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What is reflection?

Is reflection different to just thinking about your study? And how do we do it? Can someone teach you how to reflect or is it a matter of practice? Can everyone be reflective or are some students - and some people - more reflective than others?

There is no clear definition of reflection or precise way of describing what we mean by a reflective learner. But we can discuss some characteristics of the process, and encourage you to develop your own preferred ways of developing it.

Reflection is thinking for a purpose - in this unit we have linked it to wanting to become a more effective and efficient learner; someone who wants to understand their own learning. Thus, reflection is also about wanting, or at least being willing, to change the way we learn.

Reflection is analysing how we learn - taking apart our own learning processes. But reflection is also about evaluating how effectively we learn - making judgements on our own performance, and that is not always an easy or comfortable thing to do.

Most of all, reflection includes being critical - not in a negative or destructive way, but through rigorous questioning and deep probing into what and how we learn. Many people would say that the most important characteristic of an effective student in higher education is that they are capable of critical thinking - actively challenging both themselves and others.

For most of us, reflection becomes a more meaningful activity if it can be shared, either in a group or with another student. Putting your thoughts and ideas into words and getting a response from someone else, then perhaps listening to their reactions, makes the process more interactive and developmental. This interaction can be face-to-face or might be at a distance - by telephone or electronically. Even if you cannot easily engage with another student, any other person - friend or family - who is supportive of you as a student or shares your interest in learning might well enjoy sharing with you some of the activities in this unit.