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Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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1.1 What is ‘reflective practice’?

‘Reflective practice’ is a term that derives from the work of Dewey and Schön. Cast your mind back to Session 2 where we considered ‘reflection-in-action’ and ‘reflection-on-action’ – both are important facets of reflective practice. Dewey (1910, p. 6) wrote that reflective practice refers to ‘the active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it’. Dewey went on to say that being reflective ‘enables us to direct our actions with foresight … It enables us to know what we are about when we act’. Reflective practice is widely considered to be an important activity for professional development. We saw from Session 2 that practising reflection requires you to have a questioning approach. You consider why things are as they are, and how they might be, learning from your own experience and that of others, to effect change (e.g. focusing on future outcomes and actions).

Reflective practice can include any or all of the following:

  • practice-based learning (reflection integral to specific practice-based vocations, for example in nursing and teaching)
  • action research, action learning (learning by doing) and exploratory practice
  • problem and enquiry-based learning approaches
  • peer-based learning (peer feedback and review)
  • reflecting on the study experience.

Reflective practice is frequently used in a number of vocational settings such as nursing, health and social care, and teaching, and its value is increasingly recognised in other areas, including business and management. It is a process where the professional (the ‘reflective practitioner’) stops to think about their practice, consciously analyses their decision-making, draws on theory and evidence, and relates this to what they do in practice. A reflective practitioner considers how a particular issue relates to their own practical experience – does it support, challenge or undermine their own practice?

Reflective practice:

  • anchors theory in meaningful, concrete experience
  • gives recognition to learning gained in non-academic contexts
  • provides a bridge between practical experience and academic study
  • helps develop understanding of difficult work situations, improving professional practice
(Cottrell, 2011)

Teaching, nursing and social work have specific requirements for practice-based learning. While there is some variability in assessment practices, practice-based learning (learning specifically designed to relate to professional practice standards) assures quality and best practice, and can form a significant component of the pre-qualification programmes in these professions. Standards and frameworks are defined by professional regulatory bodies, including the UK Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).