Happy new year! It’s taken until New Years Day to get back to writing after a whirlwind end of the year. Having looked at my email this morning after a short hiatus its predictably full of goal setting advice for the year ahead and breathless exhortations to sign up for online programs to organise my home, lose weight, get fit, get focused….yeah…no…pass the last of the Christmas chocolate.
This is definitely a reflective time of year with the end of one year and the promise of a fresh start for the next. It’s also perhaps the first time in a long while that, if you’re anything like me, you’ve had a chance to just sit still and create some space to reflect. Reflection is something that has long interested me, mainly because of its critical importance to learning. In a world where it is “a truth universally acknowledged” that we learn primarily through “doing”, through experiences and interacting with others. But how does one realise that rich learning? Answer – reflection. Taking some time to think about what you learned from an experience, good or bad. The importance of reflection in learning, particularly at work, is also well theorised in the literature but perhaps not practised as much as it should be in the workplace.
If you’re in a reflective mood at this time of year, have you thought about taking some time to reflect on what you learned in 2017? Often we focus on what we achieved (or didn’t) but how often do you reflect on what you learned outside of a more formal performance review at work? It’s something I’ve been thinking about as I come to the end of my PhD journey. What have I learned from the experience – about workplace and organisational learning, research, and myself? Importantly, what have I learned that I can apply in other contexts? I’ll write more about my learning from the PhD later on but these are useful questions for everyone. In general I think I’d say that in 2017 I learned how to take on feedback in a far more productive way to improve the quality of my work. I also learned, through my sewing hobby, that I can, and should, take chances on new projects that will stretch my skills rather than staying within my comfort zone. Through my sewing hobby I also reinforced to myself the importance of building physical and virtual communities to support my learning and keep me motivated to push forwards which I want to adopt more in my professional practice in 2018.
The flip-side of reflecting on what you’ve learned is to then think about what you hope to learn in the next year. This can seem a bit trite, again somewhat tainted from poor or ineffective experiences of “annual development plans” at work. It’s important to think ahead though. If you consider it, if we learn primarily from experience, what sorts of experiences would you like to have in the coming year and what are you hoping to learn from these? For me, I’m looking forward to consolidating my learning from this year and getting more experience of academic writing (a pretty specific writing genre) as well as the aforementioned building learning communities in my professional practice. I’m also planning on spending more time on my hobbies and returning to some old interests now that I have some more time in order to recover old skills and build new ones.
For those of you who manage other people, it’s also useful to think about how you can facilitate learning through experiences and then reflection to help consolidate that learning. How can you get “out of the way” and let people learn and experience new things? How can you encourage reflection as a normal part of learning and working? This doesn’t have to be detailed or about making people keep learning journals. It can be as simple as asking someone what they learned and how they can apply that to their professional practice in the future.
So, go forth and reflect! Have a wonderful 2018!
Cressey, P. and Boud, D. (2006). The emergence of productive reflection. In Boud, D.,Cressey, P. and Docherty, P. (Eds.).Productive Reflection at Work: Learning for Changing Organisations. London: Routledge, 11-26 [accessed Jun 10, 2017]. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/298704301_The_emergence_of_productive_reflection.