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  • v.108(3); 2020 Jul 1

Elevation through reflection: closing the circle to improve librarianship

Jolene m. miller.

1 [email protected] , Director, Mulford Health Science Library, and Assistant Professor, Library Administration, University of Toledo, Toledo, OH

Stephanie Friree Ford

2 gro.srentrap@drofeerirfs , Manager, Library Resources, Mental Health Sciences Library, McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA

3 ude.etatsonserf.liam@98gnaya , Science Librarian, University Library, California Health Sciences University, Clovis, CA

Associated Data

There are no data associated with this article.

Reflective practice is a strategy promoted as a way to improve professional performance and to develop expertise. Intentional reflection on work situations can lead to improved understanding of a specific situation, identify strategies for similar situations in the future, and uncover assumptions that hinder service to patrons. Research has identified lack of knowledge to be a barrier to health sciences librarians engaging in reflective practice. This article introduces the use of intentional reflection at work: what it is, how it helps, and how it can be applied in librarianship. It also provides practical advice on how to choose a format, how to use a model to guide reflection, and how to incorporate it into work.

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Jolene M. Miller, MLS, AHIP


In her 2017 article in the Journal of Information Literacy , Corrall captures the challenge of incorporating intentional reflection into professional practice: “reflection is a deceptively simple idea that is easy to grasp at a basic level but may be hard to put into practice in a professional [librarian] context” [ 1 ]. It is an everyday process that often happens without conscious thought, but reflection with the goal of improving professional practice requires intention. Reflective practice is the process of bringing intentional reflection to one's work to improve practice: providing better instruction, managing electronic resources more effectively, interacting with coworkers more collaboratively, and so on. It closes the loop: new understandings are applied to personal and organizational processes to improve performance. Discoveries about oneself have an impact on thoughts, feelings, and behavior; and relationships improve.

The good news is that no one is a blank slate with respect to reflection at work. The language of reflective practice and the use of models may be new, but the experience of thinking back on a situation and trying to make sense of it is universal. Having a formal process of reflective practice can help health sciences and medical librarians identify and develop best practices. This article, born out of an immersion session offered at the Medical Library Association (MLA) 2019 annual meeting [ 2 ], is designed to help readers incorporate reflection into their professional practice.

There are many diverse published models of reflective practice ( supplemental Appendix A ). They all have three main components: (1) description of the experience, (2) reflection on and exploration of why things happened as they did, and (3) identification of changes to thinking and behavior to improve the outcomes of future experiences. Reflective practice usually starts with consideration of a specific experience that had an unexpected outcome. Most models include guiding questions to make sure that all aspects of the experience are considered, such as external aspects (what happened, who was involved) and internal aspects (how one was feeling before, during, and after the experience). External sources of information such as observations of other people or data from evaluation forms may also be included.

After describing the experience, one reflects on it. This is the core of reflective practice. “Why” questions are common in this stage, guiding analysis and interpretation of the experience [ 3 ]. This stage includes judgments: What went well in the experience? What could have gone better? What was one's role in the outcome? What important aspects still need to be identified and considered? After reflection, there is an invitation to action. What could have been done differently? How might the outcome have been different? What needs to be done to improve practice in the future? This could be a change in how things are done or how other people are treated. It could also be a change in thinking about and approaching situations with a different mindset [ 4 ].

In addition to having different stages and questions, models approach reflective practice from different perspectives [ 5 ]. While all reflective practice models encourage deeper thought about a situation, critical reflection models encourage exploration of the assumptions underlying situations, which is a key step in critical librarianship. Use of critical reflective practice can “direct and inform action that carries social and ethical implications beyond the technical execution of library work” [ 6 ]. It provides a method for identifying personal and professional values, exploring where thoughts and actions diverge from these values [ 7 , 8 ], and identifying courses of action that are consistent with these values. It uncovers hidden biases that influence decision making and hinder high-quality service. In the context of critical librarianship, it is used to identify opportunities to dismantle oppressive social structures and systems such as white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism [ 9 ].


One of the greatest human attributes is the ability to think about and reflect on actions and experiences, whether an unexpected flash of self-reflection, a well-thought-out journal entry, or somewhere in between. As Taylor states, “Thinking can be a gift and a curse, depending on how we employ it in our daily lives” [ 10 ]. Based on one's mindset, an experience can be used for good or for ill. For example, an employee may use a negative evaluation as a reason to place full blame for their poor performance on others, rather than use it as a sign to explore their strengths and weaknesses, structural challenges, and ways to improve their performance.

Making the deliberate choice to engage in reflective practice harnesses the power of thought to improve professional practice. Using intentional reflection at work offers a variety of benefits. While the process directly benefits the librarian doing the reflecting, the resulting changes can extend out to the library, institution, and the profession. Some of the ways that reflective practice improves professional practice are explored below.

Uncovering inconsistencies in thought and action

There are often inconsistencies between what people say they believe and how they act. Critical reflective practice can be used to examine espoused theories (what one says one believes) and theory-in-use (how one acts) [ 11 , 12 ]. Identifying inconsistencies is the first step in understanding them and resolving them. Are they true inconsistencies or nuanced distinctions? What next actions are needed? Reflection can also facilitate the application of professional standards and ethics in practice [ 13 ].

Improving regulation of emotions

Reflective practice can improve regulation of emotions. It allows librarians to approach situations more objectively and less reactively by the process of cognitive reappraisal. Cognitive reappraisal is a way of thinking differently about a situation that changes internal emotional experiences and, in turn, external emotional expression [ 14 ], with the goal of modifying emotions that hinder effectiveness. Reflective practice provides space to explore situations and new ways of thinking about them, reducing their emotional impact and the emotional impact of future situations.

Reducing burnout

Health sciences and medical librarians provide an array of intensive services: systematic reviews, liaison support, evidence-based practice or critical appraisal instruction, and in-depth research assistance. Managing and providing these services can increase stress and burnout. As noted above, reflective practice facilitates cognitive appraisal, which in turn reduces the risk of burnout caused by emotional labor and suppression of emotions.

While reflective practice in and of itself cannot solve organizational issues that lead to burnout, it can be used to explore how role ambiguity and overload contributes to personal stress and burnout [ 15 ]. The results of this reflection can be used in conversations with supervisors to improve position-related and structural issues. In addition, reflective practice can reduce the chance of burnout resulting from “over-learning” repetitive and routine tasks [ 16 ]. Taking time to reflect interrupts the “hamster wheel” of activity, reconnecting daily work to the importance of health sciences librarians' role in patient care, education, and research.

Maximizing professional development

Library school cannot prepare graduates for every possible future, especially health sciences and medical librarians. They must take an active role in their continuing professional development. Many attend webinars and training, while others obtain their credentials through MLA's Academy of Health Information Professionals. Reflective practice can be used to get the most out of the time and money invested in both continuing education and the development of a portfolio for the academy. Taking time to reflect before and after continuing professional development activities can improve learning and assist in the application of new knowledge and skills. Reflective practice can also be used for big-picture planning for professional development [ 17 ]. While some continuing education courses include reflection, many do not, requiring librarians to take a more proactive role. Suggestions on how to apply reflective practice in continuing professional development are provided in Table 1 .

Using reflective practice for professional development

Demonstrating professional performance

While reflective practice works best when the librarian wants to be engaged in reflection, some institutions require self-reflection as a part of the performance evaluation process, such as part of a portfolio [ 18 , 19 ]. Because meaningful reflection requires privacy and a trusted environment, reflection on one's performance takes place before the self-evaluation document is written. The document reports on the outcomes of the self-reflection, rather than the full reflective process.


Reflective practice can take on a variety of formats that can be used with a model, combination of models, or no model. Find the formats that work best, remembering that as needs change, so might preferred formats.

Reflecting alone without recording the reflections

The simplest way to engage in reflective practice is to reflect alone without recording the reflections. This is somewhat similar to meditation in that it is internal reflection; however, analysis and judgment occur that are absent in meditation. This format is a good option if time for reflective practice is short. It is better to think about a situation and not record, than to skip reflection altogether because of lack of time. One drawback to this format of reflective practice is that it relies on memory to track the outcomes of reflection.

Reflecting alone and capturing the reflection

Reflecting alone and recording the reflection is a popular format for reflective practice. Reflective writing (handwritten journal entry or typing an electronic document) is a common way to reflect, though audio or video recordings can also be used. The obvious benefit of this format is that the reflection is captured for future review. A less obvious but more important benefit of reflective writing is that the writing “is the reflective process,” rather than just a recording of the reflection [ 20 ], because the physical process of writing helps clarify thoughts and conclusions. Librarians who are not comfortable with writing could use a form (perhaps based on steps in a reflective practice model) to jot down key ideas from reflection.

Talking with another person, such as a colleague or mentor

For some, talking through reflection can be effective. Reflective conversation with another person, such as a colleague or a mentor, can lead to additional insight. An outsider's perspective and questions might shed some light on the situation and increase understanding. These conversations need to take place in an environment that is confidential in order to explore situations fully and honestly. Reflective conversations can also be held with a supervisor, though the power differential may hinder deep reflection and honesty. Reflective conversations have additional aspects that need to be considered, which are listed in supplemental Appendix B .

Talking with a group of people

Small group discussions are another format for those who would like to verbalize their reflections. Group members can support one another in their reflections and learn from each other's successes and mistakes. It can be a regularly scheduled meeting or one called specifically when someone is looking for outside perspectives. Health sciences and medical librarians who work in different environments (e.g., academic, hospital, corporate) can consider forming groups with the intention of conducting reflection. Having some commonalities and some differences supports rich discussion. While reflecting in a group has similar considerations as reflecting with one other person (confidentiality and potential power differentials), it has additional considerations, such as how the group will be facilitated. Supplemental Appendix B lists considerations for being part of a reflective small group.

Reflecting alone, followed by talking with others

Another option is a combination of reflecting alone and then talking with others, either one-on-one or in a group. This is particularly helpful for those who have trouble identifying the outside perspective or overcoming other challenges in the reflective process. Talking to one or more colleagues can foster deeper individual reflection. Personality, preference, and opportunity will have an impact on format choice. Regardless of the chosen formats, reflection can be freeform or follow a model.


