories, rationally objective, reject subjectivity and flippancy.

Logical 'vertical' thinkers

Rational and objective.

Good at asking probing questions.

Disciplined approach.

Restricted in lateral thinking.

Often takes unnecessary risks.

Low tolerance for uncertainty, disorder and ambiguity.

Intolerant of anything subjective or intuitive.

Full of 'shoulds' 'oughts' and 'musts'.

seek and try out new ideas, practical, down-to-earth, enjoy problem solving and decision-making quickly, bored with long discussions.

Keen to test things out in practice.

Practical, down to earth, realistic.

Businesslike - gets straight to the point.

Technique orientated.

Unlikely to resist change

Tendency to reject anything without obvious application.

Not very interested in theory or basic principles

Tendency to seize on the first expedient solution to the problem.

Impatient with waffle.

On balance, task orientated not people orientated.


Lesson Styles that suit you

  Learn most when: Learn least when:  Preferred lesson activities
Activists • involved in new experiences, problems and opportunities 
• interacting with others in business games, team tasks, role-playing 
• thrown in at the deep end with a difficult task 
• chairing meetings, leading discussions 

 simply listening to lectures or long explanations 
• reading, writing or thinking by themselves 
• absorbing and understanding data 
• precisely following detailed instructions 
  • brainstorming
  • problem solving
  • group discussion
  • puzzles
  • competitions
  • role-play
Reflectors • observing individuals or groups at work 
• they have the opportunity to review what has happened and think about what they have learned 
• producing reports and analyses, performing tasks without tight deadlines 
• acting as leader or role-playing in front of others 
• performing tasks with (in their view) no time to prepare 
• being thrown in at the deep end 
• being rushed or pressured by deadlines
  • models
  • statistics
  • stories
  • quotes
  • background information
  • applying theories
Theorists • they are put in complex situations where they have to use their skills and knowledge 
• in structured situations with a clear purpose 
• offered interesting ideas or concepts even though they are not immediately relevant 
• they have the opportunity to question and probe ideas behind things 
• they have to participate in situations that emphasize emotion and feelings 
• an activity is unstructured or the briefing is poorly executed 
• they have to carry out tasks without knowing the principles or concepts involved 
• they feel they’re not on the same wave-length as other group members e.g. with people of very different learning styles 
  • time to think about how to apply learning in reality
  • case studies
  • problem solving
  • discussion
Pragmatists • there is an obvious link between the topic and job 
• they have the opportunity to try out techniques with feedback such as  role-playing 
• they are shown techniques with obvious advantages, e.g. saving time or money
• they are shown a model they can copy, e.g. a film or a respected leader 
• there is no obvious or immediate benefit that they can recognize 
• there is no practice or guidelines on how to do it 
• there is no apparent pay back to the learning, e.g. shorter meetings 
• the event or learning is ‘all theory’ with no apparent application
  • time to think about how to apply learning in reality
  • case studies
  • problem solving
  • discussion


As can been seen from the above list - class group work requires a mixture of personalities to work effectively. It also requires some flexibility on the part of the teacher. It is only when a student trusts the member of staff and the others in the group that they would be able to get a positive experience from having to do something that does not feel comfortable.

Teachers should aim to build confidence rather than destroy it and peers should be sensitive to other people's strengths and weaknesses and encourage development of new skills rather than ridiculing panicked attempts! It is therefore useful if students are aware of different personality types and their impact on study and the learning process.