What if there was a way to increase the impact of learning so that you have a richer experience and you retained and applied more content as a result?
The key is integrating reflection into the learning process.
The Benefits of Reflection
Critical reflection encourages deep exploration of past experience as you integrate new knowledge in that context. Reflection challenges you to question basic assumptions and biases and examine mistakes with the intention of learning from them. Through reflection, you make your own meaning of what you are learning, integrating new knowledge with current competencies to create a scaffold upon which you can build new skills.
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Promote Integration and Retention
Learning is more effective when you are more reflective. Learning coupled with reflection allows you to make meaning of what you learn and place it in the context of what you already know. Reflective practice is an intentional attempt to link past experience to new information. When learners link their own experiences to new information, they create meaning and discover the relevance as they connect it to what they already know.
By engaging in reflective practices such as discussion, listening to others or journaling, learners reinforce learning in ways that neuroscience indicates are vital to retention. Guided reflection can begin even before you take your seat. When you prepare your brain to learn by simply thinking about what you plan to learn, you have already activated the neurons that will be involved in learning. You have “primed the pump.” In addition to preparing to learn, your brain needs time and space to transfer new learning to stored memory for later retrieval. Reflection allows you to re-engage with the material, after some time, to refresh and recapture what was learned.
Before you attend your class, attend to your learning plan. Ask yourself, “What are the three most important things I plan to learn through this experience? How will this help me to be better?” After your class, assess how you did. What did you learn? How will you apply your new knowledge?
Bias exists naturally in the brain. It is designed to create shortcuts and efficiency in pattern recognition that can be protective. When bias is applied in situations where it is not needed, it becomes an impediment. Reflection reveals unconscious biases that affect learning and decision-making. Merely paying attention to the fact that there is a bias allows you to address it and decide if it will help or hurt you in your current situation. You may still have the bias, but you can intentionally decide that it is not helpful in your particular situation and act accordingly.
Critical reflection can unearth potentially harmful biases that prevent new learning and hinder the integration of new knowledge into existing knowledge and skills. When you identify and question your biases, you accept that bias exists. Recognize whether it is helpful or not, and mitigate the effects so you can be more effective in learning and retaining information.
Compare how you evaluate yourself when you feel successful and when you feel unsuccessful. What assumptions do you make about yourself, about the situation or about the material you were learning? Are those assumptions warranted? Are they helpful? How will you counteract them when they are unhelpful?
Reflective practice also builds confidence in the ability to apply new knowledge, another vital aspect of learning and application. Meaning, relevance and self-efficacy are powerful supports to learning, all brought together through critical, reflective practice. Learners recognize that the process of developing new skills and knowledge is dynamic and does not occur in a single event or a single location, such as a classroom or a computer screen. Carol Dweck illustrates this in her work on learning and addressing the triggers that can cause feelings of defensiveness when learning new information. You will learn more and integrate that learning over time when approaching learning with the mindset that difficulty is inherent in the process and that feeling challenged is a sign that you are learning rather than failing. Self-confidence provides fertile ground for new learning to take root and grow.
Identify where you felt most challenged during your learning experience. What did you feel? What did you decide to do or not do as a result of that feeling? How did you evaluate yourself when you felt challenged?
Reflection is Critical
Critical reflection is critical to learning. This type of reflection requires a willingness to lean out of your comfort zone and challenge your beliefs and biases, what you think about your own competency and how you catalog and apply your existing strengths. But, when applied, it yields a much richer and more lasting learning that is of particular importance to leadership development.
Critical reflection is critical to leadership. Both learning and leadership require humility, self-regulation and empathy to recognize one’s role in the process, appreciate it with reverence and apply it in a way to match the situation. Reflection allows integration of theory and practice, of learning and doing, in a context made relevant by reflection and self-assessment. Effective leaders and effective learners reflect and learn from mistakes. They are able to be critical in their reflection on actions taken so they can apply that learning in new or ambiguous situations.
Guided, critical reflection empowers you as a learner with meaningful development that sticks. As you integrate new knowledge in the context of experience, you will have more success practicing its application to facilitate behavior change. With reflective practice included in your learning, a short time in the classroom or online can lead to long-term learning results.
- Review the Reflection Tips throughout this post and capture your answers.
- Repeat whenever you face a challenge or a new learning experience.
- During your next class, take a moment to reflect!