There is no formal model for conducting reflection that is geared toward health sciences and medical librarians; however, there are many published models in other professions. A reflective practice model can be used exactly as described in the literature or it can be used as a loose guide. As noted above, it can be turned into a form, where brief answers or comments can be jotted down without extra narrative. Models often provide a visual structure of the reflective process, which allow individuals who are reflecting to incorporate a process for thinking about their experiences, rather than have thoughts float around out of context [ 10 ]. Using a model can be particularly helpful for people who are new to reflective practice or for those who want to deepen their practice. Three example models are described below. Additional models can be found in supplemental Appendix A .

Situation, Evidence, Action (SEA)-Change Model

There are varied reflective practices models from many disciplines, yet the nature of intentional reflection requires the three components described earlier: description of the experience, reflection on and exploration of why things happened as they did, and identification of changes to thinking and behavior to improve the outcomes of future experiences. Some models—such as the Situation, Evidence, Action (SEA)-Change Model ( Table 2 ) that originated in professional library education—focus on these three elements. Instead of including generic questions to guide reflection, the SEA-Change Model identifies characteristics of deep reflection, as defined by Moon [ 21 ]. While the complete model includes a de-scaffolding component to help instructors facilitate student autonomy during reflection, leading to independence, the core of the model is three steps: identify the situation, provide the evidence, and follow through with an action or change [ 22 ].

Situation, Evidence, Action (SEA)-Change model

Adapted by permission of Barbara A. Sen.

Gibbs Reflective Cycle Model

Other models, such as Gibbs' Reflective Cycle Model ( Table 3 ) from the literature of teacher education, include more stages—"Description,” “Feelings,” “Evaluation,” “Analysis,” “Conclusion,” and “Action Plan”—and provide guiding questions to foster a more complete reflection [ 23 ]. Even with these extra stages, the three core components of reflective practice are present.

Used under Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License by Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development, Oxford Brookes University, Wheatley Campus, Wheatley, Oxford, UK, OX33 1HX.

Kim's Critical Reflective Inquiry Model

Some models apply the three main elements of reflective practice to a specific focus. Kim's Critical Reflective Inquiry Model ( Figure 1 ), from the literature of advanced nursing practice, describes three phases: “Descriptive,” “Reflective,” and “Critical/Emancipatory” [ 24 ]. In addition to reflection on the situation, it explicitly calls for reflection on one's espoused theories and intentions. This provides appropriate material for the final stage: critiquing practice and participating in the process that leads to change. The key aspect of this model requires critiquing beliefs, assumptions, and personal and professional values. Because of the nature of critical reflective practice, this model benefits from a combination of individual reflection and reflective conversation with others.

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These three models are a small sample of published reflective practice models. When reviewing models for possible use, consider whether you are:

  • New to reflective practice? Consider a model that includes guiding questions.
  • Short on time? Consider a simple three-component model.
  • Interested in a specific theoretical underpinning? Some models are highly informed by specific theories; others are more practical. Make sure to review the theories used and the assumptions made by potential models. For example, Ghaye offers a strengths-based model [ 25 ].
  • Interested in creative expression? There are models that incorporate storytelling [ 26 ] and poetry [ 27 ] as part of the reflective process.

Remember that all models include describing a situation, using reflection to make sense of it, and identifying and making appropriate changes.


The beauty of reflective practice is that it can be used by health sciences and medical librarians in any type of library, in any type of work, and at any stage in their careers. There are many ways in which reflective practice can be applied to librarianship.

Evidence-based library and information practice

Reflective practice is an important component of evidence-based library and information practice (EBLIP) [ 28 , 29 ]. Koufogiannakis and Brettle state that “EBLIP asks librarians to think critically about their practice and the process they use in making decisions” [ 30 ]. Reflection is embedded throughout the process, starting with an articulation of the problem to solve or decision to be made and ending with evaluation of the implemented solution or decision made. The journal Evidence-Based Library and Information Practice has a column called “Using Evidence in Practice,” which provides a place for librarians to share their experiences with applying evidence to a situation, including a reflection on their processes.

Reflective practice can also be used to improve librarians' skills as creators of evidence. Some authors focus on specific techniques, such as reflective writing [ 31 ], while others situate reflective practice in the broader context of research [ 32 , 33 ]. Hypothesis , the journal of the MLA Research Caucus, recently introduced a column called “Failure,” which is an opportunity for health sciences library researchers to reflect on challenges in the research process and how the challenges could have been avoided, allowing others to learn from their experiences [ 34 ].

Critical librarianship

Critical librarianship, “bringing social justice principles to…work in libraries” [ 35 ], relies on critical reflection to explore areas where libraries and librarians are supporting systems of oppression and to identify alternatives [ 36 ]. Articles on critical librarianship often identify examples and questions from librarianship or other disciplines that can be incorporated into critical reflection. For example, the #CritLib moderators post questions to be discussed at upcoming Twitter chats that can be adopted for individual critical reflection [ 35 ], and questions from parts of the chats are archived on the website. Regardless of the source of guidance for critical reflection, it is important to critical librarianship that the reflection results in action: “linking reflection to action is the enactment of critical practice ” [ 6 ].

Improvement of teaching

Teacher education has a long tradition of reflective practice to improve instruction and classroom management, resulting in a large body of knowledge that has informed the professional development of librarians in teaching roles. Reflective practice has been promoted as a tool for improving teaching skills [ 37 – 39 ] and as a technique for developing one's identity as a teacher [ 4 , 38 ]. The Association of College & Research Libraries' Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education has been suggested as a tool to guide reflection with the purpose of improved instruction [ 40 ]. Reflective practice is a key component in the development of a teaching portfolio [ 18 ].

Management and leadership

Reflective practice is a helpful tool for administrators, both for helping employees improve their performance and improving the supervisor's own practice. An institution may require employees to complete self-evaluations of their performance prior to the supervisors' evaluations. These annual self-evaluations can be difficult as employees struggle to remember a year's worth of activity. Reflective practice can mitigate the process. Supervisors can encourage their employees to reflect on a regular basis, whether it be monthly, quarterly, or biannually, as an effective way for employees to review their own work and track what was done, constructively gain insight into their performance, and document outcomes of practice improvement processes. This use of reflective practice enables thoughtful consideration of performance and can be used in informal or structured ways.

Reflective coaching can be used with employees between annual evaluations [ 41 ]. Reflective practice is beneficial to individual managers and to management teams. Just as the act of reflecting on one's own past work is a helpful tool for employees, it is also helpful for managers. It is a learning process itself, and that learning enables future change and a higher understanding of one's own strengths and weaknesses. Beyond specific work situations, resources are available to use reflection to explore core aspects of leadership [ 19 , 42 ].

It is not easy to engage in reflective practice. It takes time, dedication, and energy, any or all of which can be in short supply. Investing in one's self and one's career to become a better health sciences or medical librarian is worth the cost. Here are some tips to support exploration of reflective practice.

Pay attention

Reflective practice includes aspects of mindfulness, as only through paying attention can situations that would benefit from reflection be identified, such as surprising outcomes or uneasy feelings [ 43 ]. With a mindful approach, one can explore situations and alternatives in a way in which defensiveness is reduced, improving one's ability to plan and take action.

Be intentional and purposeful

Start each reflection with an intention to guide the time: why reflect on the identified situation? It is easy to start reflecting on a particular situation and then drift to something else. Granted, the tangent might lead to an important discovery, but an intention can help maintain focus. Sample intentions are how to improve an instruction session with negative evaluations or how to work more efficiently with the information technology (IT) department to streamline access to library resources.

Use a model to get started

As noted above, using a model can help visualize the process and provide a structure for the reflection. Most reflective practice models include a series of questions that can be used to guide reflection. Pick one that seems likely to work well for the current situation (time available, experience with reflective practice, complexity of the intention, and so on). If it does not work as well as expected, try another.

McCorquodale advises: “Value yourself enough to take time to reflect on your practice” [ 44 ]. One of the most common factors identified as a barrier to engaging in reflection is lack of time [ 45 , 46 ]. Everyone leads busy lives, and scheduling time for reflection is the first step to incorporating reflective practice into work life. What is needed: scheduling reflection time regularly or reflecting when a situation arises? If regular reflection is desired, when would be the best time and day to schedule it? Is it scheduled after certain kinds of events, such as after each instruction session? How long might a reflection period last? Block out reflection time on the schedule and defend it. Remember why investing time and effort in reflective practice is worthwhile.

Finding a space to reflect is as important as making time. The office is not ideal as there are often too many distractions and interruptions. Whether it is a couch in the library or a table at a coffee shop, find a space to conduct reflection. The space should be a place where one feels confident, protected, free from discrimination, and secure to conduct efficient reflection.

Find support

There are many different types of support that can be utilized to help to make the reflection process easier. Support from a supervisor can help facilitate the process by helping to find time to reflect. This support will allow the supervisor to see an interest in assessing the quality of the employee's work for professional growth. Supplementing independent reflection with conversation with trusted colleagues (individually or in a group) can provide feedback, clarity, support, and accountability. There are multiple opportunities to find a mentor through professional organizations such as MLA, the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries, and regional or state associations.

Be consistent

Reflective practice is not a skill learned overnight. Like all skills, experience brings improvement both in the reflective process and the application of insights from reflection to professional practice. Consider keeping track of reflections and outcomes in order to reflect on them. Reviewing that history can help identify how reflective practice skills have improved. Reflective practice is not a “one-size fits all” methodology, and there will be some trial and error to find what works best. Additional resources about reflective practice can be found in supplemental Appendix C .

Developing a practice of using intentional reflection does not happen quickly or spontaneously. It requires practitioners to be purposeful and build processes for reflective practice. The investment of time and energy in intentional reflection allows health sciences librarians to learn from their experiences and most importantly, helps them close the circle and apply what they have learned to improve their professional practice.


