Mirror, mirror on the wall - the beauty of active reflection

How active reflection forces people to learn to learn better.

Here's a flashback to my early Marketing days – does this scenario ring any bells?

"Now, as we reach the end of this workshop, I'd like you to spend 15 minutes writing down what you will do differently when you are back at work on Monday."

If you're anything like I was, that 15-minute Action Planning cue was my opportunity to look up the fastest train time home and plan my speediest exit route! I'd deal with Monday when it came - and yes, I'd had a fun day outside of the office.

Now, as a learning professional, supporting our Brand Learning team with excellence in facilitation, I have a wiser head on my shoulders and understand just how powerful reflection is as part of a learning experience.

The nature of reflection as a tool to change behaviour has shifted enormously in recent years, even though we have always understood its crucial role when 'behaviour-changing-learning' is at stake. Thankfully the days of my opening scenario are long gone. Here at Brand Learning we believe in Active Reflection, i.e. continuous participant reflection on personal learning outcomes, prompted by passionate facilitators spontaneously connecting with the individuals in front of them.

As we've discussed in our recent video on the Future of Learning, cognition (the skill of thinking) is one way we are helping people learn in a better way. We now incorporate cognitive thinking skills into our sessions through Active Reflection. This ensures our participants not only integrate new knowledge for immediate effective results but they also develop skills for on-going personal development.

Active Reflection creates opportunities for participants to consider, for themselves, what will help them develop best and indeed what questions could they be asking of themselves to elicit this self-insight. Active Reflection allows learners to examine their experiences, create new personal understanding, generate new thinking approaches and be agile in their behaviour change.

I'm sure you'll agree that this all sounds well and good – but how do you actually go about actively reflecting? Simply making an effort to think hard about what you have learned won't get you very far. Why not take 15 minutes following a learning experience to try these top 3 tips:

1. Reflect verbally - aloud. We call this TAR (Thinking Aloud Reflection). Thinking aloud helps increase memorability, gives you an opportunity for creativity and problem re-framing, and encourages tacit knowledge sharing within a group.

2. Be specific in your reflection. Ask: What did I do? What results did I get? What do I need to do to now to keep me on track? What is the most useful question, I could ask myself, to help me deliver my task?

3. Finally, don't be afraid to enter into a slightly uncomfortable zone. If there was an area where something didn't go as planned, what thoughts lead to that negative outcome? What can I do now to support future success?

In the world of learning it's metacognition that's fuelling this exciting and effective approach of active reflection; it turbo-boosts an individual's capability by helping them learn to learn better. Although it sounds quite complicated, metacognition is simply our ability to know what we don't know - to plan a strategy for gaining knowledge/insight and evaluating the productiveness of our own thinking.

So don't be afraid to step in front of that mirror for longer than usual and get actively reflecting. If we can help learners develop agile and effective responses using cognitive approaches, by combining new knowledge with new thinking behaviours, that's worth 15 minutes in my book.

Please read part two and three of this series on the future of learning Pop-in, pop-out, pop-up communities and How flipping the classroom can improve traditional learning techniques

For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly on LinkedIn. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Learning.

Join the conversation and share your opinions on Twitter or LinkedIn, where you’ll find our latest content as well as some of our favourite thought-pieces from other influencers.