How to Design Reflection into Digital Learning

Research on cognitive science and learning has solidified reflection as an integral part to the learning process. However, it’s not always utilised to its maximum potential in corporate learning programs. In many cases, opportunities for reflection are foregone outright. While certain types of training may provide a more natural platform for reflection, such as leadership training or soft skills, it can be used in practically any type of learning activity. Here’s a little guide on how to design reflection in digital learning experiences.

Why we need reflection in digital learning experiences

There’s quite a number of reasons that make the importance of reflecting on one’s learning apparent. First of all, articulating one’s own thoughts is a key part of learning. Understanding concepts is the beginning, but being able to verbally relate the concept into other concepts and contexts brings learning to the next level. When people can generate their own original insights they are learning at their best.

Secondly, reflection in digital learning is crucial to having a lasting impact. Often, digital learning experiences may revolve on a theoretical level, unlike real life and work conditions. In such case, it’s up to the learner to build the bridge between the concept and how it applies to their work. Experience shows that unless it’s explicitly required, people often don’t take a moment to link the learning to their own tasks. While good learning design helps to bridge the gap, it’s unlikely that it can eliminate the need for reflection entirely. Therefore, providing an opportunity for people to consider the subject matter and how they may use it is a great enabler.

Thirdly, reflections on digital learning also build ground for business improvement. A collective reflection process can act as a fail-safe and a continuous review mechanism. When groups of employees are sharing their thoughts and experiences on learning, they’re bound to point out inefficiencies. Furthermore, constructive group reflection can be a great source of process improvement, whereby learners collectively conceptualise and suggest better ways of doing things.

How to design reflection into digital learning

Designing reflection doesn’t need grande investments, and not even significant amounts of extra effort. Rather, it’s just about providing opportunities for it and incentivising it. While reflection can come in many forms, here’s a handy process cycle that you can follow where possible.

  1. Learning a concept
  2. Reflecting on the concept itself
  3. Reflecting on one’s personal experience
  4. Review the reflections and experiences of others
  5. Articulate own insights

Providing opportunities for the above is really all it takes. Naturally, the tools and methods can also vary. For self-reflection, a journal-like tool or feature may be helpful. In intensive training or coaching situations, a trainer can also keep track and comment on the learner’s reflections. For group reflections and reviewing others’ thoughts, different social learning tools may come in handy. This goes for articulating one’s own insights too, naturally.

What does good reflection look like?

As mentioned, for the most part, reflection in digital learning is about providing the opportunity for it. However, there are a certain rules of thumb that it’s advisable to follow.

Firstly, reflection should be structured. An ad hoc call to “reflect on this topic please” won’t get you very far. Instead, you need to build in reflection opportunities into the learning experience. You can incentivise reflection, or make it even compulsory to complete a program. Structure in terms of e.g. guiding questions helps. Entirely free-form discussions have shown not to function as well as facilitated ones. If the point of reflection is not entirely apparent, spell it out.

Secondly, good digital learning reflection is also continuous. A single instance of a feedback form at the end of a course won’t get you those great insights. Instead, reflection should travel along across the whole learning journey, from the beginning to the end. This provides better opportunities for learners to manage their own learning too.

Thirdly, great reflection is arguably social. By limiting learners to self-reflection only, we are limiting them for access to the wealth of different world views out there. People are very different. And it’s a constant surprise how different the thinking of people in the same environment (e.g. work) may be. Bringing these differences to light is a richness, and learning designers should embrace it.

Final words

Overall, designing reflection into digital learning is a low-hanging fruit. It can significantly improve the learning value of different activities, and it doesn’t cost a lot of time or money to do it. It’s likely that you already have the tools and platforms in place, in which case it’s just a matter of providing the opportunity. And if you don’t, or if you feel like you could use some help in your corporate learning design and content development, feel free to reach out to us here. We’re happy to help.

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