#PLENK2010 Reflective Learning

Reflective learning came up in the weekly round up Elluminate session today and Stephen asked Rita to expand on her understanding of reflective learning. It was one of those situations, where I was so busy trying to find my own response to Stephen’s question, that  I completely dropped out of Elluminate into my own thoughts – so apologies if this post crosses or repeats what has been said.

Every year I work, as a tutor on an online distance learning reflective learning course ( a short course – only 4 weeks), run by Oxford Brookes University,  which is based on the work of Jenny Moon and on which Jenny Moon is a tutor. The course is usually fairly small, numbers below 20, which is ideal for the subject, but we get participants from around the world, and it is always highly thought provoking and stimulating. People who attend the course already have a deep interest in the reflective learning process, and I love the course because I learn so much from them.

Today Stephen asked Rita to explain what she meant by reflective learning. This is a question that we ask our course participants, and which I have thought about deeply, since as a tutor on the course, I also share my own definition. My definition has developed a bit over the years, according to the reading I have done and also in response to participants on the course who have sometimes challenged my definition – but currently this is my thinking:

‘My own understanding (I hesitate to use the word ‘definition’) of reflection/reflective learning is that it is the process of thinking about my own thinking, actions or learning, with a view to gaining a deeper understanding of them and improving them, so that I can see the evidence in changed behaviour. This thinking will also involve examining my emotional response and how my feelings have influenced my thinking, actions and learning. To make this reflection significant, I need to mark it in some way, by talking about it or better still recording it in written form. Finally, I need to revisit the marked events at some later stage and note whether my learning has improved/moved on.’

This definition is based on the work of Jenny Moon and also on the work of John Mason, who have influenced my thinking and to whom I am grateful for their insights.

  • Moon J (2006) Learning Journals. Routledge Falmer
  • Moon J (2005) A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning. Routledge Falmer

Every year, I keep a blog in conjunction with the course  – Reflective Learning with Reflective Learners. The next course will run March 2nd to April 2nd 2011. Although it is only short, it is intensive and I always learn a lot from the course participants, which helps to keep my thinking about reflective learning alive and prevent me from forgetting its relevance to teaching and learning in general.

6 thoughts on “#PLENK2010 Reflective Learning

  1. ctscho October 24, 2010 / 10:08 pm

    Hi Jenny,

    I ran across this piece (http://www.futurity.org/top-stories/bigger-brain-for-those-who-self-reflect/) on research about “introspection,” which seems to relate closely to the concept of reflection. It raises the idea that introspection “lives” in a part of the brain which has varying levels of development in different individuals. While it’s not clear whether a larger area means more ability, or whether more opportunity for this mode of thought leads to more brain development in this area (or any number of other options!), it does lead me to wonder about what this is going to mean for learning in complex situations going forward.

    One of my idle speculations has been that the later learners are introduced to learning processes that require reflection and introspection, the harder this transition is. Observationally, I’ve found that learners who come from a traditional learning environment to one that requires more independent and self-reflective decision-making after about the age of 10 or 12 are much more resistant and reluctant, and sometimes even hostile, to the new expectations. While there are of course many possible reasons for this, it all makes me wonder if it might be because the brain hasn’t (yet) been wired for such tasks… and then I wonder whether reflective adult learners can have this expectation for all learners…

    Carmen

  2. jennymackness October 25, 2010 / 6:00 pm

    Hi Carmen – thanks so much for such an interesting and thought provoking response to my post. I never know in these instances whether I should be responding to you here, where others can see how the conversation develops, on your blog where the response would likely be out of context, or in private by email. I have decided to respond here, but it does mean that you have to come back to see it – sorry!

    I think the idea that there is a relationship between the size of your brain and those that self-reflect is an interesting one – but I for one, don’t know what the significance is of having a bigger brain – does bigger necessarily mean better – and intuitively I didn’t have any confidence in the researchers’ claim that

    ”Someone who is good at introspection will be confident when they know they are correct, because they have seen it clearly. But they will be less confident when they are not sure whether they are right or wrong.”

    I am personally never confident that I am correct, but all the tests that I take show that I am introspective – maybe the tests are wrong.

    Also again on the basis of my own personal experience (so no objective evidence to back this :-)) I am not sure about your comment

    “One of my idle speculations has been that the later learners are introduced to learning processes that require reflection and introspection, the harder this transition is.”

    My experience has been that reflection and instrospection can be taught and learned at any age. What is interesting is the level that learners can achieve and I don’t find this to be age related. Some people whatever their age just seem to have a greater disposition to be reflective and introspective.

    I am sometimes amazed at how reflective young children can be – it can be moving to hear them talk about their experiences and learning – but I have been equally moved by adult learners who suddenly realise what reflective learning is all about and that they have the ability to express themselves and share their learning in terms that they might previously never have thought possible.

    And I would like to stress that I am certainly not an expert with respect to reflective learning – just interested 🙂

    Jenny

  3. ctscho October 25, 2010 / 7:22 pm

    Hi Jenny,

    I agree– everyone has the potential from growth and development at every age. (And I agree that was a spectacularly misleading headline on that article!) My also decidedly non-scientific and non-expert speculations are coming out of a concern for lost potential… one of those non-measurable things that haunts me at odd hours:-) It seems like all of the developments in brain research are offering opportunities not just to understand individuals, but also to understand what optimal environmental factors can influence individual development. After reading your response (and this response venue is just fine with me), I started wondering if there was a difference between the ability to reflect or be introspective about a single point in time or thought or conceptual cluster, and the introspective ability necessary to move on the “next step,” or whatever we’d call this kind of development. I can reflect on why something did/didn’t work, but does it take a different level of awareness/reflection to try something new, to create a change in my actions or beliefs, for example? Of course, we can count on George to point us to the actual science of the matter:)– he just tweeted: “Reading ‘foundations for a new learning science’ http://bit.ly/c0H312” Seems to hit the high points on the things that we’re messing with here!

  4. jennymackness October 25, 2010 / 9:39 pm

    Thank you Carmen – I can fully relate to your concern for lost potential. In my experience with students and members of my own family this is often related to levels of confidence. People either have to have sufficient confidence in themselves to be able to recognise their potential, and/or have someone close to them – parent/partner/friend – who has sufficient belief and interest in or love for them to build this confidence when it doesn’t exist.

    I was also very interested in your comment:

    > After reading your response …. I started wondering if there was a difference between the ability to reflect or be introspective about a single point in time or thought or conceptual cluster, and the introspective ability necessary to move on the “next step,” or whatever we’d call this kind of development. I can reflect on why something did/didn’t work, but does it take a different level of awareness/reflection to try something new, to create a change in my actions or beliefs, for example?<

    I mentioned that I have worked with Jenny Moon on a Reflective Learning course for Oxford Brookes University. Jenny Moon always stresses the necessity of revisiting your marked reflections at a later date so that you can attempt to measure whether or not you have made progress, either in changed thinking or changed behaviour.

    In my own personal/private blog – which I call Commonplace Thoughts – I revisit it at least annually and go back through posts and edit them according to whether my thinking has changed – so perhaps even at this level where we are trying to do "something new, to create a change in …actions or beliefs", reflective thinking followed by action can be taught as a skill or strategy for personal development?

    But the interesting thing that I have noticed is that some people respond to this (i.e. when I am talking about it when teaching) and others do not and I am never sure whether it is a question of ability, readiness, understanding or interest.

    Thanks for helping me to think this through – whether or not our thinking is on similar line 🙂

    Jenny

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