Learning Through Experience
Sharing our successes with experiential learning at UNB

How reflection helps students learn

Author: Lee Whelan

Posted on Dec 17, 2021

Category: Student Champions , Faculty Champions

Reflection is an integral part of experiential education. To truly get the benefits from experiential learning, students need to actively reflect on their experience to understand not only what they learned, but how they learned it. This process improves student’s problem-solving skills, as well as their ability to self-regulate their learning and manage their time. Most importantly, with guidance from educators and mentors, it allows them to “challenge underlying assumptions, and deepen understanding to inform future practice” (Guo, 2021, p. 118-119).

The impact of reflection on the learning process can be influenced by different factors including the discipline, the type of reflection activity, the duration of the activity, instructor feedback and peer interaction.

The purpose of this study from Lin Guo was to conduct a meta-analysis of 23 peer-reviewed journal articles published between 2000 and 2020 to understand how different reflection interventions impacted “learning outcomes in higher education” (Guo, 2021, p. 126).

They found that reflection has a positive impact on student’s learning outcomes, and that there are a few characteristics that can make it especially effective. Reflection should be done over time for more meaningful and authentic engagement. Peer interaction and collective reflection was also found to be helpful as students as able to gain others’ perspectives on learning. The type and variety of activity also matters. Students had better outcomes when they were able to try different methods to find a reflection activity that matched their individual needs. 

Experiential learning is incomplete without reflection. When student reflect on their experiences, they are able to turn that learning into knowledge that they can carry with them back into the classroom and into their future careers. However, for reflection to be truly effective, instructors can design sustained and varied reflection activities, and encourage students to engage with their peers. 

For more information about how you can incorporate experiential learning into your curriculum, contact the Office of Experiential Education at experiential@unb.ca.