Learning is not always a linear pathway. In service and civic engagement, learning often comes from the experiences we have with peers and community. At the Pace Center, we utilize two models as the grounding framework for our approach to learning.

The Learning Cycle

Building upon earlier work by John Dewey and Kurt Levin, American educational theorist David A. Kolb believes “learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (1984). According to Kolb, the process of learning follows a pattern, or cycle, consisting of four stages:

  • Concrete experience
  • Reflective observation
  • Abstract conceptualization
  • Active experimentation

Kolb views learning as an integrated process with each stage being supportive of and feeding into the next. People may enter the cycle at any stage and follow it through its logical sequence. However, Kolb believes effective learning only occurs when a learner can execute all four stages of the model. Therefore, no one stage of the cycle is effective as a learning procedure on its own.

What? So What? Now What?

The "what?, so what?, now what?" reflective model, developed by Dr. Gary Rolfe, a professor in the School of Health and Social Care at the University of Portsmouth, and colleagues, offers that reflection has three phases that progressively deepen a person's understanding (2001). The three phases are:

  • What: Seeking to understand what happened and summarize the events of the experience.
  • So What: Seeking to elicit feelings and analyze the significance of the experience.
  • Now What: Seeking to apply the experience to the future and connect the experience to everyday life. 

Using these frameworks, we have developed a practice of preparation, service, and reflection, as outlined in the Field Guide to Service, and established a set of three overarching Learning Outcomes which offer a progression for student learning through service and civic engagement.


  • Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Prentice-Hall, Inc.
  • Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D. and Jasper, M. (2001). Critical reflection in nursing and the helping professions: a user’s guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.