Learning without reflection? Let’s rethink that.

I led the pigeons to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for Richard Stands. One nation under guard, invisible, with library just down the hall.”

What is this? The Pledge of Allegiance of United States, as recited by first graders. The actual words are:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

To first graders, concepts like allegiance or indivisible don’t make sense. Because they haven’t learned them. They know what they know, and that informs everything. Adults are not very different. We have more life experience, yes. This shapes our beliefs and behaviors. What we know, forms neural pathways in the brain which get stronger over the years through re-use. Just like trails are formed on mountains – the more animals and humans keep using a specific path, more defined it gets. These are hard to change.

But, change is possible for our brain. We learn when our brain makes connections between neurons – they fire together to wire together. Any new information is interpreted based on these connections. So, how do we integrate new information? By reflecting.

Reflection converts an experience into tangible takeaways. Our body picks up data – what we’ve seen, heard, felt – and sends it to our brain to make meaning. If we don’t pause to look at this unconscious process, we may not learn much.

Prof. Francesca Gino, Harvard Business School, says, “I don’t see a lot of organizations that actually encourage employees to reflect. When we fall behind even though we’re working hard, our response is often just to work harder. But to work smarter, we should take time for reflection.” Research at Wipro shows that reflection after a learning experience increases job performance by over 22%.

Here are two ways you can help yourself or your team reflect:

What, not why. Humans always want to understand the reason behind things. So, we ask ‘why.’ But, ‘why’ makes us defensive. There are times we don’t know why something happened. Replace ‘why’ with ‘what’. Some go-to ‘what’ questions are:

  • What happened for you in that workshop?
  • Did anyone find the discussion challenging or uncomfortable? What made it so?
  • What are some thoughts (or feelings) you’re sitting with?

Group sharing. A Deloitte survey of over 10,000 leaders across 140 countries, found that 32% of companies are becoming more team-oriented and connected with social media, to keep up with a diverse and technology-savvy workforce. Which means, they are choosing to learn socially, over solo e-learning pursuits. Offering space for employees to share their ideas/ takeaways with others helps them learn more effectively. They can better absorb the learning content and gain insights from others’ learning.

Reflection helps us dig into what we really know, so we can use it. What’s your favorite way to do so?

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