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Study Skills

Reflective Practice Toolkit

Reflective practice

Reflective practice is the ability to reflect on one's actions so as to engage in a process of continuous learning.

- Donald Schon

What is reflective practice?

Imagine that you come home at the end of a really bad week where everything possible has gone wrong. When you walk in the front door you are confronted with a time machine which can take you back to Monday morning so you can live the whole week over again. You use this opportunity to think about everything that went wrong and what you could do (if anything) to correct things as well as trying to repeat the things that you have done right. It may not seem like it but this is reflective practice - the act of thinking about our experiences in order to learn from them for the future. In real life you probably don't have access to time travel but you can still work towards being a reflective practitioner. We can all undertake activities to think about our experiences, learn from them and develop an action plan for what we will do next.

Reflective practice was something which developed in disciplines such as teaching, medicine and social work as a way to learn from real life experiences. People in these areas would think about encounters with their students, patients or clients, how these worked and what lessons they could take away. Over time many other areas have adopted the principles of reflective practice, including universities. You can use reflection when studying, for example when preparing group work or when working on assignments. It is also useful beyond academia when you are applying for jobs, as part of a professional qualification or just as a way of thinking about your role.

Although a definition of reflective practice has been included above this is only one part of a larger process. Reflection is a very personal thing and different people will define it in different ways. It is important to remember that there is no one 'correct' way of defining what reflection is or how it should be done as a lot of this will depend on your own circumstances.

Think about ... Definitions

Take a few minutes to think about what reflective practice means to you. There is no right or wrong answer to this question and your answer will depend on many factors and your own background. Keep this definition in mind as you read through the rest of the resource.

Why reflect?

You can practice reflection during your education, within the workplace or as part of your general personal wellbeing. It has many benefits at both a personal and professional level and can help you to focus on planning for future experiences.

So what are the main benefits of reflection?

  • When you're studying you are likely to be very involved in your work and achieving academic success. It can be easy to become too focused on your work in this situation but reflective practice allows you to look at the bigger picture. Undertaking regular reflection, for example once a term, can help you to think about your goals for studying and your plans for the future.
  • It can help with the issue of 'self-talk'. We all have a little voice inside our heads which reminds us of all the things we could have done differently in certain situations. Reflecting on an experience can help to put this voice to use as we learn from what we have done and move forward.
  • It gives you areas to improve on or develop. Whether you are a student or in the workplace you will find that you are constantly being asked for ways in which you can develop your knowledge and skills. Undertaking reflections can help you to think about areas that you can work on as well as what you are doing well.
  • Students are often asked to reflect as part of their assignments or coursework. Your tutor may give you an exercise where you have to think about a topic in relation to your own experiences or you may have to reflect on something as part of a general essay question.
  • Reflection can help you to be more creative and try new things. It's very easy to get stuck in a rut and it can be helpful to think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. This can help to spark new ideas and ways of thinking.
  • Human nature means that we all make assumptions about people and situations. Taking a step back and reflecting can help you to challenge some of these assumptions and see things from a new perspective.
  • Reflection is a key part of emotional intelligence - the ability to understand and remain in control of our emotions. This is a useful skills to have both for our own wellbeing and when working with others.
  • It helps to maintain a healthy work/life balance by offering a defined process for thinking things through. Hopefully you can learn from them and move on rather than dwelling on what happened.

How to reflect

Now you understand the benefits of being reflective how do you actually go about doing it? There is no one magic formula to follow and you will find that what works for your peers might not work for you. Some people find reflecting out loud works for them whilst for others it's something private. You can be really organised and regularly write your reflections down or you can do it as and when you can. It's best if you can reflect regularly as this will help you get into the habit and you will be able to build on what you learn.

The easiest way to get started with reflection is to ask yourself some of the following questions about the experience you want to reflect on. As you look at the questions think about how you might record your answers, for example in a reflective journal, so that you can remember them in the future.


This section has introduced the concept of reflective practice and what you might use it for. As we move through this resource you will be encouraged to think about how you might make reflection work for you and how you can become a reflective person in your everyday life.

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