Educational theories you must know. Kurt Lewin change cycle. St.Emlyn’s

Kurt Lewin developed a model that describes how people change. He proposed that in order for people to change they need to need to moved from their current state into one where they realise that change is both possible and required. He suggests that knowledge remains frozen until such time as something comes along to ‘unfreeze’ the person. That may be new information or experiences, but until that takes place nothing will alter.

In education we are commonly trying to change people, to alter their knowledge, skills, attitudes and relationships so we must work to unfreeze people from their current state. I find that this can take many forms, but often narratives and related experiences are powerful tools to get learners to question their current beliefs and opinions.

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Lewin went beyond this to also describe the process of ‘refreezing’. It’s not enough to simply challenge a view, it’s what you do with that unfrozen state that matters as an educator. In other words you need to move your learners into a position where they are prepared to let go of past beliefs and then move to introduce new knowledge, then complete the change process by embedding the new knowledge and making it stick. This last stage is often overlooked but maintaining new knowledge is so important, but often difficult in medical circles when we must combat prior beliefs both in our learners and their supervisors.

The video below is based on business models, but it’s very relevant to emergency medicine too.


Why does the Lewis model matter?

Simply, it tells us that when we try and impart new knowledge we need to understand what our learners already know and to have a strategy to challenge/unfreeze those beliefs before they will effectively absorb new information.

Further reading

Business perspective on Kurt Lewin change model

The change management model

Kurt Lewin on wikipedia

More in this series

  1. Maslow’s hierachy of learning needs.
  2. Constructivism and socio-constructivism
  3. Lave and Wenger’s communities of practice
  4. Spaced repetition
  5. Miller’s assessment pyramid
  6. Bloom’s taxonomy
  7. Mastery, improvement and deliberate practice
  8. Kolb’s learning cycle
  9. Lewis change model

Before you go please don’t forget to…

Cite this article as: Simon Carley, "Educational theories you must know. Kurt Lewin change cycle. St.Emlyn’s," in St.Emlyn's, November 4, 2015,

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