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Learning becomes effective as individuals consider, and re-think, their existing thought and behaviour patterns.

Reflection is an integral part of learning. However, reflection alone is insufficient to develop better practice. Practice alone is not enough because ‘mere practice can lead youngsters to entrench their old patterns of thinking rather than repatterning and depatterning to develop more effective thinking’ (1). It is for this purpose that reflective intelligence is necessary.

Experiential Learning Cycle

There is a body of knowledge relating to ‘experiential learning’. Often cited with regard to both general and vocational education. An experiential learning cycle encompassing experience, theory-generation, reflection and more experience is intuitively sound (2). This learning cycle is widely used as an example of pedagogy in action. It helpfully connects theory to practice and reflection to action.

However, as a pedagogical theory, the cyclical approach to experience can appear to be too neat with regard to how we learn. For example, sometimes we learn more effectively when we develop a theoretical understanding first and then test it out later in practice; whilst at other times, such a conceptual orientation actually disrupts or retards experiential learning.

Teaching for Reflection

It is not sufficient to teach with the aim of imparting ‘knowledge’ or ‘skills’. Instead, teaching must enable learning (3), and teaching for reflection is a way of achieving this. Reflection is fundamental to learning and provides a basis for future action (4).

Effective learning through work happens as individuals reflect on events at work – including errors (5). Tsang suggests (3) the ability to reflect is a highly desirable attribute to cultivate in ‘professionals’ – and we would include all forms of practitioner – because of the way ‘it signifies quality assurance through a sustained cyclical process of self-examination, self-evaluation, self-directed learning, enlightenment, self-optimization and transformation’.

The Reflective Learner

Reflectiveness is about being ready, willing, and able to become more strategic about learning (6). It relates to self-knowledge and self-awareness. The reflective learner:

  • Plans: taking responsibility for organising his learning.
  • Revises: changing plans to cope with the unexpected.
  • Distils: drawing out useful lessons for practice from experience.
  • Engages in meta-learning: drawing out useful lessons for learning from experience.

Integrating Reflective Practices into Vocational Education

Reflection is often interpreted as reflective writing or reflective journaling, in practice. Yet evidence for the efficacy of either is inadequate and controversial (3) and there are pedagogic difficulties in using learning journals to enhance learning, although they can be useful given correct guidance (7). Finding ways of integrating reflective practices into students’ learning in vocational education is a central challenge to the construction of vocational pedagogy.


  1. Perkins, D. (2010). Mindware and the Metacurriculum. [Online]. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University School of Education. Retrieved on Sep. 17, 2012, from http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/future/creating_the_future/crfut_perkins.cfm
  2. Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  3. Tsang, A. K. L. (2011). In-Class Reflective Group Discussion as a Strategy for the Development of Students as Evolving Professionals. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning [Online], 5(1) Retrieved on Jul. 3, 2012, from http://academics.georgiasouthern.edu/ijsotl/v5n1/articles/Tsang/index.html
  4. Ayas, K. & Zeniuk, N. (2001). Project-Based Learning: Building communities of reflective practitioners. Management Learning, 32(1), 61-76.
  5. Hetzner, S., Gartmeier, M., Heid, H. & Gruber, H. (2011). Error Orientation and Reflection at Work. Vocations and Learning, 4, 25-39.
  6. Claxton, G. (2007). Building Learning Power. Bristol: TLO Limited.
  7. Barnard, J. (2011). Reflection on a Personal Learning Journey: Learning journals in use. Enhancing Learning in the Social Sciences [Online], 3(3) Retrieved on Sep.14, 2012, from http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/subjects/csap/eliss/3-3-papadopoulou.

The article is from the report “How to teach vocational education: A theory of vocational pedagogy” by Bill Lucas, Ellen Spencer and Guy Claxton, The City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development (December 2012)

Lucubrate Magazine September 2019

The picture on top of the article student girl reflecting at the library, by Syda Productions.

Student reflecting around the work in the textile factory

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