Reflection in Higher Education Learning

Topics: Learning, Knowledge, Reflection Pages: 16 (4164 words) Published: April 15, 2014
PDP Working Paper 4: Reflection in Higher Education Learning Jenny Moon


Personal development planning (PDP) can involve different forms of reflection and reflective learning. Much has been written and said about reflection in recent times, but for many, it remains a somewhat mysterious activity – or is it a capacity? Whatever it is, if the titles of modules and courses, and references in QAA benchmark statements are anything to go by, we are using it extensively in a range of contexts in learning and professional development in higher education. This paper is intended to provide a background to reflection and reflective learning for the development of PDP within the higher education sector. It will provide a brief guide to current thinking about reflection, a discussion of its application in higher education learning and some practical support for the use of reflective activities.

Developing a conception of reflection

Like many topics in higher education, the notion of reflection has encouraged both a theoretical and a practical literature. The focus of this paper is primarily on the practical uses of reflection but a brief discussion of theoretical approaches will locate the thinking in an academic context and it will facilitate further study of the topic where this is required. The aim in this section is to produce a conception of reflection that takes account of the theory but that can be applied practically and usefully in formal and informal learning contexts. But we start from where we are…..

Starting from where we are……a common-sense view of reflection

There is no point in defining reflection in a manner that does not relate to the everyday use of the word if further confusion is not to be created. ‘Reflection’ a word we use in everyday conversation. What might we mean by it?

In common-sense terms, reflection lies somewhere around the notion of learning. We reflect on something in order to consider it in more detail (eg ‘Let me reflect on that for a moment’). Usually we reflect because we have a purpose for reflecting – a goal to reach. Sometimes we find ourselves ‘being reflective’ and out of that ‘being reflective’, something ‘pops up’. There has been no conscious purpose as such – but there is a useful outcome and there may have been a subconscious purpose. It is also apparent that we reflect on things that are relatively complicated. We do not reflect on a simple addition sum – or the route to the corner shop. We reflect on things for which there is not an obvious or immediate solution. Often the latter will be instigated by or associated with a range of feelings and the experience of such reflection may be emotional or spiritual. We return to issues concerning emotion and reflection later.

It would seem that reflection is thus a means of working on what we know already. We put into the reflection process knowledge that we already have (thoughts, ideas, feelings etc), we may add new information and then we draw out of it something that accords with the purpose for which we reflected.

A simple definition of reflection might be:

Reflection is a form of mental processing – like a form of thinking – that we use to fulfil a purpose or to achieve some anticipated outcome. It is applied to relatively complicated or unstructured ideas for which there is not an obvious solution and is largely based on the further processing of knowledge and understanding and possibly emotions that we already possess (based on Moon 1999):

Some theoretical approaches to reflection

Reflection is theorised in so many different ways that it might seem that we a looking at range of human capacities rather than apparently one. To start with, we review briefly several of what might be called the ‘classical’ approaches.

John Dewey wrote on the educational implications of a range of human mental functions over the earlier years of the twenty first century. His...

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