4 Ways Reflection Helps You Learn
As the year winds down, taking the time to reflect can help you take stock of your achievements and set the stage for your learning accomplishments in the new year. Reflection, where you think about and analyze your learning experiences, plays an important role in how you retain, process and interact with information. Reflection is a positive way to determine what your strengths are, what could be improved, what progress you have made and where to go next. Here are a few of the key ways reflection can help you learn.
1. Reflection adds meaning
John Dewey, an influential figure in the field of educational reform, believed “we do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” Through reflection, you assign meaning to what you have learned. Learning material starts out as something external and unfamiliar that you are presented with, and the amount you engage with it can vary from skimming through an article to applying the information in a practical exercise. Reflection amplifies meaning when you look at the material in regards to your own progress and growth, as it becomes more personal when intertwined with your thoughts, analysis and feelings.
2. Reflection deepens ownership
The value we place on learning is greatly determined by ownership. Having ownership as a learner means that you are self-directed, in control of setting and achieving your goals. Ownership can increase feelings of pride and self-worth when accomplishing a task, as well as enhance your perceived value of what was learned. Reflecting on what you have learned increases ownership of that knowledge. Research has shown that reflection helps put into perspective how powerful ownership of one's learning is, and can "empower the learner to make intelligent decisions about how to move ahead with their learning needs". The more ownership you feel, the more invested you are in your learning outcomes, spurring you on to be more accountable and productive.
3. Reflection reveals progress
Reflection allows you to step back and gain perspective on what you have learned, developing insights into your progress. As learning happens gradually over time, it can be hard to remember when and where you learned something or how far you came in developing a skill. Due to this progressive nature of learning, without reflection it's easy to overlook your achievements and forget to give yourself credit for them. Likewise, you may fail to notice skills that need refreshing or further development. Reflection gives you the opportunity for an honest and objective view of your progress, identifying your strengths and weaknesses. By considering your learning progress in this way, you gain self awareness in identifying areas of growth and areas that need improvement, to set new goals and develop future skills.
4. Reflection aids knowledge retention
Have you ever wished that you could remember more, and recall information faster? Research has shown that reflection can strengthen memories and improve knowledge retention, positively influencing future learning. When you reflect, the information you have learned is replayed and reformed in the brain, fortifying your memories. Relating these new and existing inputs together causes biological changes in the brain, expanding and strengthening neuronal connections. While strengthening bonds of memory, reflection is a valuable tool for connecting information to give a deeper understanding of how seemingly separate ideas, concepts and experiences are interwoven. Alison Preston, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Texas notes that "nothing happens in isolation. When you are learning something new, you bring to mind all of the things you know that are related to that new information. In doing so, you embed the new information into your existing knowledge."
Reflective questions to ask yourself
Here are some questions to get you started on the reflection process about your learning this past year:
- What is something new you learned this year?
- What is something you learned this year that had a different outcome than you expected?
- What challenged you the most and how did you deal with it?
- What achievement are you most proud of?
- What is an area you feel you could improve in, and what steps will you take?
- What are your strengths, and how can you use them to your advantage?
- What are the next goals you plan to set for yourself?
- In what ways did you grow through learning this year?
Of course, you don’t have to save reflection for the end of the year. Reflection can take place at any stage of the learning process. You could do a quick daily or weekly reflection to stay connected and on track, asking questions like:
- What have you learned today?
- What challenges did you encounter and how did you resolve them?
- What do you plan to learn tomorrow?
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