Skiing with Kolb & Maslow

August 4, 2022
Experiential Teaching and The Hierarchy of NEEDS

Ski associations around the world approach ski teaching from their own perspectives. They are constantly trying to improve and refine their ski teaching philosophies, which is done by looking outside of the sport to identify how we, homo-sapiens as a whole, learn. The changes over the last few years really cater to the needs of the ski learner. Within the CSIA, the philosophy with which we are most familiar is David Kolb’s ‘Experiential Learning Model’. If we want to be successful in using this method, we then need to also be aware of another. That is, Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs.’ I am a firm believer that both of these learning models are very important, and will ultimately lead to the success of the learner, and also that of the learning facilitator. Both of these models interact with each other, and if you are aware and implement them throughout your lesson, you and your learner will achieve much more together.

The Hierarchy of Needs was first talked about in Maslow’s book ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’. The Hierarchy of Needs is broken down into five stages.


At the base of the pyramid are the Physiological Needs, which include: the need for food; water; shelter; warmth and sleep. We will be motivated to fulfil these essential needs first. When one need is fulfilled we will then seek to fulfil the next one, and so on. We use the previously satisfied set of needs as a platform to move on to the next set. The next level up the pyramid is the Safety Needs. These include protection from the elements, security, order, law, stability and freedom from fear. We will only feel motivated to fulfil these needs once our essential physiological needs are met. The Physiological Needs and Safety Needs are classed together as the Basic Needs. These are the primary things that motivate us each day.


The next level of the pyramid is the Love and Belongingness Needs. These motivate us to fulfil friendship, intimacy, affection and love. These can be from a work group, family, friends or a romantic interest. When these needs are fulfilled we are then motivated to seek out other needs.

The next level is the Esteem Needs. These are the motivations for achievement, mastery, independence, status, self- respect and respect from others. Maslow asserts that the Esteem Needs can take on two forms depending on the motivations and character of the individual:

(a) a need for strength, achievement, mastery and competence, and
(b) a need for reputation, status, recognition and appreciation.

Fulfilment of needs from both sets or groups will lead that person to feeling a sense of self-confidence, worth and value to the world.

Love and Belongingness and Esteem Needs fall under the second grouping called Psychological Needs…


At the top of the pyramid is Self Actualization. This is also the last grouping of the three, called the Self-
fulfillment Needs. When our motivations are fulfilled at this stage, it maintains that our full potential has been achieved, including our creative abilities. We seek self-fulfillment, personal growth and peak experiences.

Every individual is different, so reaching the motivational level of Self Actualization, will lead individuals into different directions. For some individuals such as skiers and ski instructors, self actualization can be
achieved in sport, through the goals they have set for themselves. For example, conquering a ski-run a certain way, refining or learning a new skill, or perhaps increasing their ability to interact with the terrain around them.


Why do I believe that they are both important in ski teaching? By being aware of Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ and how these affect the learner, we can implement Kolb’s ‘Experiential Learning,’ more effectively.

The first Stage of the Hierarchy of Needs are, of course, for the learner to have satisfied for or by themselves (or in the case of children, by their parents or guardians). Nevertheless, it is still something to be aware of. For example, if the learner arrives for the lesson, and he/she is cold, hungry, thirsty or upset. Or if their energy levels are low, the lesson will not be as effective and productive as it should be. Those needs should have been met beforehand.

The Safety Needs should be met at all times. The duty of care resides with the instructor and teaching safely must be a priority. In guiding the learner through the experiential learning model, and by building new concepts from the knowledge acquired through experience by doing, further experimentation with the new concepts must be free from fear. With an emphasis on security and stability in a high end lesson, the instructor must navigate the risks of more advanced and expert terrain carefully, to build and maintain the confidence levels of the learner.

Love and Belongingness Needs can be seen in the understanding and rapport the instructor builds with the learner. Helping them feel comfortable and confident will satisfy this need, enabling progress to the Esteem Needs of achievement. This is an important aspect within a good ski lesson.

The mark of a successful lesson is that the learner has, at the end, a feeling that they have achieved something. With this feeling they will satisfy other needs of Esteem such as independence, self respect and respect from others. If the learner has built on, or developed a new concept through Kolb’s Experiential Learning model, they will feel confident in their understanding and ability to put it into practice, through experimentation. The Esteem needs have been satisfied.

Should they leave the lesson realizing their full potential and seeking personal growth through a peak experience, they have reached the last stage of Self Actualization in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.

This is the pinnacle and will rarely happen, as Maslow believed that attaining full Self Actualization would require the learner to be the best they can be. At their Peak Experience, which inevitably can only be achieved with lots of practice and experimentation, they will be lead creative variation and the start of their next experiential learning journey.

What exactly is a peak experience? If we look at the Experiential Learning model the peak experience will come not from the experience stage of the cycle, but from the experience of the cycle itself.


Maslow believed that for people to achieve Self Actualization they would need to do five things:

1. Try to experience something with full absorption.

The first stage of the Experiential Learning model is experience. We know that learning through experience by doing is most effective when the learner is actively involved, being absorbed in the task at hand.

2. Trying new things, not sticking to the safe path.

The learner has to approach the task with an open mind. The instructor as the facilitator of the task can help with this. Through guiding questions the facilitator can help them understand and justify why the experience will lead them to their goal.

3. Listening to your feelings and evaluating experiences.

This relates to the second stage of the Experiential Learning model. Reflective Observation. As you evaluate an experience you are learning and developing through that evaluation of what you’ve experienced.

4. Avoiding pretense. Being honest to develop a true concept.

This relates to the third stage of the Experiential Learning model, Abstract Conceptualization. This is where the learner is making sense of what has happened. Not what they thought would happen, but focusing on what actually happened. Through being honest about what actually happened they will then be able to learn from the experience. Once this has happened, they can build a true and realistic concept. Again, as the facilitator, the instructor can use guiding questions to help them reach this point. What happened? How can
we utilize this? How does that work in real life? Why did that happen? Did you notice?

5. Taking responsibility and working hard.

This can be seen in Active Experimentation, the last stage in the Experiential Learning model. Once the concept is formed, the learner can go off and experiment. This will help to consolidate their understanding of their new concept, and to figure out how far it goes. They will be able to develop a greater understanding of the actual, realistic consequences of the whole experience, or new ability gained.


Within the lesson environment, the ski instructor will create an experience for the learner, in order for them to reach an already mutually agreed upon goal. For the learner to firstly go through that experience effectively, the individual must have active involvement with the task. They must be able to recognize the objectives set. They might not be able to do this if their basic Physiological Needs and Safety Needs are not met. If we take the need for food and warmth as an example, the learner won’t be able to fully commit and apply to a task, if they are feeling cold and hungry to the point where movements and performance are adversely affected.

This can be seen with great effect in young children. If they are hungry or cold, their involvement and ability to concentrate at a task dramatically decreases. Therefore they will not have active involvement and as a result won’t gain the most from the experience set. As soon as those needs are met however, their involvement and
engagement in the lesson will increase. It is important to note that the length of their engagement in an experience, despite the lack of certain basic needs, can also depend on the creativity of the ski instructor. Their
ability to effectively ‘take their mind of it.’ This as we all know, will unfortunately not last long.


One of the most powerful emotions is fear, which relates to our Basic Safety needs. This need requires us to feel safe and secure in an environment without any perceived threats. If there are perceived threats, wene ed to feel confident that our skill level can handle and avoid them. This is important if the instructor is leading an expert lesson, or facilitating the experimentation of a newly formed concept. Rushing into terrain where the sensation of fear or uncertainty will undo the learners progress, will block their ability to reflect on the intended experience.

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