Learning involves much more than gaining information. Learning takes place when the information that is gained becomes meaningful to the learner. When people learn, they are taking the information to increase their knowledge, develop their skills and better understand themselves. But how does this learning take place?

                           Learning Takes Place through Critical Reflection

        Regardless of the information people may gain, it is only when they receive it and use it to educate themselves that they can be said to learn something. Curricula in schools are aimed at providing students with information that they can understand and that they are able to use to build on the knowledge they already have. Unfortunately, some tests of students’ knowledge of information do not go beyond simple recall of facts.  

       However, some teachers and professors require students to give their opinions on certain concepts, ideas, and information from their courses. Others require their students to apply concepts that were learned to everyday situations and experiences. In these latter cases, students are expected to make the information they gain part of their own knowledge base, something that is meaningful to them.

        Critical Reflection – Before, During and After

        Critical reflection is primarily associated with experiential learning and can take place before the activity has taken place, while it is taking place, and even after it has taken place. For example, before an experiential learning activity, students can be prepared for the experiences that will take place. This could involve gaining information about a particular subject and about the upcoming experiences. This type of reflection helps students to optimize the experiential activity that they would have.

       But while in the process of undertaking the activity, students could also be conscious of what they are experiencing and how this experience is affecting them. However, a common form of reflection is cognitive, where students look at the new knowledge and skills they are being exposed to through the activity and determine whether the goals that are associated with the learning are being achieved. This would also involve whether the students see their knowledge and skills increasing as a result of the activity.

                       How is Critical Reflection Most Commonly Carried Out?

       Some of the methods that are usually used in critical reflection are after the experience has taken place. This is done through journals, portfolios, reports, and discussions to name a few methods. While the evaluation may also be cognitive, as students look at whether they gained new knowledge and increased their skills, there is also affective reflection where students examine what they felt as a result of the experience and whether their attitudes or opinions have changed as a result. But there is also reflection on the process of the experience, where students learn about the experience itself, and decide what they would change about the activity, if they were to engage in it at a later date.

           A General Framework for Conducting Critical Reflection

       Regardless of whether one is a student, a practitioner, or an average individual, one could engage in critical reflection by looking at a particular activity, a practice, or a specific event in one’s life. In looking back, one could acknowledge how one feels and thinks about the particular activity, practice or event. One could then describe it either orally, in written form, or one could ruminate on it. The next steps could involve evaluating it and seeing what is desirable or undesirable about it. In analyzing the experience, one could try to make sense of it within the context of one’s own knowledge and experience. In other words, one could decide why it was that one behaved a certain way in the particular situation. Based on this decision, one could identify the new learning that has taken place and the new actions that one would incorporate in one’s future actions.

            How We become Better Individuals through Critical Reflection

       We are all on different journeys and at different stages in life, but we can all use critical reflection to be better individuals. Reflect or look back on daily activities or on specific activities that are important to us. Expand on what occurred and evaluate whether our actions were desirable or not. Analyze our actions and try to evaluate why we behaved in the particular way we did. Ask ourselves if we were to have a similar experience, how we would change our actions. Learn from this experience and be prepared to act differently on another similar occasion.


Experiential Learning Office (2009). Critical reflection – an integral component to experiential learning. Ryerson University, Toronto. Retrieved from https://www.mcgill.ca/eln/files/eln/doc_ryerson_criticalreflection.pdf

Rolfe, G., Jasper, M. & Freshwater, D. (2010). Critical Reflection in Practice: Generating Knowledge for Care. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. By

Israelin Shockness at www.successfulyouthliving.com and at www.successfulyouthlivingblog.com

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