Four reflection techniques that can help lock in learning
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Four reflection techniques that can help lock in learning

Recent research suggests that you can significantly improve learners’ performance and enhance their self-confidence by giving them more opportunities to reflect on what they’ve learned.

The research
In a new study, researchers at the Harvard Business School looked at the effect of reflection on learning.

Subjects were broken into groups and given complex brain teasers to solve under a strict time limit.

After participants completed the first round of puzzles, one group was given a quick break before starting up again. The other group was asked to reflect on the puzzles and write down what went right – the strategies they thought were effective in solving the problems.

In several subsequent rounds of brain teasers, the reflection group solved about 20% more problems than the no-reflection group. In a post-study questionnaire, members of the reflection group also reported feeling significantly more confident in their ability to solve the problems.

So why is reflection effective?

The study concluded that as learners reflect on what they’ve just learned, they’re actively re-engaging with the information. That re-engagement, in turn, triggers deeper cognitive processing.

For more research findings on how to make workplace training more effective, check out the free e-book, “10 Truths About Workplace Training… That Just Ain’t So”


Reflection is a simple, no-cost strategy that can yield powerful benefits. Here are four ways you can add opportunities for reflection into your training:

  1. Questioning. After presenting new concepts, pose questions that cause learners to reflect and search for a deeper understanding of the material. You want to do more than ask learners to regurgitate facts, though. Use questions that get them to stop and think. For example:
    • What most surprised you about this information?
    • What will you do differently as a result of this training? What actions will you change?
  2. Small group discussion. After a learning experience, consider breaking your trainees down into small groups to discuss the new material. Give them a few probing questions (similar to the ones above) to guide their discussion.
  3. Learning journal or blog. A learning journal or training blog helps learners reflect upon the key strategies or concepts they’ve learned. Writing takes more time, thought and effort than a verbal discussion – all of which will help promote reflection.
  4. Reflection in the moment. Once you’ve established reflection as a component of your training, encourage your learners to use reflection as they apply new concepts on-the-job. For example, after they’ve practiced a new skill, they should take time to reflect on how it went. Did they apply the skill the way it was presented? Why or why not? Was the technique effective? Did they encounter any surprises or obstacles? What could they have done better or differently?

DiStefano, G., et al. (2014). Learning by thinking: How reflection aids performance. Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper, 14-093.
Bourner, T. (2003). Assessing reflective learning. Education + Training, 45(5), 267-272.

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