3 Methods of Reflective Practice in an eLearning Environment

Reflective practice has still not received the prestigious position it deserves in an eLearning environment. Writing is the primary mode of communication in an eLearning environment. Writing about recently learned material, latest changes in personal attitude, acquisition of new behaviors and how to use new knowledge in the work context are all an integral part of reflective writing.

But when conscious awareness of learning is connected with recent performances in order to improve or rectify future performances, this writing becomes a reflective practice.

Pedagogy and andragogy research indicate a higher order of thinking induced in the learner when they are encouraged to maintain certain reflective practices. In this article, we’ll share with you 3 common reflective practice strategies you can easily introduce between the chapters of your eLearning courses to provoke performance and engagement improvements.

Have you ever maintained a daily diary? If not, you may have read diaries of famous people like Benjamin Franklin or the dramatic story of Anne Frank. Many such historical diaries have been converted into films, often the protagonist is the narrator, as the story is structured as a first person narrative – that is, we see events through the eyes of the protagonist. We often experience deeper and richer feelings about the writer in such movies. This is because maintaining a diary forces us to connect with our emotions and rational decision-making processes.

Diaries are not very different from a reflections log. Individuals who maintain a reflections log often experience improvement in emotional intelligence and rational thinking.

One word that comes to mind when talking about reflections is “metacognition, which simply put means thinking about thinking. When we perform metacognition for specific situations in a disciplined manner and at periodic intervals, we are performing a reflective practice. To be honest, the reflection process is truly a form of a higher order of thought and critical analysis, leading to a synthesis of desirable actions for future situations.

This quality is extremely desirable during the learning process. It helps acknowledge the new skills and their desired application in the work context. After receiving feedback from the course mentor or training manager, the learner modifies their performance and behavior accordingly. The best part is that they know that they are changing – leading to learning satisfaction.

Another word that comes to mind is “heuristics”. This term implies to the “lessons learned” approach to performance until the desirable results are achieved. Reflective practice is guided thinking about performance in a situation that did not work as expected. We learn new things every day. In fact, we are in the process of informal learning to achieve personal and professional goals.

Successful performance needs to be documented towards establishing best practices. Failures also need to be recorded towards developing a “lessons learned” list. If reflective practice is performed in an online learning environment, peers can learn from the experiences of others.

The only way to improve performance is to reflect back on behaviors.

A resource at the SkillsYouNeed website describes the following pattern of adopting reflective practice as a part of learning:

The Reflective Learning Process

Identify a situation you encountered in your work or personal life that you believe could have been dealt with more effectively.

  • Describe the experience

What happened? When and where did the situation occur? Any other thoughts you have about the situation?

  • Reflection

How did you behave? What thoughts did you have? How did it make you feel? Were there other factors that influenced the situation? What have you learned from the experience?

  • Theorizing

How did the experience match with your preconceived ideas, i.e. was the outcome expected or unexpected? How does it relate to any formal theories that you know? What behaviors do you think might have changed the outcome?

  • Experimentation

Is there anything you could do or say now to change the outcome? What actions can you take to change similar reactions in the future? What behaviors might you try out?

Reflection Triggers in your eLearning Course

A famous study on reflective practice in an eLearning environment revealed three main types of reflection triggers that can be introduced to encourage reflective practice.

Method 1: Compare with yardstick

This reflection trigger encourages eLearners to compare their course performance with a well-established standard. Standards with which to compare could be exemplary assignments, expert opinions, classroom average or compliance ratios, etc.

In short, a yardstick comparison occurs between the individual and a larger context. The idea is to identify individual weaknesses and strengths and move in the desired direction. This exercise creates self-consciousness in performance and accountability in one’s own actions.

Method 2:  Rate your mastery

This reflection trigger will request learners to rate their own performance and behaviors according to a given scale. A great way to do this is to ask your eLearners to rate their mastery on a particular page, by selecting the number of stars. If all available stars are selected, the learner has achieved mastery of this particular topic. If fewer stars are selected, the course mentor can intervene. Alternatively, each number of stars can have a standardized meaning related to the level of mastery achieved, and suggest alternative actions for improvement.

Method 3: Write on the content

This strategy entails requesting eLearners to write in their own words. Writing is an effective exercise to rephrase and verbalize newly learned concepts. You could ask your users to summarize a piece of content in X number of words or, in order to embed social media in your course, tweet the key take aways to you with a specific hashtag. Another idea is to ask for a few sentences on how, at first glance, a topic applies to the learners’ specific work context. You get the point.

Try introducing a combination of these three methods to encourage reflective practices in your eLearning environment. Your learners will report a greater appreciation of your course mentoring efforts. The work context of both learners and instructors is dynamic and unpredictable. Maintaining a journal of reflective practice is a great way to improve professionally. Reflective practice habits also lead to greater transfer to the work context – a goal embedded in every eLearning course.

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