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Reflection as part of continuous professional development for public health professionals: a literature review

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Nishamali Jayatilleke, Anne Mackie, Reflection as part of continuous professional development for public health professionals: a literature review, Journal of Public Health , Volume 35, Issue 2, June 2013, Pages 308–312, https://doi.org/10.1093/pubmed/fds083

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For many years, reflection has been considered good practice in medical education. In public health (PH), while no formal training or teaching of reflection takes place, it is expected as part of continuous professional development. This paper aims to identify reflective models useful for PH and to review published literature on the role of reflection in PH. The paper also aims to investigate the reported contribution, if any, of reflection by PH workers as part of their professional practice.

A review of the literature was carried out in order to identify reflective experience, either directly related to PH or in health education. Free text searches were conducted for English language papers on electronic bibliographic databases in September 2011. Thirteen papers met the inclusion criteria and were reviewed.

There is limited but growing evidence to suggest reflection improves practice in disciplines allied to PH. No specific models are currently recommended or widely used in PH.

Health education literature has reflective models which could be applied to PH practice.

The practice of public health (PH) is a science as well as an art. 1 PH professionals may work across all or some of its main domains—health improvement, health protection and health services. The Faculty of Public Health provides direction and guidance to enable the development of professionals and establish competencies that specify behaviour, skills and attitudes. The Faculty encourages professionals to reflect as part of essential practice. 2 Many different disciplines contribute to the PH workforce, but all are expected to keep themselves up to date through continuing professional development (CPD). However, the mere experience of carrying out some developmental activity may not be sufficient to enable future improvements and thus many medical specialities encourage their practitioners to reflect on their experiences. 3

Reflection can contribute to learning. 4 Illeris 4 describes learning to consist of emotional and social dimensions as well as cognitive. In practice, the cognitive aspects are most easily measured through assessments or performance, while the emotional and social aspects may be less easily captured. Frameworks of reflection could support the development of both these dimensions. 5 Further to this, if learning is considered to take place in the form of a cycle, as shown in Fig.  1 , the role of reflection becomes apparent.


Four stages of Kolb's learning cycle 6 .

The cycle of learning comprises four elements—a concrete experience, an observation and reflection, formation of abstract concepts and testing in new situations. 6 The circular model does not mean each stage should be equally weighted in time and emphasis. 7 Kolb and Fry, in their theory, argue that the cycle can begin at any of those points. However, in its simplified form, the learning cycle will begin by carrying out a task, the person would reflect on that experience and apply the learning in a new situation. In order to apply experience to the new situation, the ability to generalize through identifying principles and their connections to actions over a range of circumstances is required. Throughout the process, learners rate themselves which is an important element for adult learners 8 and could be considered relevant for continuous professional development. In his work, Donald Schon 9 concludes that the possible objects for reflection can be as varied as the situations faced and the systems in which they occur. Reflection can be understood as the ‘ability to gain understanding of specific issues in practice through critically contextualizing, observing and analysing to generate new knowledge and insights which can enhance practice’. 10 This may mean the individual might reflect on the feeling for a situation which has led to adoption of a particular course of action, the way in which the problem has been framed and/or the role this has created for the individual in the wider institution as a result. 9 It can be seen as the process of reasoned thought which enables a critical assessment of both self as a professional and as an agent of change. 10 This latter is of particular relevance to PH professionals in their roles of influencing decision-making.

However, as a speciality on the whole, PH has focused heavily on quantitative measures for evaluation. The purpose of this paper is to describe the development of a framework for learning to reflection for individuals as well as for teams and to identify approaches to guide continuous professional development. This paper describes how this could be implemented and used in everyday work to enable professional development.

Literature search strategy

A literature search was undertaken using CINAHL, Medline and OvidSP electronic databases in September 2011. The search terms used were evidence-based practice, research evidence, medical education, qualitative research, reflective practice, reflection and evidence. Other sources included handpicking of books on evidence-based practice, reflection and research. Full texts of potentially relevant articles were obtained. Papers were identified for inclusion in the review by examination of full text articles. Data relating to characteristics of the population, intervention, outcome measures, study design and outcomes were collected.

Inclusion criteria

Papers written in English only were included. Articles pertaining to reflection in or on practice in PH or related disciplines were included. Documents published between 1970 and 2011 were included. Peer- and non-peer-reviewed publications were considered.

Exclusion criteria

Articles that included reflection as by-product rather than the main focus were excluded. Non-English language publications were excluded.

Electronic searches yielded over 100 citations. Further citations were obtained by hand searching of reference lists. More than 20 full articles were retrieved and assessed against the set inclusion criteria. Of the five papers included in this review, none were from PH, two from nursing and two from other allied health professions or other education literature. One further model was included from non-health background.

The search did not find evidence that particular frameworks were in regular use in current PH practice. The search identified educational concepts from the literature which could be applied to PH. Several approaches to reflection were found. While none of these were linked directly to PH practice, their use in medicine was referenced. The literature discussed here were selected on relevance and focused on the synthesis on framework, service-based learning and mentorship.

Burton's approach 11 was to use the core questions focused on reflection on action but with the ability to be applied in and before action. Burton's cycle of three questions comprises the questions: What? So what? Now what? These are questions which the reflector can answer during the reflective process.

Boud et al . 12 defines reflection in the learning context and focuses on the personal experience as the object of reflection—as the intellect and affects lead to new understandings and appreciations. Boud describes three main components to consider—experience, reflection and outcome. The experience can be a behaviour, ideas or feelings. The reflection will include returning to the experience, attend to feelings that it brought about and a re-evaluation of the experience. The outcome will look at new perspectives, changes to behaviour and an application of learning into practice.

The Gibbs' reflective cycle (1988) encourages a clear description of the situation, analysis of feelings, evaluation of the experience and an analysis to make sense of the experience. This would be followed by conclusions where other options are considered and reflection upon experience to examine what one would do if the situation arose again. 13 In essence, Gibbs describes a cycle of description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusion and action plan. The description is questioning what happened followed by the feelings brought about through the questions—‘what were you thinking and feeling?’. The evaluation component describes what was good and not so good about the experience. The analysis should identify what sense can be made of the situation and the conclusion details of what else could have been done. The process of reflection is ended with an action plan for what could be done if the situation arose again.

Atkins and Murphy 5 through their model suggest that for reflection to have a real effect it needs to be followed by an action commitment. The authors describe a cycle of awareness, description, analysis, evaluation and learning. The reflective process begins with the awareness of uncomfortable feelings and thoughts from the action or new experience followed by a description of the situation including thoughts and feelings. This would need to include salient events and key features identified by the reflector. The reflector would need to analyse feelings and knowledge relevant to the situation—identifying knowledge, challenging assumptions, imagining and exploring alternatives.

The reflection process would also need to include evaluation and consolidating learning. Evaluate the relevance of knowledge through asking questions includes the following: ‘Does it help to explain and/or solve problems’? ‘How complete was the use of knowledge’? These steps would be followed by identifying any learning which has occurred.

After-action review is a de-brief process in practice originally developed by the US army which aims to identify how to improve, maintain strengths and focus on performance of specific objectives. The de-brief manual provides guidance for individuals and group reviews. 14 The review would answer the following four questions: What was supposed to happen? What actually happened? Why were they different? What did we (I) learn?

Main findings

There is no published evidence of the use of particular models of reflection in PH practice. The general medical education literature contains various approaches to reflection.

The evidence base to suggest learner's self-reflection skills can be improved through formal training is still lacking.

There are a variety of theories on reflection in the education literature. The implication this brings to individual PH practitioners is to consider when and how they will reflect as part of their continuous learning cycle. In addition, whether the act of reflection should be done alone or as part of a team or both will need to be established. As a discipline that has focused less on reflection in the past it is possible to draw on theories and models already existent and in use within medicine. There are a range of ways to reflect which include methods like journal writing, discussions and use of technology such as blogs. 15 There is also a range of aspects to be considered, for example, individual perspective, team dynamics and societal impacts. Ultimately, the aim of reflection would be to improve practice and learn from relevant experiences. It is obvious that this comes from being an analytical reflector and moving beyond pure description. As some of the literature suggests, it is useful to recognise emotional influence and challenge one's ideas. In broader learning terms, it is also useful to consider the relevance of prior experience.

Reflection enhances personal development by leading to self-awareness. 16 If the focus of reflection is improvement in patient care, it helps to expand and develop clinical knowledge and skills. 17–19 The process slows down activity providing time to process material of learning and link to previous ideas. 20 It should also enable more ownership of the learning taking place. 20 Reflection has been reckoned to promote optimum effectiveness and efficiency in an ever evolving and complex health-care system through practitioners auditing their own practice. 21 , 22 ‘Reflection reminds qualified practitioners that there is no end point to learning about their everyday practice’. 18

Where it exists, the practice of reflection has tended to focus on individual professionals at specific points in time and/or on specific elements of practice. 10 This, however, can form only a part of the experience as many PH actions involve many disciplines. Often action takes place across multi-sectoral teams and involves multi-phased interventions. Programme delivery is often longer term, should be population focused and policy led.

