Learning without reflection is a missed opportunity. How many times have you learnt a skill or a tool, applied it and never looked back to analyze its value and how it stacks up with the rest of your skill set? 

Reflection is in-built when you learn with peers in a classroom and an instructor. The learning interactions built through each discussion lead to time and space for analysis and feedback of the process.

As we move towards learning online, without peers, the journey becomes output focused and unidirectional. To build reflection in our learning practices, we need to recalibrate our process. 

In this article, we will dive into the importance of reflection and actionable takeaways to build reflective learning practices

What is reflection?

Reflective thinking is an active, intentional, and purposeful process of exploration, discovery, and learning. In order to make conscious decisions about the uses of information, students have to step back and reflect on how they actually make decisions and solve problems and how a particular set of problem-solving strategies is appropriate or might be improved.

(Lin, Hmelo, Kinzer, and Secules, 1999)

Two points stand out in this definition:

  • Reflection is intentional and is required to understand the use of information. It is the process of encompassing the learning experience. 
  • Reflection needs a step back, or rather a specific action. As a learner, you need to build reflection into the process to make connections.

How does reflection impact learning?

There are two ways in which reflection helps the learner. 

1. Reflective activities add depth and breadth to the learner’s knowledge

When a learner takes time to reflect, the focus is on what they learnt, how they learnt and the layers of information added to their previous knowledge.

For example, you took a pottery class and built a clay flower pot in 3 weeks. If you reflected on your experience, you would realize the steps to building a clay pot, beginning from being comfortable with clay and the wheel, to creating your first misshaped pots and breaking them to the flower pot. 

In 3 weeks, you added depth and breadth of knowledge including basics of pottery, building by hand or on the wheel, shapes in pottery and more. 

2. Reflective activities help identify gaps in learning and recalibrate

Reflection does not need to be at the end of the learning journey. Reflection can help the learner gain perspective about their progress, gaps and make changes

For example, you realize at Week 2 of pottery class that your focus has been on pots solely, whereas there is value in learning how to make different shapes and build the foundational skill of pottery. You can then take a step back and design the experience with a fresh perspective. 

How do we design reflective learning practices?

There are three steps to design reflective activities in learning. Let’s take a look at the three steps with examples.

1. Introspection

To reflect on learning, find time and space for introspection. Review the following:

  • How did you feel when you began this learning journey?
  • How are you feeling now? (Positive/Needs work)
  • What can you do to continue/alter depending on the answer (Positive/Needs work).

2. Documentation

Introspection without documentation will lead to lack of connectivity between one reflective activity to another. Documents your thoughts into:

  • What are your learning objectives with timelines? 
  • What materials are you learning with?
  • How are you applying your learnings?
  • Have you achieved the learning objective within the given timeline?

3. Analysis

Once you introspect and document the learning journey, find patterns to understand gaps. Ask the following questions for analysis:

  • Have you achieved the learning objective within the given timeline? 
  • If yes, what is working well and should be continued?
  • If not, what needs to improve? 

While reflective activities are not formulas as suggested above, the three steps help create a reflection practice and a keen eye to understand gaps and make changes.

Find reflective activities that help you look at your learning experiences from different perspectives and practice them frequently

Unlearning Thought

If reflection is like looking into a well of your learning experience, would you like what you see? 


Reflection in Learning, Bo Chang, Ball State University