Have you ever had a moment in your life where you just had to stop and think about what’s going on and how you’re reacting to it?There are many aspects of life in which it can be incredibly useful to take a moment and simply reflect. For example, when you go on a holiday, you may find that by taking some time to really think about the experiences you’ve had and how they made you feel, you learn more about yourself and solidify those good memories.
The act of reflecting means taking a step deeper into an abstract idea or concept. It’s one thing to read a book, and another thing entirely to read a book and then really reflect upon it and how the story or ideas relates to your world. When you reflect on something, you don’t just perceive it, you take it into yourself and process it. It is one of the highest forms of engagement.
That’s why reflection is such an effective way to engage learners. By getting learners to reflect on content, or on experiences related to the content, their perspective on it is broadened and they find themselves able to apply it more practical ways.
Let’s look at a few ways that that reflective exercises can be used to improve the learning experience.
What’s in it for me?
We are far more eager to engage with a topic when we have reasons to be invested in it personally. By creating reflective questions that relate the content to the learner or their life in some way, you grant them intrinsic motivation to pay attention to what they’re learning and think about it in ways that will be useful to them.
For example, imagine you’re doing a course on dietary health. A good reflective question that relates the content to the learner personally could be:
Consider the last meal you ate. What did you eat and how did you feel after eating it? How do you think the type of food you ate impacted your emotional state?
Notice, how when the content is asking you to put it in the context of your own life, you have a much greater incentive to find an answer and, as a result, go on and learn more about the subject area.
How are you travelling?
Reflective questions can be a useful tool to check in with the learner throughout their online learning journey. It can keep them accountable without the pressure of getting the answer right or wrong. It is also a great way to regain any wavering attention. An example for the dietary health course might be to add, at the end of a section:
As we sum up this topic, how would you rate your current understanding of the role of fibre for dietary heath? What do you still want to know? Write down any questions so that you can look them up after this session.
Want to find out more?
Much like face-to-face teaching, online learning does not always have to be about providing the answers. It can also be about encouraging the learners to find the answers themselves. This can be done through attached links and videos or encouraging the learner to conduct some additional research themselves:
Conduct some additional research on different types of fibre. Which ones are are you looking to increase in your own diet and why?
Not only does this exercise make the topic relatable and relevant, but it makes it useful in a setting beyond the digital classroom. It gives the learner an opportunity to use the content in a practical way to support them in their life.
Give it a try!
When possible, it is powerful to encourage the learner to reflect in a more physical way. This can include encouraging them to write something down, speak out loud or even move their body. This elevates online learning beyond the computer screen to something more tangible. Remember, these sorts of reflective tasks need to be quick, easy and achievable in the learning environment that your learner finds themselves in!
Here is a simple example:
Leave your computer and head to your cupboard. Assess the nutrient levels of your most commonly consumed food items and write a list of more nutritious alternatives to bring with you next time you shop.
Watch out for these pitfalls:
Too many reflection questions that stops the flow of learning
As with any activity in your learning experience, it has to serve a specific purpose, or you risk simply distracting the learner, and you may never retrieve their attention.
Failing to use tailored feedback
Reflective questions can be a great tool for mapping personalised learning journeys, by asking learners to state their perceived level of skill or confidence in an area. However, if we ask learners to give this information up, they should get something in return. Failing to offer feedback or make learner’s choices impact their learning pathway, makes the question come across as disingenuous.
Being too vague
Imagine that you are taking a course on workplace mental health, and you get presented with the question ‘How do you feel?’. It hasn’t been clarified what exactly you are meant to be reflecting on. Are they asking about your emotional state is right this moment, or how you week has been? Or do they mean in relation to how you feel about doing the course? Or something else?
A reflection that is too broad ends up being incomprehensible and only work to disrupt the flow of learning.
Face-to-face educators know the power of reflection, and there is plenty of opportunity for this in your online learning design. Resist the urge to opt for simple correct and incorrect multiple-choice questions and start getting creative with how you present information and learning opportunities for your learners with reflective questions.