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Reflection on Learning

Guide for busy academics. No.4 Notes. Learning through reflection.

Jenny Moon, University of Exeter – the guide. Upright.

Jonathan Vernon, my thoughts – my reflection(s), in italics and (parenthesies) as if I don’t quite mean it. Or do I? These thoughts just pop into my head. They bubble up from nowhere. (Reflection or an unfortunate chemical condition called myelination.)

PDP can involve many forms of reflection and reflective learning.

A mysterious activity … or capacity? (or indulgence)

‘it lies somewhere around the notion of learning.’ (What on earth is meant by that?)

(Plenty of people reflect, it is apparent in those people who listen during meetings. When they have something to say it is because they have taken on board various ideas and are then able to summarise and offer their own thoughts. They don’t need to write it down, all they have to do is sit forward and concentrate on what is being said, rather than thinking about what they would like to say.)

Generally reflection is a means of working on what we know already and it generates new knowledge.

(I disagree. Why reflect on something you know already? Surely not giving it a second thought applies when you understand something, better when you can act intuitively. On the contrary, the time to reflect is when you don’t understand, or your thinking has been changed and you need think twice?)

Reflection is a form of mental processing that we use to fulfil a purpose or to achieve some anticipated outcome.

(I disagree. Reflection can be a form of indulgence, a pastime, an entertainment. Indeed, does this author not start out by calling it a ‘mysterious activity … or capacity?’ Nothing they have thus said convinces me that they know otherwise.)

It is applied to gain a better understanding of relatively complicated or unstructured ideas and is largely based on the reprocessing of knowledge, understanding and possibly emotions that we already possess.

(Two words worry me here, ‘relatively’ and ‘largely’ suggest to me someone who doesn’t know, who is hedging their bets and has no evidence to support what they are saying.)

Reflection has a role in:

• academic and non-academic learning
• self development
• critical review
• considering our own processes of mental functioning
• decision-making
• emancipation and empowerment and so on.

(And here it is tag on, cover-all, phrase ‘and so on’ that worries me. A list. An open list. Why not just say ‘reflection has a role in everything.’)

Perhaps it should be called ‘reflectivism’ this obsession with navel gazing.

(It will work for some, not for others. And just because someone reflects a great deal, does not mean they find any deeper truth as a result, or as a result are then capable of deciding a way out of this intellectual impasse and turn thoughts into actions.)

There is a close relationship between reflection and emotion or feelings and many would suggest that the use of reflection in academic contexts provides an appropriate channel for exploration or expression of this human function.

(This is just poor English or Jenny has been listening to too much of ‘Just a minute … trying somewhat awkwardly to avoid using the same word twice.)

Self-awareness and control of emotions is an important factor in academic performance and PDP provides opportunities for emotional engagement with subject learning.

(Perhaps I’ll buy into this based on what I have read on ‘How to study’ in Richard Northridge’s OU book of 1990)

What’s more effective than reflection? Debate.

(And if open, formal debate in the style of a debating society is not feasible, then at least engaged discussion in a tutorial-like setting is required. This makes information stick, this transforms they way you think, changes behaviour and builds knowledge. Reflection doesn’t have teeth, it lacks the emotional edge of tussle with colleagues, fellow students, subject matter experts and senior tutors.)

Reflection compared to debate, is the difference between tea and scones and a bun-fight. Which are you going to remember?

Reflection is tame, learning should be a wild tiger.

• being reflective slows down learning, because it requires time for a learner to reprocess ideas.

(It can cause learning to grind to a halt. If all you are doing is traveling across the same ground. Reflection as a dog chasing its tail, not even that, reflection as a dog chewing its own tail.)

• material on which we reflect is relatively complicated or unstructured material. It challenges learners and when they are challenged, they gain greater abilities in dealing with difficult material of learning.

(We agree on this. But I don’t believe that reflection engenders challenge. Nor do I think, should students share their ‘reflection’ that this should be challenged unless the tutor or moderator wishes to or is trained to act as a kind of therapist who helps the reflective process along, by turning old thoughts into new ones, then seeking and agreeing a way forward.)

I don’t feel challenged by this ‘guide,’ only irritated. Irritation does not foster reflection or debate.

There are many vehicles for reflective learning in the curriculum:

• learning journals, logs etc
• the use of portfolios
• reflection on work experiences
• reflection on placement experiences beyond the deliberate curriculum
• in the context of peer and self assessment
• in the context of careers work, counseling or student or personal development work.

