What is ‘reflective learning’?

Reflective learning is the deliberate process of carrying out cycles of inquiry. The term cycle refers to the way a learner switches between action and reflection. Note that the key word in this definition is deliberate.

An important part of reflective learning is a growing awareness of what is going on around you. As we don’t control everything, it is also important to learn to be aware of the impact our actions have on others.

Reflective learning is also focused on the future, so for learning to happen, you need to use your thinking to shape future action.

There are three points to consider:

  • Generating and evaluating new ideas. A crucial part of learning is doing things differently and evaluating the success of these new practices.
  • Reflecting on events and situations. We need to take time to consider what has happened and what can be learned in order to determine future actions.
  • Reflecting upon relations. As the actions of others will limit or help what we do, it is crucial to pay attention to how their actions develop.

In order to determine what to reflect on, it is necessary to ‘frame’ events or thoughts to give them a clear focus. This is simply the act of putting a boundary around them. Three possibilities for framing include:

  • Critical incidents where assumptions or existing ways of working are challenged.
  • A period of time that can be observed for recurring themes or issues that aren’t always noticeable in the moment.
  • An ongoing issue or focus of inquiry. A personal journal can be a useful tool for this.

It is important to remember that reflective learning has to be deliberate. We are deliberately seeking to change something. There is no correct method, only the right method for you.

Also remember that assumptions can be a dangerous block to learning!

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