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About Learning Book Excerpt

Alfred North Whitehead also described a cycle; he called it three “periods” in education.

The first he called the freedom stage, the place where the student must choose to be interested, must move toward self-development through joy, a process of becoming, of noticing what happens, wondering, and then being filled with wonder.

The emphasis here is on freedom, freedom that allows the learner to see, to make independent choices.

The second period he called the discipline stage, a necessary period of development of best practice, examining the data, learning the facts, concentrating with purpose.

The third he called generalization, where something definite is known, where general rules and laws are apprehended, when the learner is ready to shed the details in favor of the active application of the principles.

Here real learning happens because knowledge has become invested with possibilities; learning has become active wisdom, “connecting a zest of life to knowledge.”

“ An education that does not begin by

evoking initiative and end by encouraging it

must be wrong.”

— Alfred North Whitehead


The 4MAT Learning Cycle


SOURCE: About Teaching Book,  from About Learning, Inc.

4matLearningCycle.jpgThe 4MAT Learning Cycle is a process for teaching to individual learning differences and maximizing brain-compatible learning. 

This blog post briefly describes each progressive phase of The 4MAT framework, how to create lessons that move through all four quadrants.

The 4MAT Cycle requires that teachers establish their conceptual goals, create classroom climates that are conducive to honoring diversity, set up essential questions that go to the heart of the concepts, and create a total learning cycle, complete with multiple kinds of assessments.

Here is a very brief overview of the 4MAT Learning Cycle. Please keep in mind that the cycle moves like a clock beginning at 12 o’clock and moving on to 3, 6, 9 and back to 12 o’clock.

Quadrant One: Answering the Why? Question

A lesson unit must begin with an experiential beginning. It must begin with your students and their own perspectives and ideals. You open the learning process in Quadrant One, bounded by the parameters of Direct Experience at 12 o’clock and Reflective Observation at 3 o’clock. You create a climate of trust and openness.

Quadrant Two: Answering the What? Question

In Quadrant Two you move learners from experiencing to conceptualizing through reflection, bounded by the parameters of Reflective Observation at 3 o’ clock and Abstract Conceptualization at 6 o’clock.

The question you focus on Quadrant Two is What?

  • What do my students need to know to master this content?
  • What are the essence pieces, the core concepts that will lead them to understand more with less?
  • What parts of this content do I need to emphasize so they will understand it at this core level?

Quadrant Three: Answering the How? Question

In this quadrant, bounded by the parameters of Abstract Conceptualization at 6 o’clock and Active Experimentation at 9 o’clock, learners move from expert knowledge into personal skills and usefulness, the beginning of the return back to themselves.

The question you focus on in Quadrant Three is How?

  • How will my students use this in their real lives, (not just their school lives)?
  • How will this content affect their power?

Knowledge is the most powerful problem-solving tool there is.

If I want to solve problems in mathematics I’ve got to have mathematical concepts.

But there’s a difference between teaching knowledge as a tool that facilitates problem solving and teaching it simply as a thing to be memorized.

Quadrant Four: Answering the If? Question

In this quadrant, bounded by the parameters of Active Experimentation and Direct Experience, learners complete the movement back to themselves.

They refine their use of what they have learned, integrating it into their lives.

The question the teacher focuses on in Quadrant Four is If?

  • If my students master this learning what will they be able to do they cannot do now?
  • What power will they have attained as persons?
  • If they learn this, what new questions will they have?

Want to Learn More?

To learn more, we invite you to download our new 4MAT 2018 Research Guide. Or call About Learning at (800) 822-4MAT to or learn how to become trained or to receive training in this innovative teaching method.

Copyright 2018, About Learning, Inc. Exclusive providers of the 4MAT Teaching and Learning Methodology throughout the world.

Introducing the 4MAT 2018 Research Guide


4MAT 2018 Research Guide

For almost 40 years, the 4MAT Model has been empowering educators to create transformative approaches to teaching and learning. Administrators and teachers at all levels of education as well as leaders and trainers in the business and corporate community have been using the 4MAT Model of Learning to facilitate effective learning with their students and trainees.

4MAT’s successful use requires the reorganization of instruction to employ a wide variety of learning methods and requires a re-design of instruction to maximize its impact on learners. 

An organization’s success rests on its learning ability. The 4MAT Model of Learning provides principals and teachers, leaders and trainers at all levels with a framework to guide learners in the use of their individual, inherent learning abilities in order to assimilate new demonstrablle useful knowledge.

