IntroductionThe concepts of reflection and of reflective practice have become pivotal within contemporary approaches to professional and management development. Action learning, experiential learning methods, project-based learning, sensitivity training, outdoor management development, and coaching are all based on the idea that learning and the development of understanding can be generated through reflecting on experience. The appeal of learning through reflective practice, whether in the workplace or in formal development programs, is undoubtedly the sense of immediacy that this approach to learning offers. The application of ideas to action and to practice is not, as is the case in more traditional educational methods, delayed or deferred until some future experience presents itself. Engaging reflectively and thoughtfully with experience in the context of work, career, or profession is more likely to involve relevance than learning that is based predominantly on the abstract content of formal education curricula.
The Origins of Reflective PracticeThe origins of reflective practice are to be found in the writing of the philosopher and educator John Dewey.
Dewey's description of the process of reflecting on experience echoes contemporary theory and practice in emphasizing that thinking involves the sense of a problem, the observation of conditions, the elaboration of a possible conclusion, and testing this conclusion through active experimentation. David Kolb's development of these ideas together with those of Piaget and Lewin has been seminal in the experience-based approaches to learning adopted in management development practice. Kolb writes of learning as a process in which ideas are not fixed and immutable but formed and reformed through experience.
A parallel development can be traced within adult education, notably the work of Malcolm Knowles and his propositions for self-directed learning. Knowles's ideas, based on those of Eduard Lindeman-who in turn was much influenced by Dewey-are also characterized by the importance attached to...