The learner involvement is a key fundamental principle of adult education. PH CPD and the reflection that forms part of it can be viewed in light of adult education as individuals need to take ownership and engage in setting their learning agenda. 23 Therefore, the mere act of reflecting supports the androgogical model as adults need to be able to establish the purpose of the activity undertaken and identify how to cope effectively with real-life situations. 24

There needs to be opportunity to reflect as individuals as well as in teams in an acute manner while carrying out the longer term projects. Reflection can be used as a tool to facilitate professionals to assess beliefs, values and approaches to practice. 25 These factors determine how individuals personally and the policies/programmes which they deliver, act as agents of change, contributing to empowerment. Adult learners are more likely to believe and instil ideas that they help create. The environment can provide many structured activities that generate the ideas, concepts or techniques if an active decision to do so is taken. The practitioner could then experience surprise, puzzlement or confusion associated with the situation. Reflecting on the phenomena that is being experienced and prior understanding which have implicated, the resulting behaviour will lead the learner to new understanding. 9

In the health promotion literature, reflection on external and internal factors is recommended. These factors, however, could be equally applied to other domains of PH as they will include policy, professional and societal influences (examples of external factors) and attitudes, skills, experiences and team dynamics (examples of internal factors). 26

The practice of self-reflection in academic achievement has been captured in disciplines that contribute to PH. A positive impact was noted through reflective journal writing over only scientific report writing for those studying biology. 27 This was evidenced through greater awareness of cognitive strategies and conceptions of learning when learners constructed more complex and related knowledge when learning from text. In studies of mathematics students, while reflection was not necessary for high grades of achievements, it supported better conceptualization of meanings of the technical definitions. 28 Practice, shaped through reflection can develop professionals, organizations and society. This is already considered important within health promotion. 25

Educational concepts and the impact of reflection are not easily measurable. 29 Therefore, its merits may be overlooked. One can argue that this approach of reflecting on an issue is too straight forward and, in practice, difficult issues may take months to reflect on. Doing so quickly might lead to a paper exercise. Explicit frameworks may not be suitable for some situations. Frameworks vary in their focus of contexts. However, they are aimed to be critical analyses of knowledge and experience to deepen understanding. Time, motivation, initial expertise and lack of peer support are recognized barriers to reflection. To add to this are organizational contexts and team dynamics—frequent problems faced by PH professionals. 10 However, a structure to guide the process of reflection on the content and the process of learning would be deemed useful. 30


With the aim of providing a broad overview of reflective approaches relevant to PH professionals, this work provides a selection and not a complete comprehensive collection of medical education literature.

What does this report add?

There are very few articles relating the use of reflection to current PH practice and furthermore on the strengths and weaknesses of different models that could be applied. This review article outlines some of the most applicable and outlines their merits and otherwise. Individuals working in PH may consider some of the approaches described here alongside their current professional development activities either as individual learners or as part of learning within teams.

At present, the strength and extent of the evidence base for the educational effects of reflection in a PH setting is limited.

However, there is evidence of an improving trend in the quality of reported studies. ‘Higher quality’ papers identify improvements in knowledge and understanding, increased self-awareness and engagement in reflection and improved opportunities through specialist training and continuous professional development.

In recognition of the time commitment involved, the benefits to the profession must be apparent. In addition, the opportunity cost of other learning and developmental activity forgone needs to be considered. Further work is needed to strengthen the evidence base for reflection, particularly, where possible, comparative studies which observe changes in knowledge and abilities directly.

Given its merits, while the quantitative evidence base is limited, what are the implications for practice? Given PH's stated desire to base practice upon evidence there is urgent need to formally assess the effectiveness of reflection in the improvement of PH practice.

We would like to thank Joanne Harcombe for her helpful comments on the draft manuscript.

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Reflection Toolkit

Gibbs' Reflective Cycle

One of the most famous cyclical models of reflection leading you through six stages exploring an experience: description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusion and action plan.

Gibbs' Reflective Cycle was developed by Graham Gibbs in 1988 to give structure to learning from experiences.  It offers a framework for examining experiences, and given its cyclic nature lends itself particularly well to repeated experiences, allowing you to learn and plan from things that either went well or didn’t go well. It covers 6 stages:

  • Description of the experience
  • Feelings and thoughts about the experience
  • Evaluation of the experience, both good and bad
  • Analysis to make sense of the situation
  • Conclusion about what you learned and what you could have done differently
  • Action plan for how you would deal with similar situations in the future, or general changes you might find appropriate.

Below is further information on:

  • The model – each stage is given a fuller description, guiding questions to ask yourself and an example of how this might look in a reflection
  • Different depths of reflection – an example of reflecting more briefly using this model

This is just one model of reflection. Test it out and see how it works for you. If you find that only a few of the questions are helpful for you, focus on those. However, by thinking about each stage you are more likely to engage critically with your learning experience.

A circular diagram showing the 6 stages of Gibbs' Reflective cycle

This model is a good way to work through an experience. This can be either a stand-alone experience or a situation you go through frequently, for example meetings with a team you have to collaborate with. Gibbs originally advocated its use in repeated situations, but the stages and principles apply equally well for single experiences too. If done with a stand-alone experience, the action plan may become more general and look at how you can apply your conclusions in the future.

For each of the stages of the model a number of helpful questions are outlined below. You don’t have to answer all of them but they can guide you about what sort of things make sense to include in that stage. You might have other prompts that work better for you.


Here you have a chance to describe the situation in detail. The main points to include here concern what happened. Your feelings and conclusions will come later.

Helpful questions:

  • What happened?
  • When and where did it happen?
  • Who was present?
  • What did you and the other people do?
  • What was the outcome of the situation?
  • Why were you there?
  • What did you want to happen?

Example of 'Description'

Here you can explore any feelings or thoughts that you had during the experience and how they may have impacted the experience.

  • What were you feeling during the situation?
  • What were you feeling before and after the situation?
  • What do you think other people were feeling about the situation?
  • What do you think other people feel about the situation now?
  • What were you thinking during the situation?
  • What do you think about the situation now?

Example of 'Feelings'

Here you have a chance to evaluate what worked and what didn’t work in the situation. Try to be as objective and honest as possible. To get the most out of your reflection focus on both the positive and the negative aspects of the situation, even if it was primarily one or the other.

  • What was good and bad about the experience?
  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What did you and other people contribute to the situation (positively or negatively)?

Example of 'Evaluation'

The analysis step is where you have a chance to make sense of what happened. Up until now you have focused on details around what happened in the situation. Now you have a chance to extract meaning from it. You want to target the different aspects that went well or poorly and ask yourself why. If you are looking to include academic literature, this is the natural place to include it.

  • Why did things go well?
  • Why didn’t it go well?
  • What sense can I make of the situation?
  • What knowledge – my own or others (for example academic literature) can help me understand the situation?

Example of 'Analysis'


In this section you can make conclusions about what happened. This is where you summarise your learning and highlight what changes to your actions could improve the outcome in the future. It should be a natural response to the previous sections.

  • What did I learn from this situation?
  • How could this have been a more positive situation for everyone involved?
  • What skills do I need to develop for me to handle a situation like this better?
  • What else could I have done?

Example of a 'Conclusion'

Action plan.

At this step you plan for what you would do differently in a similar or related situation in the future. It can also be extremely helpful to think about how you will help yourself to act differently – such that you don’t only plan what you will do differently, but also how you will make sure it happens. Sometimes just the realisation is enough, but other times reminders might be helpful.

  • If I had to do the same thing again, what would I do differently?
  • How will I develop the required skills I need?
  • How can I make sure that I can act differently next time?

Example of 'Action Plan'

Different depths of reflection.

Depending on the context you are doing the reflection in, you might want use different levels of details. Here is the same scenario, which was used in the example above, however it is presented much more briefly.

Adapted from

Gibbs G (1988). Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit. Oxford Polytechnic: Oxford.

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  • Published: 27 May 2022

Through the looking glass: a review of the literature surrounding reflective practice in dentistry

  • Faith Campbell 1 &
  • Helen Rogers 2  

British Dental Journal volume  232 ,  pages 729–734 ( 2022 ) Cite this article

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A Correction to this article was published on 12 August 2022

This article has been updated

Reflection is an essential component of the learning process that helps to elicit deeper learning. In healthcare, this uses experiential activities to produce knowledge that compels the clinician to change their practice. Deep reflection allows one to explore emotions associated with challenging learning experiences, empowering reinterpretation of these experiences and removing barriers to further learning. Reflection is a key requirement of dental education at all stages. This paper aims to explore the existing literature on reflective practice in dentistry and identify areas for further research to improve reflective practice within dentistry.

Traditional methods of reflecting through written means are not facilitating the deep reflection which is desired. A systematic overhaul of reflective practice is suggested, involving a shift away from structured written reflections. There is little evidence to inform the most appropriate format for reflective practice in dental education. There is a need for further research to determine the effectiveness of reflective practice in dental education, particularly as a move away from structured written reflection to more creative reflective opportunities are encouraged. Greater exploration of barriers to reflection in dentistry is indicated, with consideration to how these may be overcome and a need to engage regulatory bodies in system-wide changes.

Reflection is an essential aspect of the learning process, with deep reflection eliciting deeper learning.

Deep reflection is desirable for learners at all stages, from undergraduate students to experienced clinicians, as it allows exploration of the emotions associated with the learning experience, removing barriers to learning and supporting wellbeing.

Further research to explore the barriers and facilitators to deep reflection in dentistry is indicated in order to support the planning and implementation of a systematic overhaul of current and often ineffective methods of reflection.

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Reflection is an essential component of the learning process. It has been defined as 'the active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief, or supposed form of knowledge in the light of grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends'. 1 It is considered to be a deliberate and structured process requiring one to recapture and contemplate on real experiences and challenge existing beliefs. 2 , 3

Reflection can help learners to bridge the gap between theory and practice, allowing them to find answers that they are unable to access through formal learning. 4 In healthcare, reflection uses authentic, experiential activities to elicit a deeper form of learning, allowing the generation of 'transformative knowledge'; new knowledge that compels the clinician to change their practice behaviour. 5 , 6

The practice of reflection is considered to offer broad and multi-faceted benefits. Deeper and more meaningful reflection has been associated with improved self-awareness, for holistic and lifelong learning. 2 For dental students, reflection can help to develop professional identity and self-confidence, alongside challenging assumptions and stereotypes, improving communication skills and providing an enhanced awareness of the complexity of their patients' lives. 7 Furthermore, it may help students to commit to the provision of service by providing quality care to make a difference, by gaining insight into the communities and lives of the patients that they care for. 7 As such, reflection is essential for all practitioners of dentistry, from the undergraduate student to the hospital consultant or general dental practitioner.

