Posted by: Gillian | January 9, 2009

Reflective learning for beginners

For many successful people, the thought of formalised learning sounds like bad news: school experiences were perhaps none too good and life has got way more exciting since then.  Keeping up to date with what is needed at work is fine.  Doing a bit of research into the latest gadgets and how they work, that’s fine too.  And going to a Spanish group on Wednesday evenings – well, that’s just useful for talking to people, isn’t it?  None of it is ‘education’ of the old-style done-unto-you variety: it has a purpose and you are in charge.  That, of course, is why it works and why it is more fun.  So why not capitalise on that?  Painlessly.

Most work activities include some form of appraisal, report, project review or ‘wash-up’ meeting.  These events become regular punctuation marks in employment and, done well, are useful for sorting out what went well, what needs to be done next time, etc.  Results are usually written down and may then be subject to later review as processes are improved and new systems fitted in.  In the end, it saves time and makes work run more smoothly.

Reflective learning is a term popular with educators and it can sound extremely formal (e.g. reflective learning log) but really it is no different from the process described above with one important exception: you are in charge.  No one can make you reflect.  You either do it or you don’t.  You can reflect for five seconds, decide and move on; or you can set aside thinking time, write everything down and plan accordingly.  You can decide to reflect on everything you learn – which could get tedious – or just on things that are important to you because you are trying to achieve something.  And, because you are in charge, you can start with one goal in mind and then change your mind and move the goalposts.  Your previous reflection is not wasted; it has helped you make a conscious decision to change direction.  You can even use that change process as a reflective learning opportunity or, in more ordinary language, a chance to say, “How did I get here and would I do the same next time?”

As you keep up to date at work or learn Spanish or whatever suits you, reflective learning can become a habit that helps you get more out of life.  For a start, if you write some of it down, you will have a record of achievements to be accessed when applying for jobs – or just when you need cheering up.  If you want a little more detail on the stages of learning, see this Deep learning model.  (Sorry: you have to follow the link on the page after you have clicked as I cannot embed it here.)  For ideas on what to write and how to organise it, see Portfolios.

However you approach it, remember: reflection is your choice.


  1. Thank you Gillian for your useful description!

  2. Hi Aminder. Glad that it met with your approval. I was wondering if you might add to it given all your experience with employers and in universities? How would you advise people to start?

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