What is reflective practice and how does that help in adult learning?

Find out more about what Joanne Bezzina, Cahoot's Learning Designer, has to share about reflective practice and how that helps with adult learning .

Embracing reflection as an essential phase in the learning process develops your accountability as a learner. It enhances your capacity to process and absorb new information or view it from a different perspective.

Learning is not a one-way experience; reflective learners receive information from external sources and add meaning gained through their prior knowledge and experience. Through discussion, contemplation, and action, new information presented is internalised. This allows it to be converted into contextualised and bankable knowledge that can be drawn upon in the future.

Reflection is not just about itemising the occurrences from each day but rather retrieving the important elements to reconstruct meaning. Incorporating reflective practice into your day enables you to distil useful conclusions to support professional and/or learning development.

Why is reflective practice important?

A reflective practice allows you as the learner, the space to create connections between the new information you are presented with and the context that it will be applied in. A reflective learner researches their relationship with new information and how this information will be used. They are challenged to examine their evolving behaviours and make connections to the outcomes achieved; sometimes the outcomes align with expectations and goals, but not always- and this can be positive or negative.

Reflection is not always a comfortable experience. During reflection, you may uncover gaps in your knowledge that you didn’t realise existed, but these realisations provide you with an opportunity to be proactive and ask for clarification.

How can I apply reflective practice?

Reflection can take many forms and can vary in focus. It can be directed towards your level of ease and/or capability when engaging in tasks, overall performance, efficiency, or engagement with colleagues. Written reflection is a useful way to create distance from your experiences by clarifying your understanding and stimulating alternative approaches you might choose to take. It can be useful to see your experiences on paper (or on a screen) rather than continually revisiting your experiences in your head. Written reflections can be reviewed later and examined to uncover if they are still relevant. While useful for many, not all of us express ourselves most effectively through writing.

Reflection can also occur verbally through a guided question-and-answer activity or informally through discussion. Spoken reflections use a different language and an interaction with others may uncover understanding that you may not realise you possess when reflecting independently. After engaging in a spoken reflection, it might be useful to capture key learnings so that they can be reviewed in the future.

When we are engaging in a role or learning something that is new to us, we will mainly be reflecting ON our actions retrospectively. We may not notice that an approach we have chosen is sub-optimal until the experience is over because we haven’t developed the insights to pick up on cues telling us so. Even when we can sense that our experience is not aligning with our expectations, it can be challenging to redirect, and we are likely to continue on our path and deal with the consequences later.

As our expertise in a field progresses, we develop a capacity to reflect IN action. We can assess whether our experience is aligning with our expectations at the moment, and the cues that direct our behaviour can be more subtle yet still very useful. We can alter our behaviour at the moment to achieve the outcomes that we are striving for.

Is reflective practice useful in a work setting?

In a professional capacity, both retrospective reflection and IN-action reflections are beneficial as our expertise in our field develops. Understanding that we can reflect in different ways and at different times also helps us realise that we can learn in different ways and times. We don’t have to possess all the knowledge in advance; we learn for, at, and through work.

Realising this can encourage us to extend ourselves and embrace challenging tasks, knowing that our professional expertise will benefit us. By developing reflective practice, we can transform areas of challenge into areas of strength over time. The insights gained through observation, questioning, and receiving feedback helps us move through future challenges with capability and confidence.

Most encouragingly, reflection can be a proactive exercise that shapes future behaviour. We can ask ourselves how the acquisition of new skills and knowledge will impact future decisions and whether this will be different to the way we may have gone about things in the past. Taking the time to consider potential obstacles in advance and how they will be dealt with can be an invigorating way to boost confidence as the likelihood of success being blocked is reduced; we can even question how our workload will be impacted by everything going right!

Incorporating reflection in your learning and working processes can help you feel confident in your decision-making as reflective behaviour is grounded by reasoning. Reflecting independently and as a team acknowledges the progress made and is key to growth. It demonstrates to us that the effort we expended that day or during a project was worthwhile and that a meaningful contribution was made- the perfect motivation booster.

In Conclusion

With reflections being such an essential part of learning. It is important to choose the most appropriate learning solution that harnesses its power.

Cahoot Learning purposefully creates the time and space for reflections, so that learners can derive meaningful insight from their learnings. Consider using our active learning model to educate your workforce, with a cohort-based learning platform, with proven learning methods certified by the Education Alliance Finland. Chat with us to find out how we can help you achieve your organisation’s learning goals. 

References:

Cox, E. (2005). Adult learners learning from experience: using a reflective practice model to support work-based learning. Reflective Practice, 6(4), 459–472. https://doi.org/10.1080/14623940500300517

Fergusson, L., van der Laan, L., & Baker, S. (2019). Reflective practice and work-based research: a description of micro- and macro-reflective cycles. Reflective Practice, 20(2), 289–303. https://doi.org/10.1080/14623943.2019.1591945

Helyer, R. (2015). Learning through reflection: the critical role of reflection in work-based learning (WBL). Journal of Work-Applied Management, 7(1), 15–27. https://doi.org/10.1108/JWAM-10-2015-003

Walsh, S. (2015). Doing Reflective Practice: A Data-Led Way Forward. ELT Journal, 69(4), 351–362. https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/ccv018

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