A further benefit of reflection relates to wellbeing, a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic in particular. Learning in a clinical environment for healthcare professions such as dentistry can be especially stressful, causing negative impacts on students' physical and mental health. 8 , 9 Dental students may feel insecure regarding their contribution to patient care and their role within the dental team, which in turn, may present as a barrier to learning. 10 Through exploring their feelings associated with a challenging learning experience, without external judgement, a student can be empowered to reinterpret these experiences in light of their inner strength and wisdom. 1 , 11

Despite the well-evidenced advantages of reflective practice, it is clear that there are some inherent challenges in reflecting. Reflection itself is often not straightforward and requires underlying knowledge. Furthermore, it takes time and practice for the necessary skills to be developed, with Rolfe arguing that students can only learn to become reflective practitioners when they are in practice and supported to do so. 12 Moreover, the ongoing need to evidence the value gained from reflection can be repetitive and lack meaning.

This paper aims to explore the existing literature on reflective practice in dentistry and identify areas for further research to improve reflective practice within dentistry. Key areas discussed will be: the requirement of reflection in dentistry; models of reflection that are relevant to dentistry; reflection through traditional means such as structured written reflections, logbooks and portfolios; reflective essays; and reflection with assessment. Furthermore, more novel methods of reflection including journals will be discussed, alongside barriers to reflection and recommendations for the future with respect to reflection in dentistry.

This is a narrative review of the literature for which the StarPlus database was searched. This is a University of Sheffield database which includes Google Scholar, PubMed, Medline, Ovid, Scopus, SAGE and ScienceDirect. The initial search on StarPlus was based upon the key words 'reflective practice', 'reflection', 'dental' and 'education'. This was expanded to include 'creative reflection' and 'healthcare' to explore more novel approaches that may not yet have been applied to dental education. Relevant legislative- and registration-related literature on reflective practice in dentistry was hand searched. The search was undertaken on 26 February 2020. The search results were reviewed by one author (FC) for relevance. The included studies were reviewed by both authors and a narrative review produced using the Scale for the Assessment of Narrative Review Articles (SANRA) criteria for quality of narrative reviews. 13

This method has limitations in that some key literature may have been missed; however, this was intended to be an accessible and informative summary of the relevant literature, rather than a systematic review.

Reflection as a requirement

Reflective practice is a key component of policy documents for providers of undergraduate dental courses, both in the UK and further afield. 14 , 15 , 16 In the UK, this includes evidencing that reflective practice has been undertaken by students throughout their five years of training. The American Dental Association states in their Accreditation Standards for Dental Education Programmes that becoming a competent professional involves daily reflective practice. 16 The benefits beyond undergraduate qualification have also been acknowledged by professional dental regulatory bodies globally, whereby it is understood that the development and maintenance of professional standards and skills involves rigorous self-assessment and reflection on one's current practice. 3 , 15 , 16 , 17 In the UK, upon registration with the General Dental Council (GDC), registrants are required to undertake meaningful experiential learning on an ongoing basis and should be able to explain the importance of critical reflection. 15 , 18

Furthermore, the GDC encourages qualified dentists to be reflective practitioners, whereby they should consider their experiences to gain insight into their practice to support the continual improvement of the quality of their care. In 2018, the GDC introduced the Enhanced Continuing Professional Development (ECPD) scheme, which requires all registrants to keep a record of relevant learning, including mandatory demonstration of reflection. 19 The Australian Dental Board encourages continual reflection on current practice in directing one's continuing professional development (CPD), with some Australian boards detailing reflection as a requirement of the CPD. 17 , 20 Reflection on the everyday clinical experience facilitates experiential learning and professional development and has been shown to have great value in complementing CPD for both individuals in recognised speciality training programmes and the experienced practitioner. 21

Models of reflection

A large range of reflective models have been proposed in the literature, varying in terms of the focus of the reflection (the person or the situation), the depth of the reflection (superficial or deep) and the perspective taken (individual or otherwise). 4 , 22 , 23 , 24 , 25 , 26 It is beyond the scope of this paper to explore these models in detail. Nonetheless, one important model with significant relevance to dental education, described by Schön, proposes two aspects of reflection: reflection-in-action, which occurs during experience where one can respond by modifying behaviour immediately; and reflection-on-action, after the experience with consideration of the event with thought and feeling on this. 4 Further to this, reflection-before-action has been described in nursing, where one reflects on what they want to do and how they intend to do it before they do it in order to avoid error and to provide an important opportunity for feedback. 27

Rolfe identified the advantages of reflection-on-action in managing wicked problems: those unique and complex situations that one cannot prepare for in advance, whereby an individual must generate their own theory on how best to proceed and test it out in an on-the-spot experiment. 12 In order to evaluate the outcome of the chosen approach, this reflective practice should be undertaken with others as a partnership or team. 4 , 12 Rolfe acknowledges that while these types of challenges are not uncommon in any field of healthcare, the opportunity to reflect with others may be less available for some practitioners. 12 The dental team is typically broad, comprising dentists, dental nurses, dental therapists, dental hygienists, dental technicians and administrative staff, though the majority of care is provided in much smaller units. The varied settings and teams within which dental care is provided may impact upon the opportunities an individual may have for reflective practice with colleagues. 12 For example, a small team working within a dental practice may potentially have fewer opportunities for group reflective practice when compared to a large team within a dental hospital. Nonetheless, the coordination of time together for larger groups to reflect may be a challenge, when a small team may be able to organise more consistent, regular sessions for practice. Further research is necessary to explore this area.

Reflective practice in dentistry

Traditional methods of reflection, structured written reflections.

The literature regarding reflective practice in dental education has been limited, yet the overwhelming majority of this investigates the use of structured written reflections. 28 , 29 , 30 One study explored the use of structured written reflections to assess the learning provided by a placement in conscious sedation for undergraduate dental students in the UK. 30 The results suggested that this method engaged the students in reflecting on the challenges of the learning experience, with some providing strategies to overcome these in future. 30 The students were given frameworks using both Rolfe and Gibbs cues, though only students whose structured written reflections were guided by Gibbs discussed their confidence. The frameworks can be seen in Table 1 . 30

Examples of headings used in structured reflections in these studies are shown in Table 1 . Similarly, structured written reflections undertaken by dental hygiene and therapy students in the UK through worksheets have been shown to evidence both superficial 'descriptive' and deeper reflection. This form of reflection alone can only hope to facilitate reflection-on-practice, as discussed earlier. 26 , 31 Nonetheless, presently this remains the mainstay of reflective practice in many aspects of healthcare. 12

Logbooks and portfolios

One common form of structured written reflection in dental education is the integration of reflection into a logbook or portfolio in which to record experiential learning and examples of reflective activity. Traditionally, logbooks are 'a collection of learning objectives and additional information concerning a specific educational period'. 32 They are a record for the student and educator that help to structure clinical learning, with an overview of the requirements of training, including those outstanding and inform and include setting of learning plans. 32 Meanwhile, a portfolio focuses on 'students' documentation and self-reflection of their learning activities'.

It is acknowledged that logbooks facilitate immediate and ongoing communication between learner and educator in the clinical environment, alongside providing a feedback loop for evaluating the learning activity and a method of continuous assessment. 33 However, logbooks can often be inadequate, for reasons such as a learner perception of logbooks being boring, bureaucratic and an exercise in collecting signatures with no consequence for improper completion and a misalignment of clinical experience and logbook requirements. 32 , 34 Logbook completion is often compulsory, with reflections being completed alongside target setting.

Written forms of reflection such as logbooks have been combined with group discussion, mentorship and used as a facilitator for reflective discussions, with these additional elements being beneficial in promoting learning and facilitating reflection. 31 , 35 , 36 These discussions and feedback between educators and learners which frequently occur in dental education during and after clinical sessions can be beneficial in stimulating internal reflection; however, this is not studied in the literature as a method of reflection. Furthermore, a qualitative study with undergraduate dental students undertaking clinical attachments in paediatric dentistry in the UK found that written reflection using logbooks alone may not facilitate reflection at all, due to barriers such as a perceived lack of understanding of and preparation for reflection and a greater emphasis placed by students and educators on learning through experience rather than reflection. 34

Portfolios may also be used with undergraduate dental students to facilitate reflective practice. 37 However, it has been acknowledged that students need support in learning to reflect in this manner. 37 Assessment or review of these by staff is also labour and time intensive and students may have anxiety surrounding the opinion of those who can see this portfolio. 37

Confidentiality concerns have been reported to affect the depth of reflection achieved by dental students in both the UK and Australia when using portfolios and written logbooks. 32 , 34 , 36 Dental students in the UK reflecting through a written portfolio described that they modified reflections because they knew that their mentor was going to read it. 36 Recent events in the UK have also threatened to undermine the safety of reflective practice in healthcare professions, whereby a reflective portfolio was utilised in a fitness to practise case for a junior doctor investigated for negligence in a manslaughter case. 38 Although the reflections were not used in the criminal case proceedings, understandably this has led to heightened caution during reflective practice in healthcare, including dental education.

Reflective essays

There is plenty of evidence regarding the use of reflective essays on clinical experiences with medical students. 39 , 40 , 41 They have been shown to be rewarding and to have enhanced the learning experience when medical students completed reflective essays on their experience during clinical placements in palliative care. 42 These students, however, reported that the additional work of a reflective essay was burdensome, hoop jumping, contrived and intrusive. 42 Furthermore, medical students in the UK and Australia have reported not reflecting honestly when required to do so through written essays and finding difficulty in expressing emotion. 42 , 43

The term 'reflective essay' implies that reflection has taken place but it is uncertain whether it has and whether any reflection within the constraints of a formal essay is deep or meaningful. The reflective essay has often been used in medical education to assess student learning rather than to evidence reflective practice. 40 It is interesting to note that the use of the reflective essay for dental students has not been studied in detail; however, in one study in the USA, undergraduate dental students and their educators did find value in reflective essays on critical incidents in facilitating reflection. 7 , 28 Undergraduate dental education is frequently more focused on practical skills with greater and earlier clinical experiences than in medical education. This may invoke different emotions associated with the learning experience and thus require a different approach to reflective practice.

