An Integrated Model for Practicing Reflective Learning

By Castelli, Patricia Ann | Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, November 2011 | Go to article overview
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An Integrated Model for Practicing Reflective Learning

Castelli, Patricia Ann, Academy of Educational Leadership Journal


Although not practiced consistently or purposely in classroom experiences, reflective learning is not new to higher education. Previous research by Carson and Fisher (2006) uncovered that John Dewey (1933) is considered a key originator in coining this term. In 1962, Thomas Kuhn's groundbreaking The Structure of Scientific Revolutions described how new assumptions (paradigms/theories) require the reconstruction of prior assumptions and the reevaluation of prior facts. He further states that "when a shift takes place, a scientist's world is qualitatively transformed [and] quantitatively enriched by fundamental novelties of either fact or theory" (p. 7). Kuhn called this shift a 'scientific revolution' that sounds similar to a term used today--transformation. Through the years, significant research has expanded and formalized the process of reflective learning with related concepts such as critical reflective learning and transformative learning in the field of adult education (Schon, 1983; Brookfield, 1995; Mezirow, 1978, 1990; Mezirow & Taylor, 2009). In addition, many practitioners (Cranton, 2002, 2006; Carson and Fisher, 2006; Fisher-Yoshida, 2009; Fisher-Yoshida & Geller, 2008, 2009; have shown various ways to integrate reflective/transformative learning in their classroom experiences. And although longitudinal studies are few and far between, Taylor (2007) states that reflective learning is gaining momentum with significant increases in promoting and practicing transformative learning in higher education internationally.

The purpose of this paper is to provide an insightful background of the building blocks that have shaped the evolution of reflective/transformative learning, to present an integrated yet simple model to assist instructors in understanding their role (and the students' role) in promoting meaningful reflective learning experiences, and to provide practical and concrete teaching guidance for instructors seeking to learn the basic elements and techniques necessary for practicing reflective learning in their classrooms.

The subject matter presented was developed in several syllabi for global leadership coursework in a graduate college of management. However, once the reader gains sufficient background knowledge of the foundational theories that form the basis for reflective and transformative learning and understands the process and related techniques necessary for promoting reflective learning, instructional activities and exercises can be modified and customized to fit a variety of subjects and fields of study.


Jack Mezirow introduced the concept of transformative learning to the field of adult education in 1978 and defines transformative learning as "an approach to teaching based on promoting change, where educators challenge learners to critically question and assess the integrity of their deeply held assumptions about how they relate to the world around them" (p.xi). Although reflective learning, critical reflective learning and transformative learning are often used interchangeably, transformative learning implies change. But the fact remains that none of these methods of learning necessarily guarantee change.

Transformative learning is a multi-faceted learning theory. There are many foundational learning theories that influenced and shaped transformative learning. Most notable of these include elements from adult learning and instructional design, experiential learning, and the social sciences. Knowledge of these theories provides the context for understanding transformative or reflective learning.

Adult learning theory and instructional design

Although there are a multitude of definitions, Boyd (1980) defines learning by emphasizing the person in whom the change occurs as "the act or process by which behavioral change, knowledge, skills, and attitudes are acquired" (pp.100-101). This is a differentiating factor since there are specific aspects involved with adult learning theory that do not apply to non- adults such as life-centered, experience and self-directing.

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