Facilitating Reflective Learning in Higher Education

By Anne Brockbank; Ian McGill | Go to book overview
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Introduction to the second edition

When we compiled our first edition for publication in 1998, reflective learning was just being adopted in higher education, albeit at the margins. The situation and the context is very different today.

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) had just been established, Dearing had just been published and there was to be further incipient expansion of higher education. We have investigated the spread and adoption of reflective learning since that period. For example we examined the QAA Subject benchmark statements for honours degrees. Out of 46 subjects, 21 subject areas mention reflective learning or reflective practice. This represents a step change compared to earlier usage. The advent of benchmark statements as a precursor to developing honours degree programmes was itself an advance.

We are conscious that mention of the terms in guidance notes is not a mark of usage. This approach to learning is more recognized in rhetoric than reality. For example staff who have completed the Certificate or Diploma in Teaching and Learning, a recommended training passage for new entrants to higher education, often refer to reflective practice with a sigh verging on a groan as if it were an imposition, not as a normal part of the learning process which they will subsequently use in their academic work with student learners. For others reflective learning and practice is something they do on the Certificate programme but is not taken back and integrated into their discipline, although no-one knows for sure as at a recent conference, traditional teaching was informally described as 'a relationship between consenting adults carried out behind closed doors'.

Bourner et al. (2003) examined course documentation for new or existing teachers in 36 of the 70 English universities and assessed their declared teaching and learning method. Findings suggest that the majority of courses adopt practice within the 'student-development' paradigm as opposed to the 'subject development' paradigm (Becher et al., 1994). So teaching and learning methods like mentoring, workshops, learning contracts, etc. are more used than lectures and seminars, described as 'the


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