Reflection with assessment

Assessment of written reflections, such as essays, may cause students to modify what they write and give them a feeling that they were writing their reflection for someone other than themselves. 44 Focus on assessment criteria can overtake that of reflecting deeply. 43 Self-censorship of student reflection has been found to be more likely when students feel that what they are writing may be deemed by evaluators of the reflection as negative, which was demonstrated in the evaluation of reflection through worksheets by UK dental students. 31 , 45 This has led to debate on whether reflective writing should be assessed at all. 46 The potential for reflective activities, such as poetry and storyboarding, to form the basis of assessments has also been explored with nursing and physiotherapy students and was demonstrated to be successful in facilitating reflection. 47 , 48 , 49 Nonetheless, the compulsory nature of an assessment and the need for it to satisfy marking criteria may preclude the depth of reflection being undertaken by learners.

The impact of this may vary depending on whether the reflective piece is assessed formatively or summatively, but more research is needed to determine this. It has also been suggested that reflection-based assignments would be better suited for low-risk, formative types of assessment. 49 A recent qualitative study exploring reflective practice for undergraduate dental students found enthusiasm from learners and educators in moving towards assessing engagement with the reflective process rather than assessment of the reflective practice itself, a move which would have to satisfy relevant regulatory bodies. 34 Furthermore, the use of structured reflection to inform target setting, for example creating learning action points, has been shown to elicit an emphasis on negative aspects of the learning experience in dental therapy students. 31

Novel and creative methods of reflecting

There is a growing interest in the use of alternative and more creative modes of reflective practice in other fields. 50 Application in nursing, for example, has suggested creative reflective practice, such as poetry, storyboards and artwork, may offer numerous advantages to structured written reflection, particularly for the development of emotional awareness surrounding issues such as death and serious illness. 47 , 51 , 52 , 53 A particular advantage of these methods over traditional methods is the facilitation of the learner reflecting through a voice other than their own, allowing greater freedom to explore feelings. 53 While these advantages were also observed with the use of a storyboarding reflective technique with student nurses, the researchers reported that this approach was both staff and time intensive, with particular attention necessary to develop a climate of trust and safety. 53 Outside of healthcare, poetry has been shown to support reflective practice in a group of student teachers, particularly in reflecting on their motivation for choosing that profession. 54 Similarly, creative approaches have been employed with sports coaching students, where they were found to be useful in facilitating reflection on prior learning and the formation of action plans. 48

The integration of journals, also referred to in the literature as reflective diaries, into undergraduate dental courses has been reported to assist in formalising reflection, providing an outlet for personal feelings and an opportunity for feedback about students' experience of the course and a means to provide insight for both students and educators into the learning process. 35 , 55 There are, however, issues with the application of reflective journals in dentistry with respect to confidentiality and assessment, thus careful consideration must be given to fostering a trusting environment for reflecting through journals and appropriate education in their use. 35

In dentistry, the literature has indicated that the processes of 'blogging' or keeping a clinical journal may be useful reflective learning tools, yet there is currently little evidence to support the effectiveness of these approaches or the use of more creative methods in this field. 29 , 56 One study with dental students in the USA encouraged methods including the use of photography of the clinical setting but not the procedure or clinical experience directly, alongside discussion of the images captured and small group reflective discussions, in addition to more traditional methods of reflection. 28 Students reported that it made their clinical experience more meaningful, interesting and rewarding. 28 When blogging was used with dental hygiene students in the USA, quantitative analysis found an improvement in the depth of reflection reached by students practising blogging, in turn developing critical thinking skills, assessed through the California Critical Thinking Skills Test. 56 However, this study had a small sample size, with only 11% of students participating in the study completing the blogs. 56

The use of short video vignettes as a reflective exercise for undergraduate dental students in the UK was successful in facilitating reflection for both individuals when they were creating the video and for peers when viewing the video together. 57 The learning experience, including that of holistic care, was enhanced and reinforced and students learnt about the benefits of reflecting on more negative experiences, with enhanced depth of reflection. 57 This was viewed positively by student participants; however, it was acknowledged that this approach will not suit everyone, such as more introverted students, with some expressing feeling camera shy and nervous of sharing their feelings. 57 Despite a growing body of evidence to support the use of creative approaches to reflection in other fields of healthcare and education, there is a need for further research to determine the applicability, relevance and success of these techniques in dental education.

Barriers associated with all methods

There are barriers to reflective practice in its various forms that may preclude some individuals from engaging.Further to the aforementioned limitation in opportunities for those working in small teams to reflect with others, a key barrier to reflection is the requirement for protected, dedicated time to undertake reflective practice. 3 , 32 The literature suggests that the setting and time available for reflection can affect the depth of reflection undertaken. 5 Moreover, the learner must be motivated to reflect, acknowledging that the process of reflection itself may produce an 'inner sense of discomfort', which may deter them from proceeding. 58 It has also been suggested that learners may avoid reflective queries that require additional effort to process or access the necessary information. 31 Most importantly, the ability to reflect is not innate; it is considered to be a skill that should be both taught and practised, a perception echoed in groups of students and educators in dentistry. 5 , 32

Students have reported not knowing how to reflect, with a lack of formal teaching on this, contributing to knowledge being a perceived barrier to reflective practice for both student learners and educators in a qualitative exploration of reflective practice among undergraduate dental students. 34 Improved and formalised teaching on reflective practice to ensure learners and educators have a good understanding of what reflection is and its importance may combat the instinct to focus reflection on negative learning experiences. Despite the emphasis on reflective practice from all stakeholders involved in dental education, there is a lack of clarity on how best to practically implement the facilitation of effective methods of deep reflection.

It has been frequently reported that students do not appreciate the value of reflection, nor enjoy reflecting, 31 , 34 with 'the language of reflection being alien to most students'. 59 However, it must be noted that the process does not need to be enjoyable for it to be valuable to students, yet lack of enjoyment is likely to be a barrier to completing an 'onerous' activity. 31 Furthermore, when solely reflecting on a clinical scenario, students often focus on negative emotions and perceived weaknesses. 60

Reflection is a compulsory aspect of dental education in the UK. 14 , 15 When reflection is mandatory, undergraduate dental students have reported feelings of resentment towards it. 31 , 35 The requirement for individuals to be open and honest may provoke a strategic and sometimes hostile response to reflection, which has led to questions on whether reflective practice should be a compulsory exercise at all. 61

Recommendations for the future

The traditional methods of reflecting in dentistry discussed in this paper are so ingrained in students, educators and practising dentists, so heavily utilised by education providers and so extensively relied upon by regulatory bodies, that a systematic overhaul would be required in order to introduce more effective means of facilitating deep reflection. It has been suggested that reflection can be effectively learnt when students feel that they are in a safe and caring environment and are not at risk of being penalised. 62 Thus, creating a safe space for reflection that is not assessed is necessary.

This overhaul would involve a shift away from structured written reflections, more research into creative approaches of reflection to demonstrate the ability to facilitate deep reflection in dental education and the exploration of alternatives to compulsory assessed reflective practice. This may include greater student autonomy on how and when they reflect, with varied opportunities to reflect being offered. While the GDC doesn't specify how practising dentists should reflect, or evidence this within ECPD in the UK, it must be established whether regulatory bodies would approve of these alternative methods of reflection being integrated into the undergraduate dental curriculum; more specifically, assessing student engagement with the reflective process, rather than the content of the reflection.

In conclusion, reflective practice has a clear role throughout dental education, from undergraduate level to ongoing registration with regulatory bodies. The benefits of reflective practice identified from educational research and studies in other areas of healthcare may be easily relatable to dentistry, though there is little evidence to inform the most appropriate format for reflective practice in dental education. There is a need for further research to determine the effectiveness of reflective practice in dental education where there is arguably less available evidence, particularly as a move away from structured written reflection to more creative reflective opportunities are encouraged. Dental and dental hygiene and therapy students are unique within healthcare education, owing to their clinical exposure, experience and responsibility in providing operative treatment to their own patients at an early stage in their undergraduate training. Furthermore, dentists and dental care professionals encounter different challenges in their practice. Unlike medical or nursing students, most dental students will immediately assume a management and leadership role in their team within a dental surgery. Moreover, greater exploration of the barriers to reflection in dentistry is indicated, with consideration to how these may be overcome and a need to engage regulatory bodies in system-wide changes.

Change history

12 august 2022.

A Correction to this paper has been published: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41415-022-4562-6

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Faith Campbell undertook the review of the literature and paper selection, wrote the first draft of the paper and further iterations and assessed the paper for meeting the SANRA criteria for narrative reviews. Helen Rogers co-wrote the first draft of the paper, assisted with revising and editing drafts of the paper and assessed the paper for meeting the SANRA criteria for narrative reviews.

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Campbell, F., Rogers, H. Through the looking glass: a review of the literature surrounding reflective practice in dentistry. Br Dent J 232 , 729–734 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41415-022-3993-4

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gibbs reflective cycle literature review

gibbs reflective cycle literature review

  • Gibbs' Reflective Cycle

May 9, 2023

Delve into Gibbs' Reflective Cycle, a powerful tool fostering critical thinking, deep learning, and professional growth through reflection.

Main, P (2023, May 09). Gibbs' Reflective Cycle. Retrieved from https://www.structural-learning.com/post/gibbs-reflective-cycle

What is Gibbs' Reflective Cycle?

Gibbs' Reflective Cycle is a popular model for reflection, acting as a structured method to enable individuals to think systematically about the experiences they had during a specific situation.

Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle is a widely used and accepted model of reflection . Developed by Graham Gibbs in 1988 at Oxford Polytechnic, now Oxford Brookes University, this reflective cycle framework is widely used within various fields such as healthcare, education, and management to enhance professional and personal development . It has since become an integral part of reflective practice, allowing individuals to reflect on their experiences in a structured way.

The cycle consists of six stages which must be completed in order for the reflection to have a defined purpose. The first stage is to describe the experience. This is followed by reflecting on the feelings felt during the experience, identifying what knowledge was gained from it, analyzing any decisions made in relation to it and considering how this could have been done differently.

