What is Reflective Learning?

Reflective learning is a means of helping you learn from your experience by thinking about that experience and making sense of it.  We can consider two kinds of reflective learning:

  • Reflective learning in which you look back over the results of some activity to determine what worked well, what didn’t, what could be changed, and what barriers there might be to implementing such change. Such learning looks at what happened in relation to what was intended, whether the consequences of specific activities were intended or unintended, and what might need to be changed in the future.
  • Self-reflective Learning in which you look back at your experiences in order to understand what you did, what the consequences were of what you did, whether those consequences were intended or unintended and what you might want to change in the future.

The processes are the same for both types of learning. The difference between them lies in the focus and the emotional level involved. While both processes can be emotionally charged, self-reflective learning is more likely to be highly emotionally charged, and therefore easier to avoid, than reflective learning.

The one essential point that you need to remember about reflective and self-reflective learning is that it must never focus on judging the worth of actions or consequences. Once you start thinking in terms of whether some action was good or bad, you will stop learning and start defending yourself. You can say to yourself, “I did X”; you must avoid saying, even to yourself, “I did the wrong thing.”

We are all “experiencing” all the time. That is, our sensory system is constantly taking in information about our internal and external worlds. This information is then processed through mental activities. The sensory information is first processed into images, sounds, and sensations through unconscious mental processes. Then, through conscious processes, those images, sounds and sensations are assigned meanings, and words are used to describe these meanings. The use of words introduces generalizations in our awareness of our experiences.

The mental processes that turn our experiences first into images, sounds and sensations and then into words appear to account for less than 20 percent of our mental activity. In reflective learning, we are interested in what is happening in the remaining 80 percent of our mental activity.

The process of reflective learning includes the following components:

  • Consciously paying attention to, and becoming aware of, more of our day-to-day experiences.
  • Increasing our awareness of how we turn our experiences into images, sounds and sensation and of what we tend to ignore or distort in the process.
  • Increasing our awareness of how our immediate experiences connect to the images, sounds, sensations and words we have already stored away in our memories from our past experiences.
  • Discovering the meanings we give to these connections between past and immediate experiences, and
  • Making these meanings explicit and conscious through telling others about them.
« Back to Student SuccessLast updated November 21, 2019