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How to Apply Reflective Learning to Corporate Training

How to Apply Reflective Learning to Corporate Training

In 1910, John Dewey, a noted psychologist, philosopher, and educational reformer, said, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” Over 2000 years ago, Confucius voiced a similar sentiment, “To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous.” Essentially, learning without reflecting upon it is wasted, and spending time in your thoughts and acting without learning is dangerous.

Reflective learning isn’t a new concept. It has long been used in academia, ever since Dewey and his peers began discussing experiential learning in the past century. Reflective learning is what it sounds like: reflecting upon learning experiences to derive meaning.

But the theory has been applied far less often in corporate training and development. When we apply this thought to designing and developing corporate training, questions arise, namely:

How can thinking about the content we’ve digested be better than practicing?

After all, who has time to sit around and reflect? Time is money, right? Learners whip through their eLearning courses and pass a test. They watch a video and get back to work.

However, studies show that leaving reflection out of the mix is bad for business. In particular, in their paper Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance, authors Francesca Gino and Gary Pisano of Harvard Business School, Giada Di Stefano of HEC Paris, and Bradley Staats of the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School, propose that adding time for reflection improves job performance and efficiency. In fact, they recommend including time for reflection over additional practice of tasks.

The authors came to this conclusion by conducting three separate studies. The first of them was a field study conducted at Wipro, a business-process outsourcing company that employed customer support call center agents. The authors compared groups of employees undertaking the same training, each group assigned to either reflection or additional practice. The results were clear:

“By being allocated to the reflection (rather than practice) condition, participants improved their score on the final assessment test by 14.843 points…, a 23.2% increase with respect to the average score for the entire sample.”

With evidence such as this, it’s obvious that we, as designers and developers of corporate training, should include reflection in our learning strategy. How can we do this?


Here are four strategies we’ve used:

  1. Build It In

There is no rule that your eLearning course needs to be all about microlearning and interactivity. (Though those things are great.) Include reflection questions instead of in addition to a knowledge check. In the below samples, we designed these responses to be either printed for the learner to keep, or sent to the instructor for review and feedback.

Reflection in eLearning Reflective Learning in the Workplace
  1. Provide Self-Assessments

We have long been proponents of including learner self-assessments in blended learning programs. Learners complete a self-assessment daily to assess where they are in learning and becoming proficient with core competencies and then review their reflections with a supervisor for feedback, coaching, and additional resources. As an additional bonus, the results of self-assessments can help managers plan additional training.

  1. Try the Flipped Classroom

The flipped classroom model can be used to almost automatically build in reflection. In traditional instructor-led training, content is typically presented by lecture. Learners are expected to leave the classroom and practice on their own. On the other hand, the flipped classroom approach presents the lecture content as homework, which the learner reads before a classroom session. The gap between the consumption of the lecture content and the classroom encourages first individual reflection, and then reflection in a group setting.

  1. Use Performance Support

In the absence of adequate time to reflect, learners need post-learning-event support. Learners that have a robust performance support system at their fingertips can extend their learning indefinitely beyond the classroom. Read more about how and why here.


Reflection questions can be structured in different ways. One way is to ask learners how proficient they feel in specific competencies post-training. Or you might use the Gibbs Reflective Cycle. The cycle presents a systematic way to think about an experience, consisting of six phases.

Gibbs Reflective Cycle For Corporate Training

Step 1: Description

The learner describes the experience objectively in detail without judgement. What happened? When, where, why, how, who?

Step 2: Feelings

The learner describes their feelings during the event, without judgement about those feelings. Self-awareness is the goal.

Step 3: Evaluation

The learner decides whether the experience was positive or negative. What went well? What didn’t? What was helpful? What wasn’t?

Step 4: Analysis

The learner analyzes the experience as a whole. What sense can be made from it? Why do they feel that way?

Step 5: Conclusion

The learner makes note of what they have learned, or how they could have approached the experience differently.

Step 6: Action plan

The learner develops an action plan for themselves for self-improvement.


The application of reflective learning to corporate training allows employees to derive meaning from what they’ve taken in. We know that when learners are more engaged when they have an emotional connection to what they’re being taught. Learning engagement promotes learning retention. And retention results in the improved work performance that all companies desire.


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