Experiential Learning: Reflection is KEY

Photo from Thrive Global: Why you should harness the power of reflection

Let’s reflect on the power of reflection. I recently attended a conference where speakers discussed the value of experiential learning opportunities for students. (You can read more about the theory of experiential learning as written by David Kolb, who has research the experiential learning cycle here).

While experiential learning is not a new concept, the discussion led me to believe that educators and educational institutions are only tapping into one piece of the puzzle. I feel strongly that we are barely tapping into the potential of experiential learning, leaving it more to fate or happenstance that students may or may not stumble into.

As I have contemplated what this means for my work as an advisor, I couldn’t help but think of one component that needs to be embedded if we ever hope to drive true experiential learning – reflection. In his research, Kolb said, “concrete experience provides information that serves as a BASIS for reflection.”

HT2 Labs, and several other top tier businesses (which I found in a quick Google search) have based their entire business practice around reflection as a way to increase leadership skills, develop strategy, innovate, and create more efficiency. HT2 Labs website says that reflection, 1. Encourages learners to take charge of their own learning 2. Build stronger connections between learning experiences and 3. Generates useful feedback 4. Sparks social interaction.

Other sources say that reflective learning also encourages insight and complex learning and has the ability to transform an individual.

Prior to coming to BYU, I was an advisor and taught Organizational Leadership for the Business Management Department at BYU-Idaho. The curriculum for the course was inundated with reflection exercises, something I still continue to thank my course lead for.

As a learner and a teacher, creating moments of reflection is TOUGH. I find that each learner (because aren’t there 7 learning styles or something) all reflect differently. I find that reflection happens more for me when I engage in conversation with others and then write it down (hence why I have multiple blogs and hundreds of notebooks). Some need a quiet, safe place in order to reflect. Some write. Some think. Some move. I am still in awe of dancers, musicians, and artists who allow their reflection to come through their craft.

Regardless of ‘how’ these reflective moments should happen, here are my takeaways from the Experiential Learning Summit at BYU regarding reflection:

  • Educators should intentional about reflection, and create very clear expectations of the ‘why’ of reflection prior to asking students to participate in the activity . Often we ask students to be intentional about the experiences they choose in their undergrad and graduate education. We should probably follow suit.
  • Experiential Learning is a philosophy that informs many methodologies in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities (taken from Brandeis University)
  • The result of reflection is connection (that could be a tagline somewhere, am I right)? And what human doesn’t crave/yearn for connection?