REFLECTION: Highly Underrated Learning Strategy

Yep. It’s true! In my opinion, REFLECTION is a highly underrated learning strategy.

Extensive studies of the brain, research into how we learn, and neuroscience all back me up. Yes, there are more fancy names for it, too. Constructivist theory, pedagogical approaches, brain-based learning, etc. Pick one you like. Moving on.

How do I know it is underrated? Simply because I’ve spent far too much time in so-called learning environments where the idea of REFLECTION never entered the designer’s head. Period. Early in my training career I read that it takes approximately 15 minutes of REFLECTION for every hour of instruction the learner experiences. Whatever the ratio, it makes complete sense. I think that most of us have come across similar references and know it matters, then simply move on with all of the design and development “goodness” in high gear because we just have so much for them to hear/learn/experience. And it is ALL REALLY important. Is it? Are you really, really sure?

Why does it matter? In layman’s terms, we learn through our brain finding familiar references and patterns, then the brain makes sense out of new information as it relates to those known references and patterns. If the brain doesn’t get the opportunity to reflect on information it just took in, there is no opportunity to find the known reference and link to it. There goes retention, right out the window.

Live learning events ask a lot of the learners’ brains.

See, hear–and listen, process and absorb. Learners are expected not to be distracted from the content even though the speaker’s voice is annoying, the room is too cold, and the visuals are sub par.

E-Learning isn’t any better.

The same potential issues apply.  Add to the mix, required click-throughs or a compliance component and again, retention is likely to go right out the window. Few, if any, e-learning events allow for learners to reflect on what they’ve learned. The design gently (or, not so gently) leads the learner ever forward to the END. Often the END is some form of quiz and evaluation.

When REFLECTION is not present, the learners’ brains are asked to manage through a heavier cognitive load.

Sometimes–no often, cognitive dissonance occurs. There is a reason that the American phrases, “Unable to walk and chew gum”, “Shiny object syndrome” and “Squirrel!” exist and are widely used “distraction” references.

Let’s take a moment to think about what competes with the learner’s attention when he/she is to be learning:

  • hearing to whatever ambient noise exists around them
  • listening to the speaker, whether live or in recorded form
  • paying attention to the visual aspects of the learning
  • taking notes or live tweeting them
  • cell phone has a blinking light indicating some form of message has been received and requires attention
  • planning for whatever is to occur when the learning event is ended

Then there might also be:

  • hunger pangs intensified by some delicious smells nearby
  • babysitter issues beforehand
  • traffic was a nightmare and a driver cut them off on their drive
  • crafting a grocery list in their head and
  • don’t forget to pick up dry cleaning on the way home
  • in other words… real life

That’s a lot of competition for one brain to focus through!

But all is not lost! You can start to build your courses to include reflection , whether live and in person learning events or self-paced e-learning. Take a minute right now and ponder the possibilities…

Not yet. Keep pondering, you’ll hit on at least one thought or idea worth trying…

But you don’t just have to take my word for any of this. Take a look at writings by John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, Daniel Goleman, Ned Herrmann, and others. Go ahead. Do it!

Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

2 thoughts on “REFLECTION: Highly Underrated Learning Strategy”

    • Hi Valerie. Thanks for sharing this article, I recommend everyone read it. The planets aligned, either that or we can mind-reading to our list of accomplishments. But in all seriousness, more time needs to spent by L&D people to incorporate reflection activities into their learning plans. Unfortunately, when there is a time crunch in the classroom those sorts of activities usually go out the window in favor of more information dump. *sigh*


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