2. What is reflection and reflective practice?

What do we mean when we talk about reflection?


First watch this short video by students at a university talking about what reflection means for them.

In everyday use, the term reflection is used to refer to the process of looking back at an event or experience and thinking about it and learning from it in hindsight. This everyday use of reflection may lead to some learning but it does not necessarily lead to any higher-level analysis or sense-making which gives a deeper insight into problems, their causes and their solutions. It is important to take this a step further so that this kind of reflection is deliberate and aimed at exploring a particular experience in more detail. It involves interrogating the experience after the event in order to bring about change and learning. Reflection at this level is therefore a much more complex and potentially productive process.

Brief reflection: What do you understand by the terms 'reflection' and 'reflective practice'?

A number of education specialists have offered a definition of reflection or reflective practice. Which of these definitions do you most recognise as closest to the way that you think about reflection?

  1. 'Reflection is an important human activity in which people recapture their experience, think about it, mull it over and evaluate it. It is this working with experience that is important to learning' (Boud,1985)
  2. 'Reflection is a process of reviewing an experience of practice in order to describe, analyse, evaluate and so inform learning about practice' (Reid, 1993, P305)
  3. 'Reflection involves periodically stepping back to ponder the meaning of what has recently transpired to ourselves and to others in our immediate environment' (Raelin, 2002, P 66).
  4. 'Reflection is a form of mental processing- like a form of thinking- that we use to fulfil a purpose or to achieve some anticipated outcome. It is applied to relatively complicated or unstructured ideas for which there is not an obvious solution and is largely based on the further processing of knowledge and understanding and possibly emotions that we already possess.' (based on Moon, 2002)

Now look at these two definitions of the process of reflective practice and how it can lead to learning.

'Reflective practice is something more than thoughtful practice. It is that form of practice that seeks to problematise many situations of professional performance so that they can become potential learning situations and so that practioners can continue to learn, grow and develop in and through practice' (Jarvis, 1982 P180)

    Boud et al. (1985) describe how reflective practice can lead to learning:

'a generic term for those intellectual and affective activities in which individuals engage to explore their experiences in order to lead to a new understanding and appreciation' (p 19).

To summarise, reflection can be important for professional learning as it could lead to the following benefits

  • It can change the way you see a workplace experience situation and understand other perspectives and may challenge assumptions
  • It involves deliberate consideration in depth of an experience which can lead to learning and change
  • It involves exploring management problems in detail in order to gain insight going forward
  • It is an iterative process which can generate new ideas and innovation which are then used to plan future action
  • It encourages reflective practitioners to explore incidents at work from a range of perspectives and this can help the reflector to understand their own beliefs, values and assumptions and challenge deep-seated ideas and views. 

Extra reading: If you wish to read more on Reflection for learning, have a look at the introductory book provided in the Useful Resources section on the main page: An introduction to Reflective Learning by a former OU colleague, Dr.Caroline Ramsey.

Activity 2.1 Defining reflection and reflective practice (100-200 words)

Blog: Write a brief summary in your blog of what you consider to be the possible value of reflection and reflective practice. Would you consider using this process for learning and development? What might be the issues or barriers to using this approach to learning in your workplace? Can you see any constraints to using reflection for learning and development?

Now post this activity to the Chat room if you wish and read the summaries from other students.


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[Image: Prabu B Doss under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.]

Last modified: Wednesday, 26 Aug 2015, 10:41