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Learning how to learn
Learning how to learn

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9.2 What is reflection?

Is reflection different to just thinking about your study? And how do we do it? Can someone teach you how to reflect or is it a matter of practice? Can everyone be reflective or are some students - and some people - more reflective than others?

There is no clear definition of reflection or precise way of describing what we mean by a reflective learner. But we can discuss some characteristics of the process, and encourage you to develop your own preferred ways of developing it.

Reflection is thinking for a purpose - in this course we have linked it to wanting to become a more effective and efficient learner; someone who wants to understand their own learning. Thus, reflection is also about wanting, or at least being willing, to change the way we learn.

Reflection is analysing how we learn - taking apart our own learning processes. The activities in this course are tools to help you do this. But reflection is also about evaluating how effectively we learn - making judgements on our own performance, and that is not always an easy or comfortable thing to do.

Most of all, reflection includes being critical - not in a negative or destructive way, but through rigorous questioning and deep probing into what and how we learn. Many people would say that the most important characteristic of an effective student in higher education is that they are capable of critical thinking - actively challenging both themselves and others.

For most of us, reflection becomes a more meaningful activity if it can be shared, either in a group or with another student. Putting your thoughts and ideas into words and getting a response from someone else, then perhaps listening to their reactions, makes the process more interactive and developmental. This interaction can be face-to-face or might be at a distance - by telephone or electronically. Even if you cannot easily engage with another student, any other person - friend or family - who is supportive of you as a student or shares your interest in learning might well enjoy sharing with you some of the activities in this course.

Sharing ideas about the activities means that you are more likely to engage with the material. If you prefer not to share your thoughts and experiences with others, or if talking about your learning is not possible, at least take time to respond to the activities in writing. The activities in this course do not have a 'right answer'. The examples from Tim and Sue show that students vary in the way they approach their learning and in how they reflect on its effectiveness. We hope that you have found time to record your responses and to act on them where appropriate. If you have read this far and have actively engaged in the process as we suggest, it is likely that you are well on the way to becoming a reflective learner.

Learning how to learn, however, is about more than reflection - it is about development and change. Understanding how you learn is just the first stage; taking action to develop yourself, to make changes and improve your learning is, like learning itself, an ongoing process. We hope that working through this course has at least encouraged you to start.