The final stage of the cycle is to come up with a plan for how to approach similar experiences in future.

Gibbs' Reflective Cycle encourages individuals to consider their own experiences in a more in-depth and analytical way, helping them to identify how they can improve their practice in the future.

A survey from the British Journal of Midwifery found that 63% of healthcare professionals regularly used Gibbs' Reflective Cycle as a tool for reflection.

"Reflection is a critical component of professional nursing practice and a strategy for learning through practice. This integrative review synthesizes the literature on nursing students’ reflection on their clinical experiences." – Beverly J. Bowers, RN, PhD

The Six Stages of Gibbs' Reflective Cycle

The Gibbs reflective cycle consists of six distinct stages: Description, Feelings, Evaluation, Analysis, Conclusion, and Action Plan. Each stage prompts the individual to examine their experiences through questions designed to incite deep and critical reflection. For instance, in the 'Description' stage, one might ask: "What happened?". This questioning method encourages a thorough understanding of both the event and the individual's responses to it.

To illustrate, let's consider a student nurse reflecting on an interaction with a patient. In the 'Description' stage, the student might describe the patient's condition, their communication with the patient, and the outcome of their interaction. Following this, they would move on to the 'Feelings' stage, where they might express how they felt during the interaction, perhaps feeling confident, anxious, or uncertain.

The 'Evaluation' stage would involve the student reflecting on their interaction with the patient, considering how they could have done things differently and what went well. In the 'Analysis' stage, the student might consider the wider implications of their actions and how this impacted on the patient's experience.

Finally, in the 'Conclusion' stage, the student would summarise their reflections by noting what they have learned from the experience. They would then set an 'Action Plan' for how they will apply this newfound knowledge in their future practice.

Gibbs' Reflective Cycle is a useful tool for nurses to utilize in order to reflect on their past experiences and improve their practice. By using reflective questions , nurses can actively engage in reflection and identify areas for improvement. 

  • Description : Start by objectively recounting the experience. Helpful questions to ask include: What happened? Who was involved? When and where did this occur?
  • Feelings : Capture your emotional response to the experience. It's essential to acknowledge both positive and negative emotions, as they significantly affect our interpretation of the event.
  • Evaluation : Assess the good and bad aspects of the experience. What worked well, and what didn't? What were the positive impacts and negative consequences?
  • Analysis : Dig deeper into understanding why things unfolded as they did. This analysis stage is where you draw on relevant literature and professional knowledge to interpret the experience.
  • Conclusion : Determine what you could have done differently and what you've learned from the experience.
  • Action Plan : Develop a plan detailing what you'll do if a similar situation arises in the future.

Gibbs Reflective Cycle

Examples of the Reflective Model in Practice

The Gibbs Reflective Cycle, a model of reflection, can be a powerful tool for learning and personal development across various vocations. Here are five fictional examples:

  • Nursing : A nurse named Jane had a challenging interaction with a patient. Using the Gibbs Reflective Cycle, she first described the situation and her initial reactions. She then reflected on her feelings, identifying negative emotions that arose. During the analysis stage, she realized that her communication skills needed improvement. She concluded that better communication could have led to a more positive outcome. Finally, she developed a personal development plan to improve her communication skills, demonstrating the positive impacts of deep level reflection.
  • Teaching : A teacher, Mr. Smith, had difficulty managing his classroom . He used the Gibbs Reflective Cycle to reflect on a particularly chaotic day. He identified negative aspects of his classroom management strategy and, through critical thinking, realized that he needed to set clearer expectations for his students. He then developed a plan to implement these changes, showing how the approach to reflection can lead to actionable improvements .
  • Customer Service : Sarah, a customer service representative, received constructive feedback from a customer who was dissatisfied with the service. She used the Gibbs Reflective Cycle to reflect on the interaction, identifying her feelings of disappointment and analyzing what went wrong. She concluded that she needed to improve her problem-solving skills and developed a plan to do so.
  • Management : A manager, Tom, struggled with delegating tasks to his team. He used the Gibbs Reflective Cycle to reflect on a project that was delayed due to his reluctance to delegate. He identified his fear of losing control as a negative emotion and realized during the analysis stage that trust in his team was crucial. He then developed a plan to practice delegation in future projects.
  • Counseling : A counselor, Dr. Lee, felt that her recent sessions with a client were not productive. She used the Gibbs Reflective Cycle to reflect on these sessions . She identified feelings of frustration and, upon analysis, realized that she needed to adjust her counseling techniques to better suit her client's needs. She then developed a plan to implement these changes.

These examples illustrate how the Gibbs Reflective Cycle can facilitate learning and reflection across different vocations, leading to personal and professional growth.

An Exploration of Gibbs' Model

Gibbs' Reflective Cycle offers a structured approach to reflection, making it a helpful tool for educators and learners alike. The model encourages critical reflection , stimulating the ability to analyze experiences through questions and transform them into valuable learning opportunities.

Experiential Learning , a concept closely tied with reflection, suggests that we learn from our experiences, particularly when we engage in reflection and active experimentation . Gibbs' model bridges the gap between theory and practice, offering a framework to capture and analyze experiences in a meaningful way.

By using Gibbs' model, educators can guide students through their reflective process , helping them extract valuable lessons from their positive and negative experiences.

Gibbs reflective cycle

Application of Gibbs' Reflective Cycle in Real-World Scenarios

The flexibility and simplicity of Gibbs' Reflective Cycle make it widely applicable in various real-world scenarios, from personal situations to professional practice.

For instance, Diana Eastcott, a nursing educator, utilized Gibbs' model to facilitate her students' reflection on their clinical practice experience. The students were encouraged to reflect on their clinical experiences, analyze their reactions and feelings, and construct an action plan for future patient interactions. This process not only enhanced their professional knowledge but also fostered personal growth and emotional resilience.

In another example, Bob Farmer, a team leader in a tech company, used Gibbs' Cycle to reflect on a project that didn't meet expectations. He guided his team through the reflective process, helping them identify areas for improvement and develop strategies for better future outcomes.

These scenarios underline the versatility of Gibbs' model, demonstrating its value in both educational and professional settings.

  • ( Gibbs Reflective Cycle , University of Northampton, https://www.northampton.ac.uk )
  • ( Gibbs' Reflective Cycle , Oxford Brookes University, https://www.brookes.ac.uk )
  • ( Reflective Practice , San Francisco State University, https://www.sfsu.edu )

gibbs reflective cycle literature review

Gibbs' Reflective Cycle for Personal and Professional Development

The use of Gibbs' Reflective Cycle can have profound effects on personal and professional development. It aids in recognizing strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement, providing an avenue for constructive feedback and self-improvement.

In the context of professional development , Gibbs' model promotes continuous learning and adaptability. By transforming bad experiences into learning opportunities, individuals can enhance their competencies and skills , preparing them for similar future situations.

Moreover, the reflective cycle promotes emotional intelligence by encouraging individuals to explore their feelings and reactions to different experiences. Acknowledging and understanding negative emotions can lead to increased resilience, better stress management, and improved interpersonal relationships.

Implementing Gibbs reflective cycle

Transforming Experiences into Learning: The Role of Gibbs' Reflective Cycle

Gibbs' Reflective Cycle is a practical tool that transforms experiences into learning. It incorporates principles of Experiential Learning and emphasizes the importance of abstract conceptualization and active experimentation in the learning process.

In the field of education, Gibbs' model can significantly influence teaching methods. It encourages educators to incorporate reflective practices in their teaching methods, promoting a deeper understanding of course material and facilitating the application of theoretical knowledge in practical scenarios.

Moreover, the model can be used to encourage students to reflect on their experiences, both within and outside the classroom, and learn from them. This process fosters critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and personal growth, equipping students with the skills they need for lifelong learning.

Embracing Gibbs cycle in your organisation

Here's a list of guidance tips for organizations interested in embracing Gibbs' Reflective Cycle as their professional development model.

  • Understanding the Gibbs Reflective Cycle : Before implementing, ensure that everyone in the organization understands the Gibbs Reflective Cycle model. This model consists of six stages: Description, Feelings, Evaluation, Analysis, Conclusion, and Action Plan. The goal is to encourage deep level reflection on experiences to foster learning and improve future actions.
  • Promote a Culture of Reflection : Encourage everyone in the organization to incorporate reflection into their daily routine. Reflection should not be seen as an added task, but rather as an integral part of the professional development process.
  • Use Real-Life Situations : For the methods in education to be effective, use real-life situations when applying the Gibbs Reflective Cycle. This way, employees can relate to the experiences, making the reflection process more relevant and meaningful.
  • Encourage Sharing of Reflections : Create a safe space for individuals to share their reflections. This could be through team meetings, one-on-one sessions with managers, or through online platforms. Sharing allows for collective learning and may provide different perspectives on the same situation.
  • Integrate Reflective Practice in Training Programs : Use the Gibbs Reflective Cycle in training programs. After each training session, encourage participants to go through the reflective cycle. This can help them understand the training content better and apply it in their work.
  • Link Reflection to Personal Development : Connect the outcome of the reflection to personal development plans. The Action Plan stage of the cycle should feed into the individual's personal development plan, helping them identify areas of strength and areas needing improvement.
  • Provide Guidance and Support : Provide guidance and support in the early stages of implementing the Gibbs Reflective Cycle. This could include providing templates or guides, or offering training on how to use the model effectively.
  • Continuous Review and Feedback : Regularly review the use of the Gibbs Reflective Cycle in your organization and provide feedback. This will help ensure that the model is being used effectively and is helping individuals in their professional development.
  • Model Reflective Practice : Leaders and managers should model reflective practice themselves. This shows that the organization values reflective practice and can motivate employees to engage in it themselves.
  • Celebrate Success : Recognize and celebrate when reflective practice leads to positive changes or improvements. This can motivate employees to continue using the Gibbs Reflective Cycle in their professional development.

gibbs reflective cycle literature review

What is the Difference Between Kolb's and Gibbs' Reflective Cycle?

