Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Importance of Reflective Practices

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!


  1. Hey TG. Please provide an example.

    Please give a situation and explain how to approach it through 'reflective learning'.

    I am able to understand what you're saying... but would dearly love an example.

  2. Kia ora Taruna!

    I'm not so sure that all that you are saying here is specifically related to reflective practice - but that may be semantics. :)

    What I have identified is that every learner needs some knowledge of metacognition (though do not need to know the word!) so that they can make best use of their capacity to learn. Application of this to situated learning, that grounds learning experiences in the learner’s own practice, is what this is about.

    @Kshitij - I can cite a few examples for you but one in particular that applies generally to learning new routines on the desktop is given here.

    Catchya later

  3. I agree with everything you are saying. I have realised how important reflection is since I started blogging. Reflection is important throughout your life to capture the informal learning that goes on all the time.

  4. Thanks for your comment Tommy. I am glad you agree with my views. Infact, it was my need to reflect in a constructive way that prompted me to write my blog too!

  5. Kia ora Ken! Thanks for your comment. I agree with what you say - reflection and metacognition is about learning to learn!

  6. @Kshitij. Thanks for your comment. For me, writing a blog was my way to start reflecting about what I was learning.

    In a classroom setup, teachers often use a case study or scenario to enable students to apply what they learnt but in a new context/situation. The case study allows students to reflect on the content that they studied and analyze and construct new knowledge that is applicable to the situation at hand.

    Another example would be where an intern at an organization is asked to record observations, thoughts, feelings, and daily activities and answer key questions in a journal. The attempt is to allow the intern to constructively absorb and reflect on key learning and discuss it with her managers.

    In higher education when pursuing professional courses, students are often asked to prepare a portfolio of specific evidence of their learning mapping to the learning objectives of the course being undertaken. This may be followed by a presentation where they analyze the situations and provide their version of the solution and how their 'design' met the requirements etc, which is discussed as a group.

    The way I look at it, all these are different types of reflection activities that are built within the training intervention.

  7. Hi TG,
    I do agree with you that reflection is important for both trainer and participant. I normally schedule it at the end of each session and at the end of each training day. As we are a self inner development training organization, we introduce theory through artistic activities such as communication through singing, dynamic teamwork through painting and strory telling, etc. So, the way to convey message of training outcome is quite new in Thailand, that why I use reflection as a tool to achieve training roadmap and understand my client better.

    1. Thanks for reading my post and for your comment chinrinee. It is good to know that you schedule reflection at the end of each session and at the end of the training day. It is even better to note that you introduce theory through artistic activities. How wonderful! My good wishes to you and everyone on the team.