Reflective learning is a valuable and efficient use of time and enables those in the role of learner to actively transfer learned skills to improve their professional practice and performance levels.
Kolb’s Learning Cycle
Kolb’s theory of learning is a four stage process:
- Concrete Experience – (a new experience of situation is encountered, or a reinterpretation of existing experience).
- Reflective Observation (of the new experience). Of particular importance are any inconsistencies between experience and understanding.
- Abstract Conceptualization (Reflection gives rise to a new idea, or a modification of an existing abstract concept).
- Active Experimentation (the learner applies them to the world around them to see what results).
According to Kolb’s theory of learning our brain changes as we learn new information and reflection is the act of linking our practical experiences to that which we have learned. For example, we may have been shown how to cross the road safely on the way to school as children, looking left and right etc at a busy location; for a long time we would always be in the company of adults when crossing the road, but when the time came for us to do this independently, if we were then able to transfer this learned information and cross the road safely by ourselves, we had successfully reflected on our learning and transferred these skills to a practical situation.
Once we have experienced something, our idea of how to execute these newly formed skills may go through a series of modifications each time to completely master it and to fit our individual needs and requirements. For example, on reflection, you may think that where your parents chose to cross the road was too busy and quite dangerous because you remembered that you often had to rush across, causing you some anxiety; as a result, you may choose to cross the road at a different point than originally shown because it is a quieter spot with less traffic. This way you have modified what was learnt to suit your needs. You are still crossing the road safely, but have found a way for this to be carried out more efficiently, increasing your chances of crossing the road safely and decreasing the anxiety you associated with that experience.
Why is reflective practice important?
Reflective practice consolidates the learning experiences and helps to form new habits and behaviours.
For individuals, the outcomes of developing a regular habit of reflective practice can be:
- An increase in self-awareness, emotional intelligence, the capacity for emotional regulation and as a consequence the ability to inspire, influence and motivate others
- An enhanced ability to make decisions which show good judgement, awareness of risk and systemic impact
- A growth in the capacity to generate innovation through the technique of asking open questions and attending to the answers with an open mind
- The ability to be compassionate to self and others and inspire trust through demonstrating trustworthiness.
Developing Reflection Techniques
Observing our thought structures takes time and learning is something we should not rush. People learn best when they are not pressured for time and in a safe and relaxed environment. To fully reflect on our learning and develop a deeper understanding of the subject we wish to master, we must not only take the time to study but also take the time to consider what we have learned and how best to put this into practice. Reflection should not only be done from a subjective viewpoint but also by taking on board the opinions and viewpoints of others and with consideration of how your newly formed knowledge can profit those around you.
Practices such as free writing, free drawing and breathing exercise can all clear the mind and develop reflective skills. Reflective practice involves an analysis of your learning experience, modifying current beliefs to accommodate this new information and putting this into action. Learning is an internal experience and to be of value it needs to be externalised, a transferring of knowledge to practical skills and developed expertise.
Gibbs Reflective Cycle
Inwardly asking a series of questions can support the process of reflection and encourage the learner to carry out a critical analysis in order to describe, feel, evaluate, analyse and act upon learnt information. Connecting with learning on an emotional level facilitates a continuous cycle and engages the learner to become an active participant in their own development and not simply a passive participant who is present in body but not actively engaged in their learning and transference of knowledge. Reflection is an important part of the learning process and in order to truly benefit from a learning experience, there needs to be a continuous focus on developing associated skills after the course has finished, mindfully putting learning into practice to improve personal and team performances.