Both Kolb's Experiential Learning Theory and Gibbs' Reflective Cycle are influential learning methods used extensively in education and professional development. While they share similarities, such as promoting a cyclical learning process and fostering a deeper understanding of experiences, there are key differences.

Kolb's cycle consists of four stages: Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation. It focuses more on the transformation of direct experience into knowledge, emphasizing the role of experience in learning.

On the other hand, Gibbs' cycle, with its six stages, places a greater emphasis on emotions and their impact on learning. For example, a team leader might use Kolb's cycle to improve operational skills after a failed project, focusing on what happened and how to improve. However, using Gibbs' cycle, the same leader would also reflect on how the failure made them feel, and how those feelings might have influenced their decision-making.

Other notable Learning Methods and Cycles

Please note that each of these theories or models has been developed and refined over time, and they each have their own strengths and weaknesses depending on the specific learning context or goals.

Adopting the Cycle in Education

Gibbs' Reflective Cycle is an invaluable tool for nurturing professional skills and fostering personal growth. By systematically integrating this reflective model into educational practices, institutions can significantly enhance their students' professional development.

Here are seven innovative ways educational institutions can harness the power of Gibbs' Reflective Cycle to boost skill acquisition , operational proficiency, leadership capabilities, and personal skills mastery.

  • Incorporate Reflective Practice in Curriculum: Educational institutions can incorporate Gibbs' Reflective Cycle into their curriculum, making it a regular part of learning. This can encourage students to develop professional skills by continually reflecting on their experiences and learning from them.
  • Real-World Scenarios: By using real-world situations or case studies, educational institutions can provide practical instances for students to apply the reflective cycle. This will help them understand the type of situation they might encounter in their professional life and how to handle it.
  • Promote Skill Acquisition: Gibbs' cycle can be used as a tool for skill acquisition. By reflecting on their performance in various tasks and projects, students can identify their strengths and areas that need improvement. This can aid in the development of operational skills, leadership skills, and personal skills.
  • Professional Development Workshops: Educational institutions can organize workshops that focus on the application of Gibbs' Reflective Cycle for professional development. These workshops could provide hands-on training on how to use the cycle effectively.
  • Reflective Journals: Encourage students to keep a reflective journal. This practice can help students regularly apply Gibbs' cycle, promoting introspection , and the development of key leadership skills.
  • Mentorship Programs: Implement mentorship programs where experienced professionals guide students in applying Gibbs' Reflective Cycle. This can provide students with valuable insights into how reflective practice can enhance their professional skills.
  • Assessments Based on Reflection: Design assessments that value reflective practice. Instead of solely focusing on theoretical knowledge, consider students' ability to reflect on their experiences and learn from them. This approach can make learning more engaging and relevant to real-world situations.

In the journey of life and work, we continuously encounter new situations, face challenges, and make decisions that shape our personal and professional trajectory. It's in these moments that Gibbs' Reflective Cycle emerges as a guiding compass, providing a structured framework to analyze experiences, draw insights, and plan our future course of action.

Underlying the model is the philosophy of lifelong learning. By encouraging critical reflection, it empowers us to not just passively experience life, but to actively engage with it, to question, and to learn. It's through this reflection that we move from the realm of 'doing' to 'understanding', transforming experiences into knowledge.

Moreover, the model emphasizes the importance of an action-oriented approach. It propels us to use our reflections to plan future actions, promoting adaptability and growth. Whether you're an educator using the model to enhance your teaching methods , a student exploring the depths of your learning process, or a professional striving for excellence in your field, Gibbs' Reflective Cycle can be a powerful tool.

In an ever-changing world, where the pace of change is accelerating, the ability to learn, adapt, and evolve is paramount. Reflective practices, guided by models such as Gibbs', provide us with the skills and mindset to navigate this change effectively. They empower us to learn from our past, be it positive experiences or negative experiences, and use these lessons to shape our future.

From fostering personal growth and emotional resilience to enhancing professional practice and shaping future outcomes , the benefits of Gibbs' Reflective Cycle are manifold. As we continue our journey of growth and learning, this model serves as a beacon, illuminating our path and guiding us towards a future of continuous learning and development.

  • Reflection in Learning and Professional Development
  • The Reflective Practitioner
  • Reflective Practice: The Teacher in the Mirror
  • The Impact of Reflective Practice on Teaching Effectiveness
  • Reflective Practice: A Guide for Nurses and Midwives
  • Reflective practice in nursing
  • Learning by Doing: A Guide to Teaching and Learning Methods
  • Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle

gibbs reflective cycle literature review

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Article • 5 min read

Gibbs' Reflective Cycle

Helping people learn from experience.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

gibbs reflective cycle literature review

Many people find that they learn best from experience.

However, if they don't reflect on their experience, and if they don't consciously think about how they could do better next time, it's hard for them to learn anything at all.

This is where Gibbs' Reflective Cycle is useful. You can use it to help your people make sense of situations at work, so that they can understand what they did well and what they could do better in the future.

What Is Gibbs' Reflective Cycle?

Professor Graham Gibbs published his Reflective Cycle in his 1988 book " Learning by Doing ." It's particularly useful for helping people learn from situations that they experience regularly, especially when these don't go well.

Gibbs' cycle is shown below.

Figure 1 – Gibbs' Reflective Cycle

gibbs reflective cycle literature review

From "Learning by Doing" by Graham Gibbs. Published by Oxford Polytechnic, 1988.

Gibbs' original model had six stages. The stage we haven't covered here is "Analysis" – we've included this as part of the Evaluation stage.

Using the Model

You can use the model to explore a situation yourself, or you can use it with someone you're coaching – we look at coaching use in this article, but you can apply the same approach when you're on your own.

To structure a coaching session using Gibbs' Cycle, choose a situation to analyze and then work through the steps below.

Step 1: Description

First, ask the person you're coaching to describe the situation in detail. At this stage, you simply want to know what happened – you'll draw conclusions later.

Consider asking questions like these to help them describe the situation:

  • When and where did this happen?
  • Why were you there?
  • Who else was there?
  • What happened?
  • What did you do?
  • What did other people do?
  • What was the result of this situation?

Step 2: Feelings

Next, encourage them to talk about what they thought and felt during the experience. At this stage, avoid commenting on their emotions.

Use questions like these to guide the discussion:

  • What did you feel before this situation took place?
  • What did you feel while this situation took place?
  • What do you think other people felt during this situation?
  • What did you feel after the situation?
  • What do you think about the situation now?
  • What do you think other people feel about the situation now?

It might be difficult for some people to talk honestly about their feelings. Use Empathic Listening at this stage to connect with them emotionally, and to try to see things from their point of view.

You can use the Perceptual Positions technique to help this person see the situation from other people's perspectives.

Step 3: Evaluation

Now you need to encourage the person you're coaching to look objectively at what approaches worked, and which ones didn't.

  • What was positive about this situation?
  • What was negative?
  • What went well?
  • What didn't go so well?
  • What did you and other people do to contribute to the situation (either positively or negatively)?

If appropriate, use a technique such as the 5 Whys to help your team member uncover the root cause of the issue.

Step 4: Conclusions

Once you've evaluated the situation, you can help your team member draw conclusions about what happened.

Encourage them to think about the situation again, using the information that you've collected so far. Then ask questions like these:

  • How could this have been a more positive experience for everyone involved?
  • If you were faced with the same situation again, what would you do differently?
  • What skills do you need to develop, so that you can handle this type of situation better?

Step 5: Action

You should now have some possible actions that your team member can take to deal with similar situations more effectively in the future.

In this last stage, you need to come up with a plan so that they can make these changes.

Once you've identified the areas they'll work on, get them to commit to taking action, and agree a date on which you will both review progress.

Frequently Asked Questions About Gibbs' Reflective Cycle

What is purpose of Gibbs' Reflective Cycle?

The reflective cycle is a way to better learn from experience. It can be used to help people learn from mistakes, to make sense of situations, and analyse and refelct on their reactions to different situations.

What are the six stages of reflection?

The stages of Gibbs' Reflective Cycle are the following: descrition, feelings, evaluation, conclusion, and action. In the original model Gibbs included a sixth stage, analysis, which we've included in the evaluation stage.

What is the difference between Gibbs and Kolb's reflective cycles?

David Kolb's cycle has only four stages: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. Kolb's model is more about explaining the concept of what he calls "experiential learning" – whereas Gibbs' cycle is an attempt to provide a practical method for learning from experience.

This tool is structured as a cycle, reflecting an ongoing coaching relationship. Whether you use it this way depends on the situation and your relationship with the person being coached.

Graham Gibbs published his Reflective Cycle in 1988. There are five stages in the cycle:

  • Description.
  • Evaluation.
  • Conclusions.

You can use it to help team members think about how they deal with situations, so that they can understand what they did wel and where they need to improve.

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In English as Foreign Language (EFL) classroom context, it is compulsory for the students to make reflections of literary works. The current study is aimed at examining how the students implement Gibbs’ reflective cycle in making reflections of literary analysis. The qualitative study employed a document analysis upon the students’ reflection artefacts. The students’ reflections are their responses to a short story written by Amy Tan. The findings of the study revealed that Gibbs’ reflective cycle is a good framework to be used by the students in writing reflections upon literary works they are working on. The well-structured framework of writing reflection helped the students explore the literary work deeply, since the reflective cycle accommodates important aspects that can be explored from the literary work by the students. It can be concluded from this study that among the models of reflective writing developed by Kolb, Johnson, and Gibbs, the latest model is considered the most suitable to be used in literary classroom since its well-structured model enables the students to write better reflections of literary works.

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Febriani, R. B. (2019). The students’ reflective writing manifestation of reader-response literary analysis. Journal of English Education, Literature, and Culture. 4(1). 35-44

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Holder, N.A.K., Sim, Z.L., Foong, C.C., Pallath, V. (2019). Developing a reflection guiding tool for underperforming medical students: An action research project. Tuning Journal for Higher Education, 7(1), 115-163

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Middleton, R. (2017). Critical reflection on practice development: The struggle of a practice developer. International Practice Development Journal, 7(1), 41-46.

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