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Reflective practices for learning

Researchers have noticed that some learners think a great deal about their experiences but others do not. This means that by analysing their successes and mistakes, some learners learn rapidly while others miss valuable opportunities to learn and improve.

Reflective thinking enables you to review and learn from previous experiences, and can also help you maintain perspective and check-in with your own ambitions and values.

Through reflection, you can:

  • Assess your previous academic performance and identify ways to improve
  • Identify effective study and learning habits to practice further
  • Identify not so effective habits to abandon or improve
  • Evaluate situations in the moment and respond appropriately

Argyris and Schon (1977) proposed a theory to guide reflective practice. Their theory suggests two ways of reflection:

Reflection in action

When you reflect on what is happening in the present moment.

This type of reflection prompts you to pause and think before you act. It is very useful in learning situations where you are under pressure (in tests and exams for example) or in conflict situations (in group work for example). You are likely to respond better if you delay your response and think things through first. To reflect in action:

  • Consider the situation
  • Take time to think about how you will respond
  • Take action

Reflection on action

When you reflect on an experience after the fact.

This type of reflection encourages you to think about an experience that has occurred, analyse what worked well and what didn’t and identify ways that you might improve next time. In learning situations, it can be useful to reflect on how you performed in your assignments and courses to identify areas that require improvement. Reflection on action encourages you to learn from experiences and failures so that you can do better next time. To reflect on action:

  • Consider the situation
  • Think about what worked well and what didnt
  • Think about how you will respond next time to achieve a better outcome

Pause to reflect

  • Think about the results of your last assignment. Were you pleased with the result? If so, what learnings can you use for your next assignment? If not, what will you do differently?
  • Reflection in action requires a degree of calmness to think clearly before you respond. What are some things you might do to help you stay calm in certain situations?


Argyris, C., & Schon, D. A. (1974). Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness. Jossey-Bass.