Experiential Learning & Teaching in Higher Education


Educators who engage in and advocate for experiential learning have long taken it as a given that reflection is an essential component of any experiential learning cycle. The standard assumptions around this approach to learning is that students come to a context with unexamined beliefs about how the world is or works, engage in an experience and related content which alters (or perhaps confirms) their understanding of the world, and that that understanding becomes knowledge when the student reflects on and represents the experience. What becomes key in this set of assumptions, then, is to understand the role that reflection plays and what types of understandings we hope to promote through the practice of reflection. If we prompt students to “reflect” on their experience, we often are asking them to describe what they believe they have learned in order to confirm for them and demonstrate for us that there was, in fact, learning occurring. But, we would like to understand the activity of reflection itself as a learning process. Here we would like to explicate a framework for critical reflection that engages students in a meaning-making process to synthesize their experiences in a way that invites feedback and dialogue as it orients them toward future action. Such an approach to reflection, we argue, is rooted in a methodology that works from a critical, ethical foundation of praxis.

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