H808: Reflection and Learning (Core Activity 2.4)

I’ll be concentrating here on Jenny Moon’s (2005) Guide for Busy Academics – Learning Through Reflection.  I was certainly appreciate of its short length, and it seemed to deliver the key points in an efficient way.  Moon begins with the commonplace idea of reflection, suggesting that we can think of reflection as either purposeful activity or as a state of being.

Moon suggests that four ways in which reflection can support learning.  These are pace (slowing down learning); ownership (appropriation); metacognition (thinking about ones own learning); and sensemaking (structuring material).

Here’s Moon’s definition of reflection.

Reflection is a form of mental processing that we use to fulfill a purpose or to achieve an anticipated outcome.  It is applied to gain a better understanding of relatively complicated or unstructured ideas and is largely based on the reprocessing of knowledge, understanding and possibly emotions that we already possess.

I’m unsure about Moon’s emphasis on the emotional content of reflection.  On the one hand, it is understandable, given that one of the accepted purposes of reflection in learning is to allow the learner a sense of appropriation over the material.  But it seems to me that the emotional aspects are somewhat overstated in this piece, because one of the points of reflecting is to attempt to transcend ones immediate reactions or personal context and try to understand a concept or problem in a wider sense.  Moon seems to indicate an awareness of this when she alludes to the idea that reflection is a way of exercising emotional control over learning.

I’m keener on the idea of reflection as sensemaking that is presented in the context of deep and surface learning, though I would suggest that we are still in the realms of individual reflection when in practice there is often an intersubjective element to reflection.  This is certainly the case in my own subject area, which is dialogic in nature.   It’s also the case that in philosophy students are actively encouraged to write in the first person, which Moon identifies as a potential barrier to reflection.

One thing that did come across in Moon’s piece is the central place of reflective learning in the e-portfolio/PDP approach.  In some ways, the e-portfolio approach can be understood as a way of making explicit the kind of reflection that is often happening in a less obvious way as part of learning.  I’m not sure, however, that this is necessarily facilitating more (or better) learning on the part of the student:  after all, you don’t have to consciously construe what you do as reflection in order to be reflecting meaningfully.

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