In today’s dynamic world information and skills are not static, learners need to move from a fixed mindset to one of growth.

As more educators and trainees embrace the 4MAT Model of Learning, they seek research that proves its effectiveness and The 4MAT 2018 Research Guide helps fill that expanding need.

This books includes 3 sections, including…

An Historical Perspective of 4MAT

This first section features the primary research theories and educational philosophies of those who form the base of the 4MAT Model. The work and insights of the researchers listed here have inspired the foundation of 4MAT regarding the nature of learning: The making of meaning, in a learner-centered, experiential cycle, through ordering and constructing knowledge of understandings not yet known, by naming experience in dialogue from individual internal frames of reference in a social process based on sharing power.

An Overview of The 4MAT Model

The Model is described with the details of the eight steps.

The Latest Research and Studies on the Impact of the 4MAT Model

The final section is a compilation of some of the research from our first studies of 4MAT in 1985 to the present. These include some of the latest work being done in Saudi Arabia, Ankara University, Thailand and the School of Pedagogical Sciences at Mahatma Gandhi University. These were chosen as a cross-section of a typical sample from a much larger group.


Balancing 12 O’clock and 6 0’clock on the 4MAT Model, an About Teaching book excerpt

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 4.09.10 PMAbout Teaching Excerpt (Bernice McCarthy)

We now know that Piaget’s formal reasoning is only one aspect of intelligence.

The processing of learning into active behavior with hands-on and adapting mechanisms must take an equal place in the current definition of intelligence. Hands-on learning can no longer be regarded as lesser talent.

Yet the schooling definition of thinking remains quite narrow. It is limited to the 6 o’clock things, the reasoning and analysis things.  And somehow that need, to teach the 6 o’clock kind of thinking, has become the only kind of thinking to teach. We ask our students to stay often in the receiving mode, studying facts and analyzing, examining what the experts have done.

While this is a part of all  learning, it is just not enough.

With formal thinking as the highest level, the best thinkers are the abstract thinkers, and direct experience takes a back seat. Using these stages, we view children through the narrow bias of logical ability, neglecting to take into account the whole range of knowing that human experience is.

We start with the concrete and we move to the abstract. But it is not just the ability to be abstract that we are after.  Learning is active doing. Learning is problem solving, creating hypotheses, tinkering with them, drawing conclusions, and much more.

In Piaget’s conception, we have a vivid description of the functions of the left cerebral hemisphere. The whole brain needs to be engaged. There is no hierarchy on the cycle. All parts of the cycle are equally necessary and equally “intelligent.” Together they comprise the wholeness of how we learn. It is not better or smarter to be at  6 o’clock. It is simply a part of the cycle. We need to return to direct experience by using what we learn. The cycle represents how each of us learns at whatever developmental stage. The cycle describes how we move from direct experience to expert knowledge, through reflection to action, and then to integration.

Learn more about the About Teaching book!

The Key Scholars Behind 4MAT

The Liminal Scholars who form the foundation of the 4MAT Learning Cycle

liminal |ˈlimənl|

1 of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.  2 occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.

Kurt Lewin: 1890-1946KurtLewin

Founder of American Social Psychology. The integration of theory and practice. Discovered that learning is best facilitated in an environment where there is a dialectic tension and conflict between immediate, concrete experience and analytic detachment. There is dialectic tension throughout 4MAT.


John Dewey: 1859-1952JohnDewey.png

The continuity of experience is a powerful truth of human existence, central to the theory of learning. Every experience both takes up something from those which have gone before and modifies in some way the quality of those which come after.


Carl Jung: 1875-1961CarlJung

Jung was one of the first people to define introversion and extraversion in a psychological context, i.e., the 4MAT process dimension. The Myers-Briggs Typology was developed from Jung’s theory of Psychological Types and was one of the instruments used to norm the 4MAT Learning Type Measure. (LTM)


Jean Piaget 1896-1980Piaget.png

The learning process as a dialectic between assimilating experience into concepts and accommodating concepts to experience, the 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock movement. In addition, his work on epistemology, the relationship between the structure of knowledge and how it is learned, by ordering

It, moving from feeling to thinking, and then using it, in both old and new ways–Constructivism.

David Kolb 1939—DavidKolb.png

 Developed the Experiential Learning Model composed of four elements:

  • concrete experience,
  • observation of and reflection on that experience,
  • formation of abstract concepts based upon the reflection,
  • testing the new concepts,

These four elements are the essence of a spiral of learning that can begin with any one of the four elements, but typically begins with a concrete experience.

