14 June 2014

Don't Just Stand There, REFLECT on Something!



It has to be one the hardest things to encourage students to do well, and yet, if we are serious about our students retaining what they learn, it's something we cannot afford to ignore.


Learning by thinking

Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance: a team of researchers from HEC Paris, Harvard Business School, and the University of North Carolina describe what they call the first empirical test of the effect of reflection on learning. By “reflection,” they mean taking time after a lesson to synthesize, abstract, or articulate the important points. This study sheds more light on this practice than ever, and what follows is my attempts sum up their findings as succinctly as I can.

Emphases and content [inside brackets] are mine.

You can access the original paper for yourself here.


Research on learning has primarily focused on the role of doing (experience) in fostering progress over time. In this paper, we propose that one of the critical components of learning is reflection, or the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience. Drawing on dual-process theory, we focus on the reflective dimension of the learning process and propose that learning can be augmented by deliberately focusing on thinking about what one has been doing. [...] We find a performance differential when comparing learning-by-doing alone to learning-by-doing coupled with reflection. Further, we hypothesize and find that the effect of reflection on learning is mediated by greater perceived self-efficacy. Together, our results shed light on the role of reflection as a powerful mechanism behind learning. (Abstract)

...
Individual learning can be augmented when individuals can not only “do” but also “think” about what they have been doing. In doing so, we depart from previous work equating direct learning with only learning-by-doing and introduce the construct of “learning-by-thinking”—i.e., learning that comes from reflection and articulation of the key lessons learned from experience. (p 4)

Reflection— is the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience. Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive.


Reflection builds one's confidence in the ability to achieve a goal (i.e., self-efficacy), which in turn translates into higher rates of learning. [Or appreciating ones own capacity, efficacy, achievements; eg, I am good at/better at ...] (p 5)

The automatic, unconscious process of learning generated by “doing” becomes more effective if deliberately coupled with the controlled, conscious attempt at learning by “thinking.” In doing so, we extend literature claiming that the capacity to reflect on action is necessary for practitioners to learn (Schön, 1983) [from surface to deep] (p 6)

The process of transforming tacit into codified knowledge requires a cognitive investment that generates a deeper understanding of this knowledge. We contribute to this literature by providing empirical evidence of the benefits associated with knowledge codification and uncovering the mechanisms behind them. Our findings suggest that the benefits of codification are not affected by whether its purpose is self-reflection or sharing know-how with others. [Whether it is a private diary, or whether it is a public journal, like a blog.]

The automatic, unconscious process of learning generated from experience is coupled with the controlled, conscious attempt at learning by reflection. (p 8)


The automatic, unconscious process of learning generated by doing can become more effective if deliberately coupled with controlled, conscious attempts at learning-by-thinking. In particular, we expect individuals to perform significantly better on subsequent tasks when they think about what they learned from the task they completed. (p 9)

Theories of knowledge codification (Cowan, David, and Foray, 2000; Nonaka, 1994; Nonaka and Von Krogh, 2009) shed light on another potential benefit to the knowledge holder of sharing knowledge. Those theories suggest that the reflection effort needed to create the insights to be shared with a counterpart may end up generating a deeper understanding of the problem space itself. This deeper understanding benefits the knowledge holder in terms of improved problem-solving capacity. In particular, we would expect the improvement in problem-solving capacity generated by reflection aimed at sharing to be greater than the improvement generated by reflection alone. In other words, one can expect performance to increase the most when reflection and sharing, i.e., thinking and teaching, are coupled. This line of argument should be familiar to those who teach and subscribe to the adage that one learns the most on a subject by being forced to teach it. (p 10)

Though reflection entails the high opportunity cost of one's time, we argue and show that reflecting after completing tasks is no idle pursuit: it can powerfully enhance the learning process. Learning, we find, can be augmented if one deliberately focuses on thinking about what one has been doing. In addition to showing a significant performance differential when comparing learning-by-doing alone to learning-by-doing coupled with reflection, we also demonstrate that the effect of reflection on learning is mediated by greater self-efficacy. (p 26)
...

Individual learning can be augmented when individuals can not only “do” but also “think” about what they have been doing.


Learning Journals

Our results also have important practical implications. In our field study we showed that taking time away from training [teaching] and reallocating that time to reflection actually improved individual performance. Companies [Schools] often use tools such as learning journals as a way to encourage reflection in training [teaching] and regular operations. Our personal experience is that individuals of all ages may not treat these exercises with much seriousness; however, our findings suggest that they should. Our study highlights that it may be possible to train [teach] and learn “smarter”, not “harder” (p 27)
...

Individual learning is enhanced by deliberately focusing on thinking about what one has been doing. 

Together, our results reveal reflection to be a powerful mechanism behind learning, confirming the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey:

“We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” 



Di Stefano G, Gino F, Pisano GP, & Staats BR (2014). Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance. Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper, (14-093), 14-093. Chicago

Schön D (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York, NY: Basic Books.

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