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Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance

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Knowledge is an important element of productivity. If follows that the acquisition of knowledge is equally important to your long-term success. But how do you learn? And how do you find time?

A 2014 research paper titled Learning By Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance offers some keen insights. Basically, there are two types of learning: learn by doing (experience), and learn by thinking (reflection). It turns out that the most powerful way to learn is a combination of both.

The authors define “reflection” as an intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience. Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive. Here are a few highlights from the paper.

  • The automatic, unconscious process of learning generated by “doing” becomes more effective if deliberately coupled with the controlled, conscious attempt at learning by “thinking.”
  • A person learns through developing different interpretations of new or existing information, that is, through developing (consciously or unconsciously) a new understanding of surrounding events.
  • Reflection builds one’s confidence in the ability to achieve a goal, which in turn translates into higher rates of learning.

What do you think? How does reflection help you learn? Does learning from your experiences make you more self confident?

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Originally published May 30, 2014. Update January 21, 2020.

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About Heather

Heather Hollick has been helping others become better leaders and craft more meaningful careers for more than 25 years. Her experience spans both business and technology, operations and organizational development. Oh, and she was born in Canada, so she can't help but be helpful. 😉

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