Friday, 20 November 2015

Reflecting: where Schön meets Kolb

Reflection is a critical component of learning. It is our intentional attempt to synthesise, apply the abstract to the concrete, and to HONESTLY articulate the key lessons learned within our experience (Schön, 1983).

Reflection is critical to developing as a professional, because it helps us challenge our attitudes, beliefs and assumptions. Otherwise, they too become concrete, and possibly too rigid. Instead of being open, we become closed.

Purposeful reflections on one's own accumulated experiences leads to greater learning as we accumulate more experience. We get a boost in learning - and build our self-efficacy - because reflection builds our confidence in achieving a goal. In turn, that translates to higher levels of learning and retention.

Kolb proposed a model of adult learning in 1984 (which I have written about before here). Kolb's work looks at how adults transform information into useable knowledge. He proposed that all learners work on two axes: north to south is prehension, and east to west is transformation. Prehension is where we move from being fearful of new learning to understanding it. Transformation is where we move from just watching and thinking, to doing and being.

Kolb (1984) considered what happens at each of the four quadrants outlined by the intersection of the two axes, and determined four learning stages. Firstly, experience: the accommodator, where we make some cautious room for the new ideas. Secondly, reflection, or the diverger, where we put some skull-sweat into working out how this fits with our current world view, and what would happen if we adopted this new learning. Thirdly, abstraction, or the assimilator, which is where we start forming an idea of fit and use for our future work. Lastly, active testing, or the converger, which is where we apply our new learning in practice and build new muscles.

After a situation, we reflect on it. We then gain an understanding of what we have encountered during the experience, and we test what we think we have learned. Then repeat. And repeat.

This pattern that Kolb (1984) proposed appears to be necessary for adults learning to take place. So adults need to be good reflective learners, for learning to be sticky.

Career practitioners in particular need to help others to develop unique solutions, so we too need to build our reflective learning skills.


  • Kolb, David A (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. USA: Prentice Hall, Inc
  • Kreber, Carolin (2001). Learning Experientially through Case Studies? A Conceptual Analysis. Teaching in Higher Education, 2001, Volume 6, Issue 2 (pp. 217-228)
  • Schön, Donald A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books

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