“Reflective practice, or proactive-based learning as it is sometimes called, is learning that is acquired through reflection on or in practice (experience).” (Merriam, S., Bierema, L., 2014, p.115). What caught my attention most, while researching this quote, was the ground breaking work done by Donald Schon. Donald Schon and his books, The Reflective Practitioner (1983) and Educating the Reflective Practitioner (1987) were instrumental in the implementation of reflective practice within the adult education and the social science professions. There are two main concepts of reflective practice 1.) Reflection-on-action, commonly referred to as experiential learning- the learner is consciously reflecting about an experience after the fact 2.) Reflection-in-action – reflection occurs concurrently while the learner is in the experience. (Merriam, S., Bierema, L., 2014, p.115)
During reflection-on-action the learner is able to evaluate their experience, discover strategies that work, identify those that don’t and develop goals and strategies to implement change in future practice. Prior to engaging in reflection-on-practice it is important “to identify exactly what the key elements are- what makes this an incident worthy of reflection?” This is the beginning or superficial phase of reflection, from there the learner must relate prior or tacit knowledge to the experience- “how is theory relevant?” It is then necessary for the learner to evaluate and challenge their personal perceptions, beliefs and possible lack of comprehension regarding the situation- “what did you bring to the situation that had an impact? What didn’t you bring (knowledge, openness) that may had made the situation different?” Through a thorough investigation of these components, the learner is able to distinguish any changes that could be implemented during future practice. The concluding stage of reflection occurs when the learner is able to implement those changes within themselves, their beliefs, values, opinions and how they view others. This final (deep) stage of reflection is considered critical reflection. (italics in original, Barradell et al., 2015). As stated by Kenny (2010) Mezirow defined critical reflection as the process that “occurs when we analyze and challenge the validity of our presuppositions and assess the appropriateness of our knowledge, understanding and beliefs given our present contexts.
Reflection-in-action differs from reflection-on-action in that it occurs simultaneously with the experience, the learner is required to act on their feet and make decisions based on the current situation and knowledge. In reflection-on-practice “the focus is on gaining a new perspective, rather than just solving the problem. Because it is happening on the spot, this type of reflection often appears very intuitive. It can take some time to develop the skills of reflection-in-action – it often is a skill associated with the development of expert practice.” (Barradell et al., 2015)
Schon’s notion of reflective practice “resonates with what we adults know to be true about our learning. Our learning is rooted in practice/experience, even if the experience is one of formal education; and for learning to occur, we need to reflect on or in the experience.” (Merriam, S., Bierema, L., 2014, p.117)
Through thorough analysis of the aforementioned quote, I was able to build on my prior knowledge of reflective practice. In order for a learner to experience both personal and professional growth and development, which may lead to changes in their practice, it is necessary for them to implement critical reflection strategies. As an adult educator it is imperative for me to encourage and facilitate the reflective process. As well, it is necessary for me to implement these critical reflective skills in my own practice, in order to validate my own continuing competencies.
My ‘aha’ moment, regarding the need for critical reflection, occurred not when I read this particular quote, but when I came across a quote from Kinsella (2001) which argues that “action without reflection leads to meaningless activism, while reflection without action means we are not bringing our awareness into the world.” (Barradell et al., 2015). This quote validated for me that no matter how much a learner reflects on a situation, if that learner does not implement the critical reflection stage; imparting change in their current practice, beliefs and values; then they have essentially learned nothing. In order for one to continue their pursuit of personal and professional growth and development, critical reflection is an outmost essential stage in the process.
As an adult educator it is necessary to teach students the skills of critical reflection and to encourage and facilitate its’ use. Critical reflections takes time, commitment, honesty and motivation, on the part of the learner. The process of critical reflection must be learner-centered, as each individual needs to be fully engaged in the activity to achieve the most personal and professional growth and development. During education sessions it is necessary to implement critical reflection activities within the classroom. This allows the learner the time to practice these skills and also gives the educator an opportunity to facilitate and guide the process as necessary. I feel that one of my main goals as an educator is to help develop critically reflective practitioners who strive to become life-long learners.
In order for me to continue my own personal and professional growth and development it is necessary for me to engage in my own critical reflection activities. As an adult educator it is important for me to evaluate the effectiveness of my teachings and whether my course objectives are being met. In order to achieve this task, I provide my students with course and instructor evaluations. Once received I compile these results and create goals and objectives for future courses based on the feedback I receive. This process allows me to recognize my strengths and shortcomings, and areas I need to focus on changing in the future.
I am thankful to have an employer that recognizes the need for adult educators to have sufficient time to participate in critical reflection. They also support this process by providing personal and professional growth and development workshops/courses to all employees who are interested in participating. I am a huge advocate of becoming a life-long learner so I engage in as many of these workshops/courses that my time permits.
Barradell, S., Connors, A., Ennals, P., Burnett, M., Murphy, F., Karasmanis, S. (2015). Reflective practice in health sciences: Models of Reflection. Retrieved from http://latrobe.libguides.com/reflectivepractice
Kenny, N. (2010). What is critical reflection. Retrieved from http://opened.uoguelph.ca/pdf/Critical%20Reflection.pdf
Merriam, S. B., & Bierema, L. L. (2014). Adult learning: Linking theory and practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.