One of Donald Schon's greatest contributions to professional education was to stress the role of reflection within the learning process (Schon 1983). Examining professional practice, Schon identified two types of reflection: reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action.
Reflection-in-action, sometimes described as 'thinking on our feet', is the process that allows professionals to reshape the situation or activity on which they are working while it is unfolding. It is generally associated with the experience of surprise: Schon suggests that, by "reflecting-in-action", professionals reflect on unexpected experiences and conduct 'experiments' which serve to generate both a new understanding of the experience 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. Reflection-on-action is often associated with reflective writing in which professionals reflect on their experiences and examine alternative ways to improve their practice.