Kolb’s Learning Styles Indicator (LSI) was one of the instruments used to Norm the 4MAT Learning Type Measure. (LTM)

Paulo Freire: 1921-1997  PauloFreire.png

The educational system is primarily an agent of social control. We must change this by instilling critical consciousness, the active exploration of personal experiential meaning of abstract concepts through dialogue.


William James: 1842-1910  WiliamJames

Knowledge is continuously derived from and tested out in the experiences of the learner. Feelings are the germ and starting point of cognition. To know means that we have become wiling to turn away from “precious possessions” in behalf of a grasp of understandings we do not yet own.

Mary Parker Follett: 1868-1983

A management consultant, philosopher, and pioneer in the field of group dynamics. She believed in the necessity of participatory, integrative democracy. She believed the boundaries of a person’s identities are effected by the society around them, and that society in turn is effected by the identities of the people within it. Thus the self and the society, according to Parker, are in a cycle in which they constantly help to create one another.

Carl Rogers: 1902-1987

One of the founders of the humanistic approach to psychology. People react to the continually changing world of experience. It is their reality. The best vantage point for understanding behavior is from the internal frame of reference of the individual.

Lev Vygotsky: 1896-1934LevVygotsky

(The Zone of Proximal Development)

Learning is a social process, and the process is shaped by social development, in collaboration with more capable peers, that is where learning occurs, with interactions with others, stretching to transform reactions—the dialectical approach, that is, admitting the influence of nature on man while asserting that man in turn affects nature.

4MAT Scaling Criteria: Assessing Each Step in the 4MAT Natural Learning Cycle.


When teachers or trainers attend 4MAT Training, they must assess each step of their 4MAT Wheel to ensure it is well designed and true to the 4MAT Design Methodology. So we ask aspiring teacher to rate each step from 1 to 3, with 1 being acceptable and 3 being exemplary.

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 11.34.53 AM

The goal in Quadrant 1 is to motivate students and create personal meaning that helps people see the value of learning. 

We call this the 4MAT SCALING CRITERIA, and here is the criteria for the Quadrant One Steps of 4MAT where the goal is to create a reason for learning and to answer the question Why?

Quadrant One help peoples people see the VALUE of learning prior to moving to teaching the content and is a most crucial step in the 4MAT Design Methodology.

GOAL: To Create an Experience that Relates

Quadrant One Right (1R): CONNECT

1 is acceptable and 3 is exemplary

1 The activity connects learners to the concept in a personal way and directly relates to the concept. There is a meaningful exchange among learners regarding their experience with the activity.
2 The activity goes to the heart. Learners have an emotional connect between the activity and their own past experiences. This connect is a deep and rich one.
3 The activity has high personal growth potential. The connection creates a high need to further explore the learning.

Quadrant One Left (1L): ATTEND

1 This activity is well linked to 1R. Feelings about the activity experience are shared.
2 Learners further explore stated feeling: listing commonalties from diverse experiences, patterning, and possibly prioritizing.
3 Small group cooperative learning activities where learners analyze their collective experiences and come to some conclusion about the commonalties.



A Deeper Look at Quadrant 1

While Quadrant One may sound easy to orchestrate it can be a challenge for teachers to understand how to create an experiential activity—one that draws on the own experience of the student and that they truly come to value. So here are some practical suggestions for building student motivation and engagement and connecting content to the lives of students.

Quad1VisualExperiential Learning: You want then to be in it, to feel it.

  • Briefly violate students’ rights as intro to the legal practice of Due Process.
  • Come up with an exciting ten to twelve word sentence and have each of 10 to 12 children be a word. give them the task of creating the sentence.
  • Give students rules for their school bus that discriminate by age In terms of who sits where.
  • Choose the real names of passengers on the Mayflower and have the students choose a name and keep a diary of their ocean journey.
  • Assign students a city, a year, a social class rank and have them plan a day in the life of a person living in that place, at that time, and with their assigned place in society. Rules, transportation, food, etc.

Personal Reflections: You want them to learn to go deeper.

  • Literature, teach the great mythologies that span cultures and have them connect story symbols with familiar mythologies. Birds as universal symbols of the spirit in flight. In India, the wild Gander is a symbol of the Self.
  • Serpents are symbols of the earth. White footprints leading up often a symbols for heroes journeys.
  • Have them write every morning for 10 minutes and then collect insights about themselves weekly.
  • Journals, model a reflection of own at opportune times and comment, in a talking to yourself way, “That might make a good journal entry.”

