Reflection and professional learning


PDF of diagram

At the heart of the Ultraversity model of learning is the philosophical belief that reflective practitioners are powerful agents for change in that they know the why and how to do things. Researchers on the Ultraversity degree come from a wide diversity of backgrounds, capabilities, and experiences of learning. Through a structured and focused approach, the Learning Facilitators (LF) work with the researchers to help them develop the skills of reflective practitioners and action researchers. This is done through modeling reflective discourse, the setting up of processes that promote reflective learning, and purposeful dialogue.

Anne Brockbank & Ian McGill (1998:48)

Critically Reflective Learning is nurtured by relationships between teacher and learner, learner and learner and between both with the subject under study. We identified the optimal relationship above, as mutual, open, challenging, contextually aware and characterised by dialogue.

Researchers report that as they begin to use reflective learning processes they increasingly identify issues and questions from their workplace. From this they begin to develop and apply solutions with a high degree of awareness and self-criticality. This rise in the frequency of intentional reflexivity has a significant impact on researchers learning, their working practice and by implication their workplace.

We would think that as researchers become increasingly sophisticated and practiced in reflection that the amount of time they operate as an intuitive practitioner will also significantly increase. This is along the lines of Maslow’s Unconscious Competence – the ability to do things successfully without particularly thinking about them.

The diagram above attempts to show this development where the proportion of time at work where researchers are operating as reflective practitioners (both at a conscious and intuitive level) increases with time spent on the degree (volume under the line on the graph). This process is initiated through directed learning from the LF, but in time the ‘engine’ for change rapidly moves to the researcher working as a self-directed learner applying reflective models. This reflection on action and reflection in action may be as a part of a planned action enquiry. Alternatively, at an intuitive level this may be a response to an increased awareness about their actions, the context within which they work, their beliefs and values.

9 thoughts on “Reflection and professional learning

  1. Ian Tindal

    I see the axes on the diagram are not tying this into a time frame or attempting to quantify the proportion of time spent in productive learning in the workplace. The curve effectively describes an idealised smooth progression towards intuitive practice illustrating well the principle you discuss. If applied to an individual practitioner this curve could take many forms; perhaps we could expect to see incremental steps in the curve as Ultraversity researchers capacity to espouse reflective practice moves forward in response to module activities and as they encounter periods where their learning flows (Csikszentmihalyi. M. 1992), or where they struggle, have eureka moments etc. on their learning journey. They will each be charting their own course within a field in which we intend all Ultraversity researchers to move.

    Do you see the state of being an intuitive practitioner as a state where all action at work is immediate-done without pause for reflection or one where the greater part of action is immediate and the practitioner is able to intuitively revert to reflective practice where it is deemed to be necessary?

    What do I mean by “Flow” …. Csikszentmihalyi. M. (1992). Flow: The psychology of happiness. London: Rider.

  2. Stephen Powell

    A good point about the ‘idealised’ nature of the graph. Yes it is just that and for individuals it might be a very wiggly line for many reasons.

    As t the balance of time working aat an intuitive level verses a conscious reflctor that is an interesting point. For UV reserachers the latter is what is required for their degree as ultimately we need to see products that we can assess.

    I would also add that the concept of an intuitive practitioner worries me somewhat as it implies a ‘status quo’ without a mechanism or indeed a need to change. I relaise that often this is the level that we work at, but when it is all that we do then I believe that is far less than an ideal situation.

  3. Jayne Lancashire

    I have to say that I agree with this diagram in principle. I can see that I personally have developed from the type of practitioner requiring much intervention, to one who acts while at the same time (to some degree)considering the learning issues involved and alternative methods to achieve desired outcomes. I consider this to combine both the intuitive practitioner with the incidental learner – having carried out set processes over a period of time,becoming more confident with and adaptable to necessary change; “The ability to acquire and act upon serial order information is fundamental to almost all forms of adaptive behaviour. There is growing evidence that such knowledge may be acquired through a number of different means, each perhaps with its own neuronal substrate. One major distinction is between serial order information acquired intentionally and leading to explicit conscious knowledge of the sequence structure, and information acquired incidentally through experience.” Dissociation between intentional and incidental sequence learning in Huntington’s disease
    R. G. Brown, L. Redondo-Verge, J. R. Chacon, M. L. Lucas and S. Channon
    It could also be likened to Kolb’s theory of experiential learning – either way I like it!


    I was very interested to read what you and uthers have written, I agree that reflective learning grows between teachers and learners and learners and learners. My own experience in the past year has proved this point to me. I have developed from the listening and doing type to the listening, doing, questioning and re-doing type. I feel that the confidence to do this has come from discussions with other researchers and Learning Facilitators.

  5. ian tindal

    Hi stephen you say – “I would also add that the concept of an intuitive practitioner worries me somewhat as it implies a ‘status quo’ without a mechanism or indeed a need to change. I relaise that often this is the level that we work at, but when it is all that we do then I believe that is far less than an ideal situation.”

    I share your concerns here; intuition implies acting without conscious thought and prehaps a status quo but I feel that, in the context of learning, an intuitive practitioner would recognise when there is a need to change i.e. know when to fall back on some double loop reflection and learning without having to constantly remind themselves about reflective practice. So the action of invoking the reflective process has become an intuitive one.

  6. Mike Epps

    So what your saying is that a intuitive practitioner does things without thinking about it first and then not reflecting on what they’ve done after they do it?

  7. Stephen Powell

    Hi Mke, yes some of the time we probably act only in intuitive mode and never reflect on what we have done. However, as Ian points out we might hope that as we develop as reflective practitioners we often engage in some form of reflection as Karen eloquently explained.

  8. Yadolah Zarezadeh

    I agree with the graph as a PhD student working on reflective learning,and wish to emphasize on the proportion of “time”. Time is an important element of reflection which is often forgotten in debates.Considering reflection “in action” and reflection “on action” introduced by Schon(1987)one can understand that without deliberate allocating of a proper “time” to reflection by practitioner both during and after the action there will not be a satisfactory & productive reflection. This is the responsibilty of facilitators to emphasize on time as a vital component of any reflective setting.
    The other point is the stages of reflection which starts with Technical which is about doing,contextual that is in relation to the belief & valiues of the practitioner and dialectical in which ethical, moral and sociopolitical issues are to be considered(Van Manen 1977)again it is easily seen that we need to allocate time to reflect on the experience in each level.

  9. Stephen Powell

    Hi Yadolah, I agree fully with the points you make about time being a critical factor for the promotion of reflective practice.

    I would perhaps view your Technical’ stage as a skill, that is having as a part of an individual’s ‘learning toolkit’ different approaches/techniques for reflection. As a reflective practitioner, I would aslo agree that articulating ones own beliefs and values is vital and examining them in the wider sociopolitical context helps develeop a deeper understnding. So yes, this takes a laot of time!


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