The 10 Most Important Things to Know About Reflective Learning

by | Nov 19, 2017

Reflective learning is something that takes time and that demands thought and effort. Obviously, we don’t always get a chance to internalize experience and skills acquired and put our puzzle pieces together. In other words, we often don’t get to reflect and ask questions of ourselves such as:

  • How do we learn?
  • How do we retain information?
  • How do we make connections between informational points and synthesize for true creativity?

These are worthy questions not only for us but for our learners as well. This is where the concept of reflective learning makes an appearance. Reflection is a discipline of self that takes commitment. It’s the brain’s digestion exercise—the internalization of thoughts and ideas. It’s the buildup of potential thought energy into imagination and creativity. But what makes it different from regular learning?

A Closer Look at Reflective Learning

Reflective learning first came to a modern focus through John Dewey in 1933. Building on ancient Greek wisdom, he posited that reflective learning allowed for people to connect ideas to past knowledge in order to solve problems. Then in 1995, Hatton and Smith went even further and characterized the reflective learner by the following:

  1. Thinks laterally. Considers that the data might be interpreted many different ways. We see this at the climactic points in certain movies where a “prophecy” appears to be fulfilled. But it is fulfilled in a way that is not expected. By thinking laterally we can envision the problem at different and unexpected angles. This gives rise to new solutions to old problems.
  2. Lets time pass after a lesson or action, then reflects back upon it. For all our learning, there is an action. Afterward, there’s reflection upon the action. Then comes a transformation—we cannot go back, because we have changed in some way.
  3. Uses journals and group discussion directed toward answering a defining question. Often we lose sight of the goal of our reflection. Reflective learning in its strictest sense involves drawing conclusions and solving problems.
  4. Considers opposing historical, cultural, and political viewpoints and values beliefs with an open mind. Arrives at solutions that are practical and that encompass many viewpoints, which allows our brains to stretch.
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Solution Fluency and Reflective Learning

Here we must bring up Solution Fluency, which lends itself well to reflective learning. The 6Ds (Define, Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver, Debrief) takes us through the process:

  1. We define the driving question. The problem is stated in such a way that allows us to focus upon it from time to time. As we progress through the next stages, we look back and continue to ask if we are striving for an answer to the driving question.
  2. The discover step accesses that information that we already know. We assess our knowledge and resources and prepare to make connections to foster new ideas.
  3. Dreaming is the reflective part. Considering what we know, we begin to synthesize it all into a working solution.
  4. The “blueprint” stage is where our design happens. We give our project a skeleton so that it begins to take shape, and this includes revisiting previous stages. As a result, we find things out that we didn’t know before, leading to more dreaming and revising of our blueprint.
  5. Now we must deliver the goods. This is the final reveal—when all’s said and done, we present the final piece.
  6. It always includes a debrief. This is a time to celebrate and a time to talk about the experience. As we reflect on what we’ve learned, we consider what our next steps are moving forward.

Reflective Portfolios

A useful tool in reflective learning has always been the portfolio. These are collections of learners’ work that bring insight and understanding. In addition, it allows them to become familiar with their own learning process. It can take the form of a large written work, a collection of written pieces, or some sort of online format. The reflective portfolio includes:

  • Work samples—scans, photographs, and photocopies of projects
  • Journal entries—not necessarily conclusion-driven, but merely recordings of thought processes along the way
  • Critical Incident Reports—“aha” moments (the reflective part), landmarks of achievement, and progress are accounted for in this section.
  • Proof of achievement—formative assessment results, other test scores
  • Personal summary statement—allowing the student to encapsulate their experience and their progress.

It’s important to remember that reflective portfolios should be an honest assessment of one’s own path through a project. Therefore, it should also include honest assessment of one’s weaknesses as well as solid plans to improve.

Conscious reflective learning allows the mind to rest and reflect and revisit, bringing forth a deeper understanding of the experience and skills that we acquired. By incorporating systems within our learning structure that allow for reflective learning, we can instill in ourselves and our students good habits of mind and lifelong learning skills.

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