“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience”
Dewey (from H. Barrett)
“Although in many cases the reflections will be about their formal learning, it could include examples from all forms of learning: ‘formal and informal, institutional and non-institutional, structured and eclectic.'”
EPISTLE final report p4
"I think anything that encourages people to write more I think is good, and I think that you can use it anytime, anywhere is definitely a benefit, and especially if you’ve got a busy timetable, it’s much easier to fit in fifteen minutes of an evening to write a reply to someone than it is to try and meet up with someone"
Student comment, HeLM project
The process of reflection through which learning experiences are explored can lead to deeper levels of learning (Barrett, 2004b) and help develop a range of skills essential to lifelong and lifewide learning. It is also a central element of Personal Development Planning and Continuing Professional Development.
Characteristics of reflective learners
Reflective learners are likely to be more self-critical, self-aware, independent in their learning, motivated, self-managed and open to feedback and different approaches. By engaging with reflection and the associated processes of self-evaluation, action planning and goal setting, levels of achievement can be raised as evidenced by Becta’s report on the impact of e-portfolios on learning (Hartnell-Young et al 2007).
The potential of e-portfolios to aid reflective practice in learning has been recognised (Barrett, 2004a; Roberts et al., 2005; Bruce, n.d.) and a number of projects have explored this. The ISLE project, for example, found that using e-portfolios for reflection and articulating learning increased learner engagement and motivation to learn.
One of the key tools for reflection is an online diary or blog. Evidence shows how developing an online journal or blog can encourage personal reflection and critical and analytical thinking amongst learners (Williams & Jacobs 2004). In the early stages at Hull College blogs were used as online diaries but less well as tools for reflection. As Rose Papworth and colleagues explain in the Helpp presentation, learners can use blogs for reflection but only when support and personal comments are provided from workplace mentors and tutors to help guide them in the reflection process.
Benefits of reflection
The benefits of reflection are not always perceived by learners themselves and the need to develop skills for reflection is often underestimated. This was recognised during the Comport project which reported that ‘the ability or readiness of learners to engage in critical reflection should not be assumed’. As DiBiase (2002) states, just because learners are developing an e-portfolio, it cannot be assumed that reflection and learning are taking place.
It is also often assumed that learners will already possess the skills and ability to be reflective and will naturally engage with the process. Learners may lack confidence and experience and ‘will need structured personal development support.’ (Beetham and Strivens 2005). In a paper-based portfolio introduced at Edinburgh University a substantial amount of time was required for learners to be able to reflect on their learning and the development of their learning (Stefani et al 2007).
How to engage learners with reflection
Learners will not necessarily enjoy reflecting in an e-portfolio. In the FILE-PASS project, ‘isolated’ learners did not necessarily appreciate the reflective processes incorporated into the e-portfolio: ‘I don’t think it’s been very useful to me as it’s just telling me things about myself which I already knew.’ (FILE-PASS Final Report p5). However, when one-to-one or close tutorial support was provided this helped the learners, in this case, to engage in the reflective process.
The ISLE project showed that tutors themselves were not necessarily engaged in the reflective process, particularly during the early stages. However, during the latter stages of the project, the interviews showed that discomfort around the concept of refection has all but disappeared.
The HeLM project, working with learners in a Medical environment, recognises the very different learning circumstances of workplace learners, in which learning opportunities are somewhat opportunistic and spare time is short. It offers a pedagogic approach grounded in experience-based self-directed learning, supported by reflective learning in ‘bite-size chunks’ through social discussion forums and by two-way feedback between students and staff.
WOLF examined how the use of PDAs by Teaching Assistants could help develop their e-portfolios and their use to support later reflection (both group and individual). The project has produced resources to support practitioners in designing reflective learning activities based on work-based learning scenarios using Pocket PCs to capture evidence for portfolios, e.g. animations, handouts and web pages.
E-portfolios can be used as a tool to support group reflection. An example of this use is on a Masters course in Engineering at the University of Strathclyde. The course tutors noticed that when students were asked to collaborate within groups, there were often problems in terms of time management and around the effectiveness of assigning roles to each of the students. The e-portfolio was used as a means by which all students and tutors could review the information and resources pertaining to the group project. The students designed the structure, with advice from the tutors.
There are many guides and resources regarding reflection, for example, Jenny Moon’s Guide for Busy Academics No.4: Learning through reflection provides an introduction to reflection in the learning environment.
Further guidance is also available in our tutor guidance section.