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 Resistance to Learning

Reflective Practice

The importance of reflecting on what you are doing, as part of the learning process, has been emphasized by many investigators. Reflective Observation is the second stage (in the usual representation) of the Lewin/Kolb learning cycle.

Donald Schön (1983) suggested that the capacity to reflect on action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning was one of the defining characteristics of professional practice. He argued that the model of professional training which he termed "Technical Rationality" — of charging students up with material in training schools so that they could apply it when they entered the world of practice — has never been a particularly good description of how professionals "think in action", and is quite inappropriate to practice in a fast-changing world.

The cultivation of the capacity to reflect in action (while doing something) and on action (after you have done it) has become an important feature of professional training programs in many disciplines, and its encouragement is seen as a particularly important aspect of the role of the mentor of the beginning professional. Indeed, it can be argued that “real” reflective practice needs another person as mentor or professional supervisor, who can ask appropriate questions to ensure that the reflection goes somewhere, and does not get bogged down in self-justification, self-indulgence or self-pity!

The quality and depth of the reflection, however, is not specified within this formulation: and it is interesting that two different traditions of professional development emphasise seemingly contradictory aspects. Reynolds (1965), and particularly Dreyfus and Dreyfus (1986) discuss how developing practitioners come gradually to take for granted aspects of their practice which initially preoccupied them, and move on to be concerned about (reflect upon) wider matters. This taking-for-granted on the one hand, and reflection on the other, offers a view of how reflection-on-action deepens in the course of a career.

See the Learning Curve and Expertise

Argyris and Schön (1978) differentiate between "single-loop" and "double-loop" learning, drawing on a distinction made by Ashby (1960) in a seminal work on cybernetics. For our purposes, single-loop learning is a simple version of the Lewin/Kolb cycle, in which performance is evaluated through reflection and then corrected or improved. In double-loop learning, the whole activity is part of a larger cycle, in which the reflection takes place on the fact of engaging in the activity and the assumptions implicit in it. This is the kind of reflection explored in Boud, Keogh and Walker (1985), and relates to Bateson's learning II and even learning III.

For critical discussion of the idea see Tennant (1997) and for a full exposition see Moon (1999)

Examples of developing reflective practice among music teachers

  Critical Reflection

Original content updated and hosted at www.learningandteaching.info/learning/

Behaviorists seem to believe that people learn only when it worth their while. Humanists seem to believe everyone wants to learn. But learning is a form of personal change, and that can be resisted as often as it is embraced.
Generally speaking, when people fail to learn something which they have been taught, the failure is attributed to one or more of three factors:

Experience, however, suggests a fourth factor which is often neglected:

  • the cost of learning.

A fuller account is available here

    The economic cost of undertaking higher education is a real factor for many students in much of the UK at the moment, but "cost" is here used psychologically. It implies the loss involved for the (superficially) competent and experienced adult in "changing their ways". This change may be termed "supplantive learning", to be contrasted with simple "additive learning" in that instead of just adding new knowledge or skills to an existing repertoire, supplantive learning calls into question previous ways of acting or prior knowledge and replaces them (Atherton, 1999).

    Supplantive learning is difficult enough when it is entirely under the learner's control, but when it is required, demanded or forced, or creeps up out of awareness, or there is significant emotional investment in previous beliefs or ways of acting, it becomes problematic. 


    Simple, unproblematic supplantive learning entails a drop in morale which comes from temporarily diminished competence in the skill or understanding. Problematic supplantive learning overlays this with an experience analogous to crisis.

    The natural course of such learning follows three stages:

    • De-stabilisation: in which the previous way of thinking or acting is upset
    • Disorientation: the "trough" in which loss of competence and morale combine to make the learning difficult, and there is a considerable temptation to return to the "old way".
    • Re-orientation: the gradual climb out of the trough, which follows a similar pattern to the curve of "normal" additive learning. 


    It can be precipitated in three ways:
        By external crisis, which forces the change
      • By "hitting bottom", in which there is no way but up, from the bottom of the trough (as in the recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous)
      • By a "facilitating environment", which provides a safe opportunity to change, but does not force it.

      Clearly, only the third is acceptable in educational terms.  

A fuller account is available here

Original content updated and hosted at www.learningandteaching.info/learning/

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