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Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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5 Reflective learning – reflection as a strategic study technique

Like many other aspects of study, reflective learning is highly individual. Rather than thinking of reflection as yet another task to be added to your ‘to do’ list or squeezed into a busy study schedule, view it as something to practice at any stage. The emphasis is on being a reflective learner rather than doing reflective learning. Get used to reflecting on your experiences as part of your everyday learning. In this way, each experience – whether positive or negative – will contribute to your development and personal growth. You can record your reflections in a learning journal or in another format (such as audio recordings). It is therefore worth noting the following:

  • see reflection as complementary to your study
  • use it to clarify your thoughts and focus on your personal and professional development
  • record your thoughts on any difficulties or challenges you are facing
  • think about strategies that might help you deal with difficult tasks or assignments
  • use it to help you think about how topics relate to your own experience.

Developing a habit of reflective learning will help you to:

  • evaluate your own progress
  • monitor and manage your own performance
  • self-motivate
  • keep focus on your learning goals
  • think differently about how you can achieve your goals by evaluating your study techniques, learning strategies and whether these best fit your current needs, identifying your skills development needs or gaps in knowledge
  • think about and overcome what may be blocking your learning by using a different approach, or setting more pragmatic (realistic/achievable) goals
  • support and enrich your professional practice ensuring that you are better placed to respond to and manage new, unexpected and complex situations – a key requirement at Master’s level.

Remember that applying reflective learning effectively does take time. Don’t expect everything to immediately fall into place, particularly if you have been away from formal education and have not engaged with continued professional development for some time. It takes commitment and discipline to set aside time for reflection, and there are challenges, including distractions (more compelling activities), feelings (uncomfortable or unexpected emotional responses to conclusions reached about own role, assumptions and beliefs, for example), and the nature of the process itself (you may be well-acquainted with one aspect of reflective learning, such as responding to and acting on feedback received from tutors or your peers, but the ability to balance a critique of experience with academic and professional requirements might not be familiar to you). Reflective thinking however, cannot be taught – it needs to be practiced. Reflective learning forms part of your personal and professional development. Personal Development Planning (PDP) is increasingly viewed as a requirement at postgraduate level, and you should check your intended course or qualification for any specific guidance on PDP.