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The Forgotten Role of Reflection in Learning

Posted on August 4, 2014 at 10:12 AM

John Dewey, a noted psychologist, philosopher and educational reformer, once said, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”

Reflection in the context of learning can be described as linking ideas and constructing meaning from our experiences. As learners, we need to reflect on our experiences in order to incorporate new information into our mental schemas.

Recent research has shown that taking just 15 minutes to reflect at the end of training can improve performance.

In the field study, groups of newly-hired customer-service agents undergoing job training were compared. Some were given 15 minutes at the end of each training day to reflect on the main things they had learned and write about at least two lessons. Those given time to think and reflect scored 23 percent better on their end-of-training assessment than those who were not. And these improvements weren’t temporary—they lasted over time, researchers found.

Unfortunately, the practice of reflection is missing almost entirely from most business learning situations. In business, time is money and there is rarely enough time built into a corporate classroom situation to cover the core content effectively, let alone take time to sit back and reflect on the information presented.

For example, in the near future we will be running a test class for a new week long course. There is a lot of material to get through in that week and at the end of it, attendees will be taking a test version of a related certification exam. While the course has plenty of practice built into it, I am not sure that there will be much, if any time, for reflection to truly integrate the learning. That remains to be seen but, my guess is that learners who are able to take the course over an extended period rather than all at once in a single week will have an easier time integrating the learning simply because they will have more time for reflection.

In e-Learning situations, learners again are rarely given enough time to actively reflect on what they are learning while working through a course. In practice, there seems to be much more emphasis on simply “getting through” an e-Learning course than to actually absorb the content and truly integrate the learning.

Quotation Confucius reflection learning

So what can we do to alleviate this problem? Using the assumption that companies will not be keen to add additional time to classroom sessions or in e-Learning situations, there are a couple of strategies that can help.

In the absence of adequate time to reflect, learners desperately need post-learning event support. Performance support systems are also imperative in this age of constant software upgrades and procedural changes. Learners that have a robust performance support system at their fingertips can extend their learning indefinitely beyond the classroom. And, for those procedures that will only ever be done once or twice a year, performance support can alleviate a ton of frustration and relearning.

The flipped classroom model can be used to almost automatically build in reflection. In a traditional classroom, content is typically presented by lecture and perhaps a few examples are given. Then learners are expected to leave the classroom and practice on their own. This can only get the learner so far in the reflection process. The ability to discuss ideas and concepts with instructors and peers is often needed to get the learner to the ultimate goal of understanding.

On the other hand, the flipped classroom approach presents content as the homework. The learner views or reads lecture information before a classroom session. The gap between the consumption of the “content” and the classroom session where learners can put what they have learned into practice encourages first individual reflection and then reflection in a group situation.

In summary, to provide an ideal environment for learner understanding and retention, reflection MUST be provided for in the course design and delivery. If that is not possible due to time or other restraints, performance support and/or the flipped classroom approach can help you bridge that gap.

If you have other thoughts on building reflection into corporate learning, we would love to hear from you.

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Andrea May

Currently Vice President of Instructional Design Services, Andrea joined Dashe & Thomson as Director, ERP Training in 2005 after working with the company as a contract Senior Consultant/Project Lead for almost 5 years in the areas of instructional design, training development, change management and communications. Prior to Dashe & Thomson, Andrea was an SAP Training and Change Management Consultant and Project Lead for DDS, Inc., where she provided consulting services to major companies in the Twin Cities, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Houston, and Saudi Arabia. Andrea specializes in customized instructional design and training development for large-scale ERP implementations, and in recent years her focus has shifted to primarily providing certified employee training programs for the propane industry. She is passionate about helping her clients find the best solutions to their unique training and performance challenges. She is a member of the Association for Talent Development (ATD) and the eLearning Guild where she has served as a speaker at their national conferences. At home Andrea is a voracious reader, a long-time Girl Scout Troop Leader, and she does her best to keep up with her teenage and not-quite-teenage daughters.

Learning Retention, Performance Support, ELearning, Reflection, Flipped Classroom Model