Being a reflective learner

Being a reflective learner To become an independent learner you need to be reflective learner.

B reflecting on your study experiences, you develop insight into the ways you learn. Then gradually, as your insight grows, you become able to take control of your studies. The process of learning through reflection on experience is illustrated in Figure 1.1 (an adaptation of David Kolb’s diagram of the experiential learning cycle).

Kolb’sreflective learning cycle, adapted for study skills

Kolb’sreflective learning cycle, adapted for study skills

1 Planning

You look ahead to the course work you have been set and the deadlines for completing it. Youalso think about what is going on in your life, the time available for study and any difficulties you have to circumnavigate. Then you think strategically about how to manage the work: Which parts of the work present the toughest challenge? Which parts are most important to complete? In what sequence will you tackle the various tasks? What targets will you set yourself? How will you keep on learning well? How will you maintain your morale? Will you try out any new ways of doing things? Having thought about such questions, you then sketch out aplan in the formofatask list.

2 Doing

Then you work at your studies, following your plan as best you can.

3 Reflecting

At asuitable point, you pause to reflect on how your spell of study has gone. (It could be at the end of the day, the end of the week, or at point during your studies when things have ground to ahalt.) What have you achieved? Youtick off items on your list. What did you not complete? What events intervened? Did you feel you were learning well? What parts were tough going? What parts did you enjoy? Did anything go differently from previous sessions? Perhaps you make afew notes of your answers to these questions.

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4 Conceptualising

Then you try to make sense of what you have observed. What seems to help you learn?What seems to interfere with learning? Where did your strategy work best? Where did it go wrong? Did you misjudge some of the tasks, or the time required? How does this all fit in with your ideas about the way you learn? What changes in your approach to study might help you to learnbetter?

5 Continuing round the cycle

This brings you back to the planning process, as you look ahead to the next set of tasks. However,now, as aresult of the reflective process, you have more insight than last time. Youcan make better plans, which you then test out further by ‘doing’, ‘reflecting’ and ‘conceptualising’. In this way, as you continue your studies, circling round and round the reflective cycle, your understanding steadily deepens and you become more skilful in your learning. In reality, of course, the process of reflective learning is much more messy than Kolb’s diagram suggests. The four stages are not neatly separated off from each other.You might well ‘reflect’ on learning, or revise your ‘plan’ in the middle of ‘doing’ some study, or you might ‘make sense’ in anew way whilst you are ‘planning’. And mostly you are not aware of the four stages because it feels like asingle coherent process. However,the purpose of the diagram is not to propose astrict sequence of steps to carry out. Its value lies in helping you to think about the nature of reflective learning –what it involves and what it delivers. The essential point is to keep your approach to study under continual review. Youthink ahead about what you want to achieve and take note of what you actually achieve. And you ponder over your successes and your failures, so that you bring increasingly subtle insight to your studies.

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6 Keeping astudy diary

One way to take areflective approach is to keep adiary of your studies. If you write apage each week about what you have achieved and how you feel about it, this will trigger ideas about why you study in particular ways. Use headings such as ‘Main achievements’, ‘Main setbacks’,

Feelings about study’, ‘Lessons learned’, ‘Major tasks ahead’, ‘Ideas for tackling next tasks’. It can be an informal, loose-leaf diary –just sheets kept together in afolder As you look back over your notes, you will see patterns in your experiences of study. These will help you to think strategically about whether you are achieving as much as you could. Even keeping astudy diary for afairly short spell will stimulate valuable reflective and strategic thinking. Some courses may ask you to keep adiary, but you don’t have to wait to be asked.

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