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Explain the cyclical process of reflection

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Self-reflection is an important learning and development skill that should be used by all health and care practitioners. It is the process of thinking back over an experience you’ve had and evaluating your own actions and decisions. This can lead to insights about what you could do differently if a similar situation arises in the future to improve your practice. By regularly reflecting on our work, we can continuously improve our knowledge skills and understanding.

One of the pioneers of reflective practice was David A. Kolb who described learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.” He argued that experience alone was not sufficient to be a learning experience and that reflection was needed to transform the experience into knowledge. Thus, he developed a cyclical process of reflection:

Kolb reflective cycle: 1.Concrete experience, 2.Reflective observation, 3. Abstract conceptualisation, 4. Active experimentation (and then back to 1)

The first stage, concrete experience, is when you work through a situation. You might make mental notes about what you did and how your felt.

Secondly, reflective observation is where you consciously recall the situation and think about what went well, what didn’t how did the situation arise etc.

Thirdly, during abstract conceptualisation, you will think about what you could have done differently. You may discuss what happened with colleagues or refer to literature for further insights.

And, fourthly, you will test your newly acquired knowledge in your practice to find out if it works better in active experimentation. Because the nature of reflection is cyclical, the act of testing will create new concrete experiences to reflect on further. Sometimes your newly acquired knowledge will result in improvements to your practice and sometimes they won’t, hence the need for continuous reflection.

Further information about reflective practice, including other models, can be found here.

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