Experiential learning theory of entrepreneurship

What is the experiential learning theory of entrepreneurship?

Learning involves the transformation of experience into potential knowledge, cognition, behaviors, and/or actions (Kolb, 1984). Experiential learning can be differentiated from rationalist (e.g., cognitive theories). Rather than emphasize the role of acquiring, manipulating, and recalling, experiential learning theory embraces subjective experience. 

Subjective experience can be of many different types. However, the concept of 'know-how' is useful here. Unlike knowledge, which is learned by language, know-how is acquired through experience, for instance, actually doing something in the real world, like taking an entrepreneurial action. 

Building on Kolb’s experiential learning model, Corbett (2005) argues that entrepreneurship requires several different types of learning (convergent, assimilative, divergent, accommodative) at different stages of the entrepreneurial process (preparation, incubation, evaluation, elaboration, respectively).

The theory perhaps helps to explain spinouts. Experiential learning within parent organizations may enable employees to learn skills and knowledge, identify opportunities, absorb values and beliefs, and develop social capital (Sørensen and Fassiotto, 2011). They can then use some of these resources or capabilities in their spinout ventures.

Experiential learning also helps to explain why serial entrepreneurs are so successful. Each entrepreneurial experience produces a learning outcome that affects the odds of success in the next round.

Other theories of entrepreneurship that might interest you:

All entrepreneurship theory categories


Corbett,A. C. (2005). Experiential learning within the process of opportunity identification and exploitation. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 29(4),473–491.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experienceas the source of learning and development (Vol.1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. 

Sørensen, J. B. and Fassiotto, M. A. (2011). Organizations as fonts of entrepreneurship. Organization Science, 22(5), 1322-1331.