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Content Preview: Models for structuring reflection

Example 1 - Kolb's Learning Cycle

Kolb's Learning Cycle is a well-known theory which argues we learn from our experiences of life, even on an everyday basis. It also treats reflection as an integral part of such learning. According to Kolb (1984), the process of learning follows a pattern or cycle consisting of four stages, one of which involves what Kolb refers to as 'reflective observation'. The stages are illustrated and summarised below:

Kolb's Learning Cycle Diagram. 4 stages arranged in a circle with arrows pointing clockwise from one to the next. The stages are - Experience: Do something; Reflect: Think about what you did; Conceptualise: Make generalisations; Plan: Bearing in mind your conclusions

Stage 1: Experience
(Kolb's "Concrete experiences")

Life is full of experiences we can learn from. Whether at home or at work or out and about, there are countless opportunities for us to 'kick-start' the learning cycle.

Stage 2: Reflect
(Kolb's "Reflective observation")

Reflection involves thinking about what we have done and experienced. Some people are naturally good at this. Others train themselves to be more deliberate about reviewing their experiences and recording them.

Stage 3: Conceptualise
(Kolb's "Abstract conceptualization")

When we pass from thinking about our experiences to interpreting them we enter into the realm of what Kolb termed 'conceptualization'. To conceptualize is to generate a hypothesis about the meaning of our experiences.

Stage 4: Plan
(Kolb's "Active experimentation")

In the active experimentation stage of the learning cycle we effectively 'test' the hypotheses we have adopted. Our new experiences will either support or challenge these hypotheses.

To learn from our experiences it is not sufficient just to have them. This will only take us into stage 1 of the cycle. Rather, any experience has the potential to yield learning, but only if we pass through all Kolb's stages by reflecting on our experiences, interpreting them and testing our interpretations.

Summing up, learning from our experiences involves the key element of reflection. Obviously, most people don't theorize about their learning in this way, but in their learning follow Kolb's cycle without knowing it.