Dilemmas: Setting Up Interesting Problem

  • Use Why questions because they often inspire personal answers. Why do you hunch that happened? to the liquid? to the heroine? to the forest? to the ship? to that family?
  • Ask a perplexing question yourself (but only if you are really interested in the question and honestly don’t know the answer). Tell the students you will ponder it for a week and invite them to also do so. Compare answers and/or hunches a week later.
  • Have an interesting unanswered question each week.
  • Find something people accept as true that may not be true. Pose the challenge for verification.

Discrepant Activities: Figure Out What’s Wrong

  • Pictures with important parts of things missing.
  • Cloze techniques, sentences with key words missing, use great sentences from literature, or key information from history.
  • Comprehension work, where you tamper with a section of reading and make the middle of it make not sense. Have the students read it and tell you what’s going on in the passage.
  • Math problem model samples with one answer wrong.

Situations with Intrigue: Finding the Mysterious

  • Teach the meaning of mystery. Then have them share recounting a mystery in their family lives that was never solved.
  • Have them list 3 great mysteries of the world.
  • Present them with a mystery that is current and have them hunch possible causes, like, what is that stuff on Mars scientists think is water? or what could the reason be that the autism rate has skyrocketed?
  • Have them work on coincidence.
  • Find some intriguing inscription on a tombstone, and have the students hunch its possible meaning or the reason behind it.


About the Learning Cycle—A Journey through the 4MAT® Quadrants.

These four quadrants embody  the core elements of learning: feeling, reflecting, thinking and doing.

  • WhyWhatHowIfGraphicOneness combines feeling and reflecting, the heart of meaning.      
  • Twoness  combines reflecting and thinking, the heart of conceptualization.     
  • Threeness  combines thinking and doing, the heart of problem solving, and
  • Fourness combines doing and feeling, the heart of transformation.

Each of the core elements of learning – feeling, reflecting, thinking and doing – elicits a different and crucial question from the learner.


All successful learning deals with these four elements and answers four questions: Why? What? How? and If? 

In Quadrant One the union of elements creates personal meaning, the way we question the value of new learning  by connecting it to ourselves. And the question to be answered is “Why?” Why is this of value to me? Why do I sense the need to know this?

WhyWhatHowIfGraphicwCopyIn Quadrant Two the union of elements creates conceptualized content, structuring knowledge into significant chunks that form the essence, the coherence, and the wonder of new ideas. The question to be answered is “What?” What is out there to be known? What do the experts know about this? What is the nature of the knowledge I am pursuing?

In Quadrant Three the union of elements creates usefulness (and the more immediate the better), the transferability into one’s life, problem solving with the learning. The question to be answered is “How?” How does this work? Will this streamline my tasks? How will this be of use in my life?

In Quadrant Four the union of elements creates creative integration, the way we adapt the learning into something new and unique. The question to be answered is “What If?” If I use this in my own way, what will happen? What can I create and how will that creation expand, enhance, and maybe even transform the world I know?


Using 4MAT to Teach the Constitutional Convention

We invite you to view this sample Wheel Design on how to use the 4MAT Learning Process to teach The Constitutional Convention.

The Concept for this wheel was Compromise, which sets the stage for a great experiential connect activity that helps students see how this relates to their own experience.


Want to view the full 4MAT Wheel? You can download it here.


Are you teaching full circle?

The Balanced Instruction ScoreCard

Here is a simple worksheet to assess if your teaching is traveling full circle and addressing the 4 Quadrants of Learning in the 4MAT Learning Cycle.  

Check off those you are doing well to assess the range of teaching methods. Q1-1

Quadrant One Score ________          

  • Begin by building on what they already know.                              
  • Make it an experience.
  • Get them to share their personal stories and perceptions.



Quadrant Two Score ________

  • Teach the overarching ideas.    
  • Explore relationships between big ideas.
  • Synthesize as well as analyze.



Quadrant Four Score __________   Qadrant4

  • Have multiple options to show mastery.                                
  • Require new questions as part of the learning results.
  • Use rubrics that students know ahead of time.                      
  • Have students evaluate the use of learning in their own lives.



Quadrant Three Score ________       Q3

  • Make your practice require knowledge.                                        
  • Differentiate practice, providing multiple methods for students to demonstrate understanding.
  • Use open-ended problem solving.
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