The 5 E Learning Cycle

Guiding Active, Effective Learning

The 5 E Learning Cycle - Guiding Active, Effective Learning

© Veer
Mikhail Dudarev

Learn by exploring and understanding information in a way that suits you.

Think of a trainer who had a really positive impact on you.

He or she may have encouraged you to reflect on your own experience, draw lessons from it, and then extend these lessons into a whole new area.

Instead of simply being presented with the information you needed to learn, you explored it, and understood it on your own terms.

The 5 E Learning Cycle is a training framework that harnesses learners' curiosity in exactly this way. It encourages them to explore their own experience, and understand information in ways that resonate with them. As a result they can retain information – and apply it – more effectively.

In this article, we'll explore how you can use this tool to develop more effective learning experiences for members of your team.

About the 5 E Learning Cycle

The 5 E Learning Cycle, shown in figure 1, was first developed by Robert Karplus and his colleagues in the late 1960s. They based it on the work of Robert Piaget, a pioneer in student intelligence and learning.

Figure 1 – The 5 E Learning Cycle

The 5E Learning Cycle Diagram

The earliest version of this model had just three phases: Exploration, Concept Introduction, and Concept Attainment. More recently, researchers have redeveloped the model to have four, renamed phases – Engage, Explore, Explain, and Elaborate.

Each phase includes an Evaluation point, and learners do not move on to the next phase until they have been evaluated to show that they have successfully understood information from the current phase.

The model is effective for two main reasons:

  1. It uses active training techniques – also known as "learning by doing." Learners put information into contexts that they can personally relate to. This personalization of the learning material makes it easier for students to remember.
  2. It is based on pattern recognition, a form of learning that is present from early childhood. Students using the 5 E Learning Cycle do not need to develop new approaches to learning – instead, they tap into one that is already highly developed.

The model was originally designed for teachers in a classroom setting. However, it can be effective in other educational settings, and research shows that it can outperform other instructional models when it comes to creative and critical thinking.

The cycle is particularly suitable for adult learners in the workplace. They are able to reflect on their existing knowledge and their progress, and they likely have many real-life examples to which they can apply the concepts that they are learning.


The 5 E Learning Cycle is ideal for exploring topics where people can learn from and extend personal experience (for example, when learning how to give good customer service).

It is less suitable for subjects where people need to master large volumes of fact-based information (such as legal or financial procedures), particularly where this information lies in areas outside their own experience.

Applying the 5 E Learning Cycle

To train people using the 5 E Cycle, aim to move through each phase of the process in turn, ensuring that you build Evaluation into each phase.


Ideally, you should assess all students' learning styles before training begins. This will help you to plan your activities so that everyone can learn effectively.

1. Engage

Engagement involves whetting students' appetites. Outline what you'll be teaching and why students will benefit from this information, and pose a question or problem that students will need to explore in later phases. Remind students that they'll need to use their existing knowledge, as well as the new information that they'll be given.

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It's important that students feel a connection with the material at this early stage, and that they understand why they need to learn it.

Evaluation in This Phase

Use the engagement phase to assess students' existing knowledge. Ask questions, and encourage students to explain their understanding to determine this.

If students are struggling to see the topic's relevance, ensure that they understand this before moving on.

2. Explore

This phase is activity-based. Your learners look for answers to the question or problem posed in the Engagement phase, using their existing knowledge. They ask questions, discuss their understanding, and look for solutions through group activities.

The Explore phase can become chaotic and unproductive unless you move from being an instructor to being a facilitator. You may need to ask questions; encourage role play; provide additional activities to suit different learning styles; and allow students to make and learn from mistakes.

Evaluation in This Phase

Assess how your learners are gathering information and working together. Is there a system involved, or is it haphazard? Is the method of gathering information impeding learning? If so, provide more guidance.

Is everyone working well together? Is there any tension or uncertainty in groups? If group dynamics are impeding learning, be ready to assign learners to new groups or to intervene in discussions to ensure that everyone can contribute.

3. Explain

In the Explain phase, your goal is to impart your own higher-level knowledge of the topic, and to connect it with that of your learners.

You may want to use handouts or a presentation at this point. Alternatively, you could use a case study approach to apply information to a real-life context.

Then ask learners to explain concepts back to you or to others in the group, using the knowledge that they have just learned. Where appropriate, allow them to use a variety of different methods to explore these ideas, such as participating in additional group activities, graphing or charting information, drawing, or even using role play to demonstrate understanding.

Evaluation in This Phase

Check how well students can use the new information that they've learned. Ask questions and assess learners' answers to determine how well they have understood the material.

4. Elaborate

Your learners should now have a good, basic understanding of the material. In the Elaborate phase, extend their knowledge by giving them additional information that builds on what they've already covered. Encourage them to apply this to situations that they'll encounter when they finish their training.

Evaluation in This Phase

In the last phase of the cycle, test students on what they've learned. This will give them a sense of closure, and encourage them to reflect on what they have learned.


It's important to check your own performance, too. Use appropriate elements of Kirkpatrick's Four-Level Training Evaluation Model to assess the effectiveness of the training.

Key Points

The 5 E Learning Cycle encourages learners to explore learning material and to understand it in ways that are familiar to them. You evaluate learning throughout the process to check students' understanding of what they have learned, and to adjust the way that you deliver learning.

The cycle has four phases:

  1. Engage.
  2. Explore.
  3. Explain.
  4. Elaborate.

Evaluation isn't a phase in its own right – it should take place at every stage of the learning cycle.