Reflective Practice

Authors: Sheila Slesser, Pedro Morago, Linda Bruce and Malcolm Macmillan


Experiential learning: the idea of learning as a process whereby a professional reflects on practice experience to construct and reconstruct understanding and skills.

Experiential learning cycle: a model of experiential learning (usually associated with the work of David Kolb) represented in a four stage cycle beginning with concrete experience followed by reflection, followed by abstract conceptualisation, followed by active experimentation.

Reflection: "... a conscious activity in which we engage to explore our experiences and develop new understandings and conceptualisations."(Boud 1987)

Reflection-in-action: sometimes described as 'thinking on our feet', it is the process that allows professionals to reshape the situation or activity on which they are working while it is unfolding. Schon suggests that, by "reflecting–in–action", professionals often reflect on unexpected phenomena before them and conduct 'experiments' which serve to generate both a new understanding of the phenomenon and a change in the situation.

Reflection-on-action: involves reflecting on an experience, situation or phenomenon after it has occurred. When professionals "reflect–on–action" they explore what happened in that particular situation, why they acted as they did, whether they could have acted differently, and so on. It is often associated with reflective writing in which professionals reflect on their experiences and examine alternative ways to improve their practice.

Reflective practice: the concept of constantly updating knowledge and skill through a process of structured reflection on practice.

Reflective practitioner: a professional who is committed to practicing the concept of reflective practice.

Reflective writing: a form of writing about practice used to engender reflection and analysis with the aim of professional development and learning. By committing reflections to paper the learner can stand back from them and create another opportunity to reconstruct knowledge, awareness and practice.

References and further reading

Atherton, J. (2005) 'Learning and Teaching: Reflection and Reflective Practice'

Bolton, G. (2005) Reflective Practice: Writing and Professional Development Second edition London: Paul Chapman.

Boud, D. et al. (1987) Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning London: Kogan Page.

Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education New York: Free Press.

Dewey, J. (1910) How We Think Lexington Mass: D.C. Heath & Co.

Greenaway, R. (2006) ‘Experiential learning articles and critiques of David Kolb’s Theory’

Hatton, N. and Smith, D. (1995) 'Reflection in teacher education: Towards definition and implementation' Teaching and Teacher Education vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 33-49.

Jasper, M. (2003) Beginning Reflective Practice Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes

John, C. and Freshwater, D. (2006) Transforming Nursing through Reflective Practice London: Blackwell

Kerka, S. (2002) 'Journal Writing as an Adult Learning Tool' ERIC Practice Application Brief No. 22.

Kolb, D. (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

King, T. (2002) 'Development of Student Skills in Reflective Writing'

Lishman, J. (1998) 'Personal and professional development in social work' in Adams, R., Dominelli, L. and Payne, M. (eds) Themes, Issues and Critical Debates London: Macmillan.

Moon. J. (1999) Reflection in Learning and Professional Development: Theory and Practice London: Routledge

Moon, J. (1999) Learning Journals: A Handbook for Academics, Students, and Professional Development London: Kogan Page.

Schön, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action New York: Basic Books.

Schön, D. (1987) Educating the Reflective Practitioner San Francisco: Jossey-Basss

Schön, D. (1987) 'Educating the Reflective Practitioner' Presentation to the 1987 meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Washington, DC.

Smith, M. K. (2001) 'Donald Schon: learning, reflection and change' The Encyclopedia of Informal Education

Author information

Sheila Slesser is a lecturer at The Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, she is also one of the Placement Coordinators and tutors on the BA undergraduate course. She teaches social work theories, values and models. Sheila has a practice background in working with Deaf and Hearing Impaired people, and was also a Practice Teacher.

Malcolm Macmillan is a Lecturer and HNC Co-ordinator for the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care based in The Robert Gordon University. Malcolm teaches the full range of subjects for the HNC Social Care award. His practice background is with children and adults with learning difficulties in varying settings.

Linda Bruce is a Social Work Lecturer at The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. She teaches social work theory, reflective practice and criminal justice, is actively involved in practice teaching and is an experienced relationship counsellor. Linda was the project manager of a SIESWE funded project identifying new approaches to the delivery of agency based practice learning.

Pedro Morago is a lecturer in social work at the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. He teaches Research Methods to undergraduate and postgraduate students and coordinates the Dissertation module within the BA (Hons) in Social Work. Pedro's main academic interest is evidence-based practice and its development in the field of social work.


Ivanna Fernandez, Learning Technologist, Scottish Institute for Excellence in Social Work Education.

Paul Hart, Multimedia Developer
Scottish Institute for Excellence in Social Work Education
76 Southbrae Drive
Glasgow, Strathclyde, G13 1PPUnited Kingdom
work phone +44-(0)141-950-3080
work fax +44-(0)141-950-3311

Billy Devine, Senior Designer, Learning Services, University of Strathclyde.


Copyright & Acknowledgments

Copyright © Scottish Institute for Excellence in Social Work Education 2006. All rights reserved.

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