Why Reflect? The Role of Reflection in the Learning Process – Tip #68

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Traveling is a painful process, even when one is having a vacation. I must admit though, that traveling especially at a time when I am less interrupted, like while on the plane or at the airport or just in a restaurant, allows me to reflect. The break from the routine becomes a gift –  a time for reflection. I always look forward to these contemplative moments.

Why Spend Time Reflecting? 

Here are some of the top reasons why reflection is important:

It deepens awareness of one’s learning. In the words of Rachel Ong, “Learning is not just a process of accumulation of information. Instead it is about how the new knowledge that the learner encounters is integrated with his existing schemata of prior knowledge.” This is particularly true when reflections provide meaning to the process one is engaged in
Realize that while you learn a thing or two from experience, you actually learn more when you reflect on it. While it may sound a bit extreme, the words of John Dewey come to mind when he said, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”
Reflection automatically creates a story out of your own experience, making it easy for your brain to understand it. This is supported by various studies. In fact, this was pointed out in one of our previous tips that the brain lights up and gets pumped up when we tell or listen to good stories. Researchers in Spain found out that compared to a plain, straight-laced, bullet-point presentation, using a story in presentations activates more areas of the brain. Multiple sections of the subjects’ brains were lighting up as though they were experiencing the story in real life!

One compelling reason I love reflection is the joy I experience when I am in a reflective mode. It’s a time when things seem to coalesce and become clearer. This excites me to take action. 

The Importance of Journal Keeping

Journaling is key to my reflection. I write my thoughts in all sorts of places and sometimes, I forget where I wrote them. I have a Moleskine – but I don’t keep one. Then I also jot down notes in Evernote and discussion rooms and mostly on the wall.

So, I begin to suspect that journaling may have very little to do with writing and going back to your notes. Rather, it frees my mind to continue reflecting.

I am guilty of being so disorganized – but I am good at  getting the most out of my reflections. Here are some advantages that I discovered about journaling.

It forces you to reflect on the day’s event and put it in writing. This “hard copy” of the day’s experience preserves the learning that has taken place and saving it from our fickle memories.
Journal entries make you more aware of the learning that has taken place. Not only  that, it also makes you cognizant about the kind of learning that has happened.
Journaling aids you in the knowledge construction since it helps you relate prior knowledge to new information. It’s like adding new bricks on top of old ones that are already well connected together

Reflection as a Learning Tool

The gift of reflection is an indispensable learning tool. People from all walks of life; young and old, educated or not, use reflection to make sense of the environment in which we live in and we do it without even being aware of it. It is an automatic tool that the brain uses to make sense of experience.

The process of reflection is both a conscious and subconscious act on our part and we use it to gain more insight into our daily lives. Without this ability, we can all say goodbye to in-depth learning because it just can’t happen. Reflection gives us the ability to drill that knowledge in!

Stand back and think of a situation. What have you learned? What new perspective have
you gained? Are you able to make sense of your experiences? Are you able to construct meaning and knowledge that guide actions in practice? All that is possible because of our
ability to reflect.

Telling Stories as a Form of Reflection

One way to do reflection is to ask another person their own version of your own story or experience. This is how most of my deeper discoveries happen – by listening to others’ stories and how they relate to mine.  

In another tip, I mentioned about StoryCorps–the winner of the million-dollar TED Prize 2015. It is a company that is in the business of collecting stories. They would bring together people who know each other well and put them inside a recording booth for 40 minutes. For the allotted time, husband and wife, mother and son, father and daughter would have a real conversation which would dig deeper into the stories that they have inside.

Technologies that Help Enhance Reflection

I mentioned Evernote, right? Nowadays, we don’t lack the tools that enhance reflection.  

As a matter of fact, technology-facilitated learning is already mainstream. Companies and organizations are hard pressed in coming up with BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices) policies so that workers can now freely bring with them their own devices. The same thing happens in the educational front. According to Katrina Strampel and Ron Oliver, “Instructors, therefore,are faced with two challenges: implementing technology and increasing reflective learning.”  

The reason behind this is that, technology enhances reflection and therefore, learning.

A few examples are:

Online Forum
Digital Storytelling

The Digital Storytelling Association provides the following definition of digital storytelling: it is the modern expression of the ancient art of storytelling. Digital stories derive their power by weaving images, music, narrative and voice together, thereby giving deep dimension and vivid color to characters, situations, experiences, and insights.

Centeredness of Self and Learning

What happens during reflection is allowing our minds to crystallize many of our ideas, experiences, discoveries, conflicts and gaps in knowledge into a discernable and understandable set of knowledge. I think that reflection is a precursor to learning and action.  

I remember what Picasso said,


Alaa Sadik: Digital storytelling: a meaningful technology-integrated approach for engaged student learning 
Rachel Ong: The role of reflection in student learning: a study of its effectiveness in complementing problem-based learning environments
Helen Barrett and Jonathon Richter: Reflection4Learning Ray Jimenez: Your Brain Prefers Interactive Stories: Not Lectures
Ray Jimenez: Is Your Organization Losing Its Brain? Collecting Stories to Transfer Knowledge  
Katrina Strampel and Ron Oliver: Using Technology to Foster Reflection in Higher Education: School of Communications and Contemporary Arts, Edith Cowan University

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”