Reflective learning is a way of life
To answer the question “What is reflective learning?”, it’s worth taking a step back.
The first thing to say is that the term “reflective learning” is not restricted to the world of learning and development.
Of course, we are all used to filling out post-training feedback forms where we are asked to reflect on what we’ve just learned. And it’s vitally important that we get this feedback so we can make changes to improve the learning experience.
But these forms are written and constructed from the trainer’s perspective and often fail to provide the learner with their own introspective analysis of whether their learning experience will impact their future performance.
That’s because “reflective learning” can’t simply be captured by a form or even a post-course interview.
Reflective learning is a way of life.
Enlightened individuals use reflective learning to critically analyse any experience they encounter in their lives, with a view to improving their own self-esteem and how they deal with situations in the future.
Forward-thinking organisations can create a learning culture that encourages self-reflection as part of their culture, empowering individuals to thrive personally and in the workplace.
This article examines the concept of reflective learning, and how it can improve individual and organisational performance.
Reflective learning requires honest self-evaluation and the right corporate culture
To be effective, learners need to be open and honest with themselves. The process involves a high level of critical evaluation and analysis. Learners need to accurately reflect, measure and monitor changes in knowledge levels, skills and performance during the learning process.
Pretending that improvement has taken place, or that skills have magically increased to make the learner feel better about themselves, will not result in self-improvement. This is something trainers need to emphasise. It’s also directly linked to a culture of openness that forward-thinking organisations recognise is vital to their people contributing to their own personal and organisational development.
A culture of fear will preclude reflective learning and prevent self-development. It can also have disastrous consequences for the organisation itself. In organisations with little room for self-reflective learning, employees may shy away from expressing legitimate concerns, leading to increased errors and missed opportunities for growth.
Reflective learning – the most powerful way to change workplace behaviour?
Learners need to have an accurate assessment of the gap that exists between their current levels of knowledge, skills and performance and where they need to be.
Having this gap accessed and communicated by an external trainer or assessor is powerful and done in the right way, can be inspirational.
Yet, the danger is that telling someone what they “should do” or “could do” can result in a defensive reaction. Let’s face it, most of us don’t like being told what we should be doing!
That’s why reflective learning is the most powerful way to change behaviour and improve the learning experience.
Learners that engage in reflective learning with an open mind and a genuine spirit of self-inquisitiveness will embed the learning experience in a far deeper way.
Communication is at its most powerful when you allow the learner to come to their own conclusions about where and how they need to improve performance.
They are far more likely to apply the learning in the workplace, but also in all other areas of their life.
It’s what we call “learning in the first person”, where learners ask themselves and honestly answer questions such as:
• What am I doing well?
• What could I improve on?
• What holds me back?
• What are my levels of self-belief?
• How well do I communicate with my colleagues?
• Where could I make more effort and have more impact?
• What could I do to play more of a team role?
• How can I support my boss and colleagues more effectively?
• Are there ways I can improve how I go about things?
• What skills do I have in abundance?
• What skills do I lack that could help me do my existing job better?
• What new skills do I want to acquire to boost my career potential within the organisation?
• What life skills do I need to make me a better person outside of work?
• Who are my role models?
• How can I improve my motivation levels?
• What new things could I be doing at work?
• What new things could I be doing outside of work?
How trainers can support reflective learning
The move to self-directed learning increases the importance of reflective learning.
Employees have never had such power. And they know it. With a global labour shortage, incumbent employees are vital to their organisations.
Employers cannot easily replace them and even if they do find the right people, will have to pay 30% more, according to a new study by Pew Research.
Retaining and attracting new talent is the biggest challenge for HR leaders today. Josh Bersin points this out:
“What’s the answer for employers? Don’t just lose people like this. We have to build capability for what we call Growth In The Flow Of Work. By building the right learning experiences and critical future skills, learning organisations can help workers amplify their future growth potential.”
Trainers have a huge role to play here.
Supported by their HR and business leaders, trainers need to step up to the plate and help to embed learning and development in the flow of work as part of an organisation’s learning culture. Bersin’s latest research places “Growth in the flow of work is L&Ds new mission”, at #1 out of 7 key findings.
Trainers will undoubtedly be running various programmes and courses “top-down” covering compliance training, induction, and skills improvement.
But an equally important part of the learning and development delivery needs to include a conducive, safe working environment for genuine self-reflective learning.
This can be encouraged as an individual activity. But it can also work as a shared activity. Including people in these sessions who embrace the virtues of true self-reflected learning, can inspire others to do the same.
Encouraging reflective learning can be achieved in a number of ways:
1. By clearly explaining what reflective learning is and how it can benefit individuals, teams and organisations.
2. Demonstrate how it can be applied using practical, relevant examples.
3. Create an environment for people to carry out reflective learning in the flow of work.
4. Make sure people have enough time and focus to critically evaluate their performance via reflective learning as part of their working day.
5. Prompt people to ask themselves questions that encourage reflective learning. This can be part of a formal process, or simply by asking a question such as “how do you feel today’s session went”.
6. Include forms and questionnaires for appraisals and assessments that prompt reflective learning and are documented as part of an individual’s record.
7. Bring in a motivational mentor figure who can inspire people to carry out reflective learning as part of their way of life.
Omniplex Learning works with many global organisations to implement a total L&D solution from one place. If you would like to find out more about how Omniplex Learning’s range of L&D services can deliver reflective learning to your organisation, please contact us.