The 4Mat model of instruction design is an offshoot of the Kolb’s learning styles. How exactly it can
be used to create better digital learning experiences is the focus of this article.
Overview of the Model
I have presented in my previous article
on Kolb’s model that all learning happens due to real world experiences which then help people
form mental models of that experience. Some people actively experiment with the new learning and create
further experiences on the subject.
In the Kolb’s learning cycle, the learning begins through an experience the learner has. The
experience then makes the learner reflect on it, think about it and create new mental model that he/she
can apply it in another situation. Through careful application, the experiences are refined and further
changes are made to create another concrete experience.
The 4 Mat Model is derived from the Kolb’s model in that there are new and easier terms that are
overlaid on it. The right brain part of the model calls it “why” and “what” of learning. The left-brain
part is about “How” and “If” of the learning, that is how the process works and can be implemented and
refined through “what if” scenarios. The diagram is given below.
4Mat Model Explained
The 4Mat model was propounded by Dr. Bernice McCarthy’s that talks about learning styles and
behaviorism in a concrete manner. 4Mat attempts to take advantage of the learning styles (as explained
in Kolb’s model) to achieve better learning outcomes.
The model integrates the 4 parts of the learning cycle and can be illustrated as below:
4Mat model answers 4 key questions that are necessary for the learning cycle to complete. They are:
Let us look at each question to understand what they imply.
The why part of the learning cycle is crucial to understand, why is it important for learner to know
the concept. What happens when they do not understand the raison d’etre of the concept. A simple
example is safety training wherein the learners are told why the need to learn about the concept of
safety and what will happen if they are not aware of the safety processes.
This can be introduced as an example or a picture or an analogy. Learners who are in the first stage
of the cycle are “experiencers” and want to connect/attend to the concept. So, for the new experience
to ingrain in their mind, they would require a “why” component to play out clearly.
The question “what” is asked when we are trying to conceptualize the new information that is being
presented. After the experience is done with, a question that often comes to our mind is, “what was
that? What happened?”. This is part of the thinking where the learner or observer starts to make sense
of the new experience, new concept or new content and integrates that into the experience using
reflection and contemplation. This is a natural process and should be presented carefully to the
learners. Taking our earlier example of safety, learners are presented as to what is safety, what are
the various aspects of safety that they should take into consideration at workplace.
The next question “How” tries to answer as how one should apply the concept that is learnt. So, this
forms the logical or reasoning part of the brain, and the learner tries to sequence the information and
apply it into daily life. So, if we take the example of safety again, here learners are presented steps
to stay safe, or procedures that they must follow to stay safe. A good corollary for this is how to use
a fire extinguisher in case of fire emergency in office. The “How” part of the model takes the lions
share in terms of designing a course. Learners are often interested in “how to get things done” rather
than what the process is all about. This is natural for today’s busy learners and learning designers
must provide sufficient content in the course for the how part.
The last question relates to the concretization of the experience. After applying the concepts learnt,
the learner gets new questions in mind which must be answered to refine the response. A simple example
would be what if a particular type of fire extinguisher is not available? What if the building’s
evacuation plan is not available and so on. So, these additional what if scenarios help learners to
refine their understanding of safety better. They play out all possible scenarios of emergencies which
they then take to a logical conclusion. In terms of Kolb’s model, this part helps learners equip
themselves better and should not be neglected by the learning designers. A good checklist or job aids
should be prepared so that learners are ready with correct responses in all situations.
We have developed several courses and have applied 4Mat in designing them. One such course was for
drug discovery, where we first explained, why drug discovery is important and why it takes a long time
to come up with drugs that can be released to market. The how part of the course contained a decision
tree activity wherein the learner could try out various combinations of molecules and see how much time
does a drug take to be tested on rats, then humans and then go through the approval by the respective
drug administrators before getting released to the market.
To conclude, 4Mat model is a simpler yet an effective way of imparting instruction by combining all
the 4 parts of the brain and addressing the concerns of varied types of learners.