I read somewhere that "Reflection is a key to improvement as an educator." So often, we have read and spoken about experiential learning, learning-by-doing, task-based learning etc. However, what is it that really converts this experience into learning? For the uninitiated, it is Reflection.
Without getting into semantics and/or an instructional definition; simply speaking, reflection is an image - a mirror image - that we can see of ourselves and other things around us. Extending this to learning experiences, reflection is the act of looking into (at) yourself and your learning experiences. So, while we learn by 'doing'. We actually learn more by thinking about what we did, how we did it, what was the experience like, can we do it differently the next time, how will we do it in another situation etc. It is therefore clearly an intense mental exercise. Many instructional models highlight that reflection is an integral component of learning. Kolb in his experiential learning model, shares the importance of reflective observation. I am convinced that reflection is an important and practical aspect of training and education. However, I do believe that as trainers and learners, we don’t spend enough time practicing reflection.
Let’s start with the trainer in us. I often observe that as trainers we do not include structured reflective practices in our training. The reasons could be multiple – we don’t know or understand the importance of reflection, we want to finish the curriculum so more time on action, less time on reflection, we don’t know what are reflection activities, we don’t know the design and implementation decisions – what to reflect on, how much, how to etc. This blog certainly can’t do justice to all the above reasons but the bottom-line is – we don’t create opportunities for our learners to reflect – or atleast not as much as required.
So, what do we need to do?
1) Design reflective exercises and activities at the beginning, middle, and end of training.
2) Relate reflection activities to learning outcomes and contextualize the activities to the learning process.
3) Use appropriate forms of reflection – individual vs. group reflection, discussion vs. paper writing etc.
4) Use appropriate structure for reflection – open-ended vs. guided reflection
Moving into the shoes of a learner, we probably don’t spend enough time reflecting about what we have learnt. Again the reasons for not reflecting could be many - we don’t know or understand the importance of reflection, we have other urgent and important tasks at hand, but more so – the act of reflection seems so natural that we believe it is happening by itself and further, when it is happening by itself, it is happening effectively.
So, what do we need to do?
1) Set aside time for reflection. This is probably the most important thing to do! Until reflection is deliberate and conscious, there can be no learning. Realize that most learning does not occur in a formal setting. Therefore, you are personally responsible for creating reflective activities for your own self in informal learning situations.
2) Observe your individual learning experiences – success and failures - and reflect on what you did in both situations and what could you have done differently. Ask yourself key questions about the learning.
3) Use a variety of tools and methods to think about and evaluate your learning – share, discuss, write in an attempt to improve.
4) Build upon your learning to create new knowledge.
So, I guess, if as learners, we are able to improve our own practice of learning using reflective activities, we will certainly impact those learning from us in a much more positive manner!