Businessman sat at desk thinking pensively

Reflect to impress — the power of reflection

One of my Saffron colleagues wrote a blog last year, Musings on my performance appraisal, in which he considered how he could build time into his day for reflection on improving business performance. Well, his blog did part of its job, getting me thinking – well, reflecting to be more accurate – on the power of reflection. One reflection led to another and then to this blog, where I’m exploring the impact reflection can have on learning.

Reflection is a search for connections, a way of linking and constructing meaning from our learning and experiences that encourages the creation of insights and even wisdom. Reflection links a current experience to previous learnings. This involves drawing upon cognitive and emotional downloads from a variety of sources including visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile, as well as intuition. Reflection creates self-knowledge; it helps us take responsibility for our own learning and development; it is a tool for continuous improvement.

It provides a chance to listen not just to the cognitive elements of learning but also to the emotional context and reactions of learning experiences, boosting our emotional intelligence. We get to process information through the lens of our feelings, synthesizing and evaluating the various inputs. This is demonstrated in the Learning Cycle, developed by David Kolb, which outlines how deep learning comes from a sequence of experience, reflection, abstraction and active testing. Taking this one step further introduces the concept of ‘reflection in action’ where we reflect during an action without interrupting it. In this case, our thinking can re-shape what we are doing whilst we are actually doing it.

As learning professionals, we have the opportunity to incorporate this power of reflection within our learners’ journeys. We have the opportunity of enabling our learners to be producers, not just consumers, of knowledge. The key here is to construct meaning from the content of the learning AND the process of learning itself, encouraging depth of learning and self-knowledge, and allowing the application of the learnings to other situations through reflection. This supports the premise that learning then becomes a continual process of engagement that transforms the mind.

Incorporating this premise of reflective practice into the design of learning experiences adds a whole extra dimension to them. A recent example of this kind of design is the immersive business simulation Saffron Interactive created for a leading consultancy. Saffron included a reflective checkpoint exercise at the end of each unit where the learner takes stock of their learning, their experiences and their resulting behaviours. Through a self-assessment process, the learner is able to compare their view on their performance against their actual scoring within each unit. This provides the basis for their reflection and contributes to their self-knowledge in terms of perceived knowledge and behavior versus actual performance. Within this checkpoint process, the learner can build their own personalised tool kit for future reference and reflection. The autonomy the learner has within the course to create their personalised tool kit and capture their reflections adds to their level of commitment to their development. It enables their manager to have targeted personalised development conversations supported by the simulation assessments, learning reflections and their every-day performance.

The following are some examples of reflective tools you may find useful:

Storytelling is a wonderful reflective tool. We know that stories are products of reflection, and we also know that brain research has shown how story telling can help embed learning into the long term memory. The key is to hold onto those stories for long enough to make them reflections in their own right. This is where recording the stories becomes important, allowing you to reference and continue to build on the meaning, themes and learnings of the subject matter.

Facilitating discussions and interviews is another way of encouraging people to share their reflections about their learning and experiences.  This can be done face to face or using social collaboration tools.  Building a trusting environment is helpful to encourage people share their reflections. This external sharing of reflections has value because it multiplies the learning for each person, extending their learning experience with other peoples’ reflections and validating personal insights. A recent example of this activity is where Saffron Interactive utilised their client’s Yammer social collaboration account within a culture transformation programme they delivered for an engineering client. Saffron created an online community within Yammer where learners shared their reflections on best practice and encouraged people to learn from each other, sharing their all-important experiences, learnings and insights in a safe, supportive environment.

Using a learning log and journal is a great way of building the discipline and habit of reflecting, as well as an obvious method for capturing reflections.  You can use the content to review your learning journey and importantly see how your reflections have evolved throughout the journey. Here are some sample headings for your journal:

  • What happened? The event, the experience
  • Consequence? Result or outcome
  • Thoughts, feelings, reactions and impressions
  • Reflective conclusions – What worked? What didn’t? What would I do differently next time? What did I learn? How can I use this learning in other situations? What did I learn about myself? Am I being honest with myself? Is there a personal insight I can take from this?

If used effectively and purposefully, reflection can play a significant role in supporting ongoing personal and professional learning and development.  Whilst it is all well and good reading about the power of reflection, what really counts is setting aside the time and committing to the action. Are you reflecting? If so, are you harnessing the true power of reflection? If you aren’t reflecting then why not become a reflector for the next three weeks to kick start a habit? Open a Notes page in your phone or grab a notebook from the stationary cupboard, put in some of the reflective headings from above that appeal to you and start reflecting. And yes, you’ve guessed it, in three weeks’ time you will be able to reflect on how far you’ve come on your reflector journey!