What is reflection?
Reflection is a meaning-making process that is conducted toward goals related to both personal and intellectual growth. It is also a developmental skill that needs to be strengthened with practice, modeling, and feedback (Dewey, 1916; Rodgers, 2002; Schön, 1983). As illustrated below, reflection is a critical link in the learning process that enables “doing” to become “doing with understanding.” Further, knowledge and skills gained through reflection can enhance learning in future experiences.
There are many mutually reinforcing benefits of reflection, which can be framed in three main categories. Specific examples of benefits within each category are listed below.
- Deepen learning in an experience
- Apply prior knowledge to a current problem
- Synthesize disparate chunks of knowledge
- Practice lifelong learning skills
- Think critically
- Learn from failure
- Learn about oneself
- Identify strengths/weaknesses
- Identify biases
What is the evidence?
Reflection is an important part of learning that pushes the learner to think more deeply or differently (Entwistle & Peterson, 2004). Asking directed prompts can facilitate and guide this deeper thinking and connect experiences (Ash, 2009; Krause & Stark, 2010).
Reflective activities strengthen one’s metacognition, which is an awareness of one’s thoughts and knowledge, enabling one to consciously choose when and how to use particular strategies for learning and problem solving. This ability is essential for learning in complex environments (Bransford et al., 2000; Flavell, 1976), such as experiential learning.
Meaningful reflections go beyond simple recall of information and descriptions of what happened; rather, meaningful reflections exhibit original thinking that goes beyond the surface. Prompts that elicit meaningful reflection:
- Are crafted strategically with specific personal and intellectual goals in mind
- Are grounded in an experience, an aspect of self, or an artifact
- Are framed to generate deep thought rather than recall of superficial information
- Note concepts or theories that the learner should consider (if any) when responding
- Outline the steps the learner should follow to prepare for and conduct the reflection
Additionally, reflection activities are most effective when they include an opportunity for the learner to share the reflection and receive feedback from peers, an educator, and/or others.
Ash, S. L., & Clayton, P. H. (2009). Generating, deepening, and documenting learning: The power of critical reflection in applied learning. Journal of Applied Learning in Higher Education, 1(1), 25-48.
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York, NY: The Free Press.
Entwistle, N. J., & Peterson, E. R. (2004). Conceptions of learning and knowledge in higher education: Relationships with study behaviour and influences of learning environments. International Journal of Educational Research, 41(6), 407-428.
Flavell, J. H. (1976). Metacognitive aspects of problem solving. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), The Nature of Intelligence (pp. 231-235). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Krause, U. M., & Stark, R. (2010). Reflection in example- and problem-based learning: Effects of reflection prompts, feedback and cooperative learning. Evaluation & Research in Education, 23(4), 255-272.
Rodgers, C. (2002). Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking. The Teachers College Record, 104(4), 842-866.
Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York, NY: Basic Books.