(How about reflection without ever writing it down, or recording it? Just person to person, not talking to yourself in a mirror, or talking to yourself at all, but by speaking with a friend, or colleague, or mentor, or ‘significant other.’)

There are some things to think about when asking students to reflect.

(i.e. before you reflect, reflect and before you get students to reflect, reflect. Indeed, why not stop and think again, think twice, think trice.)

‘You think too much.’

If labels stick, this one stuck. Time to move on, or not. Perhaps I’ll reflect on it.

Perhaps I just did?


Northridge, Andrew (1990) The Good Study Guide. Open University.

The Higher Education Academy
Guide for Busy Academics No.4
Learning through reflection

Resources for Reflection

(18 September – 1 October)

Unit 2 (part 2): Reflection and learning

Core texts

Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (2009) ‘Completed RLOs – study skills’ (online), Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Available from: http://www.rlo-cetl.ac.uk/whatwedo/rlos/completedrlos.php#studyskills (JV accessed 28 SEPT 2010).

Crème, P. (2005) ‘Should student learning journals be assessed?’Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 287–96. Available from: http://libezproxy.open.ac.uk/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602930500063850 (JV accessed 25 SEPT 2010).

Moon, J. (2001) ‘PDP working paper 4: reflection in higher education learning’ (online), The Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id72_Reflection_in_Higher_Education_Learning.rtf (JV accessed 26 SEPT 2010).

Moon, J. (2005) ‘Guide for busy academics no. 4: learning through reflection’ (online), The Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id69_guide_for_busy_academics_no4.doc (JV accessed 27 SEPT 2010).

Smith, C. and Haynes, R. (2005) ‘Reflective writing RLO’, London Metroplitan University. Available from: http://intralibrary.rlo-cetl.ac.uk:8080/intralibrary/open_virtual_file_path/i1026n24186t/reflective_writing/reflective_writing.html (JV accessed 28 SEPT 2010).

Smith, M. (1996) ‘Reflection: what constitutes reflection – and what significance does it have for educators? The contributions of Dewey, Schön, and Boud et al. assessed’ (online), The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education. Available from: http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-reflect.htm (JV accessed 26 SEPT 2010).

Supplementary resources

Chen, H.L., Cannon, D., Gabrio, J., Leifer, L., Toye, G. and Bailey, T. (2005) ‘Using wikis and weblogs to support reflective learning in an introductory engineering design course’ [online], paper presented at the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition, Research & Innovation in Engineering Education. Available from: http://riee.stevens.edu/fileadmin/riee/pdf/ASEE2005_Paper_Wikis_and_Weblogs.pdf (accessed 25 May 2010).

ERIC Digests, http://www.ericdigests.org/ (accessed 25 May 2010). Enter a keyword search for ‘reflection’.

Lister, S. (n.d.) Do it Yourself Reflectionhttp://www.educause.edu/blog/slister/DoityourselfReflection/165694 (accessed 25 May 2010).

Making Practice-Based Learning Work (n.d.), Reflectionhttp://www.practicebasedlearning.org/resources/reflection/intro.htm (accessed 25 May 2010).

Reiss, D. (n.d.) Donna Reiss’ Active Learning Online Resourceshttp://wordsworth2.net/webfolio/ (accessed 23 June 2009). See also a sample reflective hypertext essay at http://wordsworth2.net/webfolio/refhypertext.htm(accessed 25 May 2010).

Richards, C. (2005) ‘Activity-reflection e-portfolios: an approach to the problem of effectively integrating ICTs in teaching and learning’ (online), Teaching and Learning Forum, Curtin University of Technology. Available from: http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2005/refereed/richards.html (accessed 25 May 2010).

Sierra, K. (n.d.) Karina’s Writing Portfolio Wikihttp://cooper.pbwiki.com/Karina (accessed 25 May 2010).

Smith, M.K. (1996/2007) ‘David A. Kolb on experiential learning’ (online), The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education. Available from: http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-explrn.htm (accessed 30 SEPT 2010).

Trafford, P. (2005) ‘Mobile blogs, personal reflections and learning environments’ (online), Ariadne no. 44 (July). Available from: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue44/trafford/intro.html (accessed 25 May 2010).

University of Denver (n.d.) DU Portfolio Communityhttps://portfolio.du.edu/pc/index (accessed 25 May 2010). Enter ‘reflection’ in the keyword search box for examples of student reflection.

University of Warwick (2004) Recording, Summarizing & Reflectinghttp://www2.warwick.ac.uk/elearning/tools/blogbuilder/recordreflect/ (accessed 25 May 2010).






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