The Social Learning and Reflection Continuum

Recently I had a Twitter conversation with Marcia Conner (@marciamarcia), Aaron Silvers (@mrch0mp3rs), and David Winter (@davidawinter) on the subject of reflection. Or more specifically, is reflection on the same continuum as social learning:

social learning and reflection continuum

Being on opposite sides of the continuum does not mean it's one or the other, but rather there are different degrees and combinations of social learning and reflection. The reason I place them on the same learning continuum is that their definitions seem to be just about the opposite (one is performed with others while the other is often performed in one's head):

  • Social Learning: a process of learning caused or favored by people being situated in a common environment and interacting and observing one another. This allows the learners to not only perceive each other for comparison and self-evaluation, but also see others as a neutral source of information, which may help or speed several forms of instrumental learning.
  • Reflection is thinking for an extended period by linking recent experiences to earlier ones in order to promote a more complex and interrelated mental schema. It normally involves looking for:
    • commonalties
    • differences
    • interrelations beyond their superficial elements

The middle of the learning continuum might be termed Social Reflection: engaging with another person in a way that encourages talking with, questioning, or confronting, in order to aid the reflective process by placing the learner in a safe environment in which self-revelation can take place (Hatton, Smith, 1995):

Social Reflection

And of course we can combine the Learning Continuum with other continuums to form a quad:

Social, Reflection, Informal Learning, Formal Learning Tools

Note: examples of tools that promote reflection

How do you view the Social Learning and Reflection Continuum?


jay said...

I'm missing something here, Donald. Why is "chat with time to reflect" more informal that "discussion with time to reflect"? Why are "interviews" more reflection than social? I've always considered what I write in my journal informal, not formal. And shouldn't critical reflection be more in between?

Is there some other dimension at work here?

Donald Clark said...

Hi Jay,

When I wrote "group" I was thinking more of a classroom discussion.

As to interviews, Hatton and Smith wrote a paper, "Reflection in Teacher Education: Towards Definition and Implementation" (1995) in which they discussed activities that promote reflection. One of the activities they mentioned was interviewing an expert. To do a good interview, the learners really need to do some good reflection on what they will be asking if they want to perform an effective interview, otherwise, they tend to ask really dumb or shallow questions.

If you are writing in a journal on your own, yes that would be informal, but if you are writing because it is assigned, then that would be formal.

As far a critical reflection, I believe it requires more thinking than talking with others. I posted one definition below which might help to explain my reasoning. However, that does not mean you cannot make it more or a "social reflection" (engaging with others in a way that encourages talking with, questioning, or confronting, to aid the reflective process by placing the learner in a safe environment in which self-revelation can take place.)

~~ Definition ~~

Critical Reflection is the process of analyzing, reconsidering and questioning experiences within a broad context of issues (Murray, Kujundzic, 2005). Four activities are central to critical reflection (Brookfield 1988):

1. Assumption analysis - This is the first step in the critical reflection process. It involves thinking in such a manner that it challenges our beliefs, values, cultural practices, and social structures in order to assess their impact on our daily proceedings. Assumptions are our way of seeing reality and to aid us in describing how the order of relationships.

2. Contextual awareness - Realizing that our assumptions are socially and personally created in a specific historical and cultural context.

3. Imaginative speculation - Imagining alternative ways of thinking about phenomena in order to provide an opportunity to challenge our prevailing ways of knowing and acting.

4. Reflective skepticism - Questioning of universal truth claims or unexamined patterns of interaction through the prior three activities - assumption analysis, contextual awareness, and imaginative speculation. It is the ability to think about a subject so that the available evidence from that subject's field is suspended or temporarily rejected in order to establish the truth or viability of a proposition or action.

Brookfield, S. (1988). Developing Critically Reflective Practitioners: A Rationale for Training Educators of Adults. In Training Educators of Adults: The Theory and Practice of Graduate Adult Education, edited by S. Brookfield. New York: Routledge.

Murray, M., Kujundzic, N., (2005). Critical Reflection: A Textbook For Critical Thinking. Qu├ębec, Canada: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Donald Clark said...


You also wrote, "Is there some other dimension at work here?"

I'm quite sure there are! I'm still somewhat undecided if reflection and social learning should be on the same continuum. As a noted in my post, one is more about learning from thinking while the others is more about learning from others (and again, it does not mean it's one or the other, but rather there are different degrees and combinations).

This is my other thought -- they might be two separate continuums with a whole bunch of others -- I posted this diagram on the net: http://twitpic.com/3l9lsj

Ollie Gardener said...

Intriguing post. Not quite sure if the model works for me, but I think there is a lot to be said about the value of reflection and doing so in a social setting.

I think we should get a lot better at facilitating social reflection in organisations and education alike, and not just reflection on the content itself but the various contexts in which people see that content.

Learning to me, is not so much about assimilating information. It is about understanding, interpreting and repurposing (is that a word?) resources.
We are a whole lot better at doing this together, as we all bring different mental models to the table that can help reframe and shed new light on a resource.

Improving our ability to do so would not only help us learn and innovate, but understand eachother better and provide an environment in which learning and innovation could be transferred into action.