Ive taken senior leaders from one of Europe’s top telecoms companies through a deep and extended process of learning. The simulation was embedded in a Business School programme that gave the leaders the tools and frameworks they would need to navigate the complex synthetic world of the simulation. A powerful and emotional experience for all concerned, and one that’s provoked some deep reflection on my part as I try to assimilate what I’ve learned and what I will do with that learning. One question that came up in this processing was not about my own learning, it was about the aftermath for the participants:
“Were they getting the time and space they needed to reflect on what the experience offers them?”
Reflection on learning is an essential part of any effective learning process, yet it’s one for which few corporate learning professionals are able to win time, given the pressures to deliver more learning with less time out of the job. What compounds this is the pressure exerted on the participants by a mountain of mail and actions that they have deferred whilst being part of the programme - even if they are given reflection time as part of the programme they find it difficult not to get swamped by their own workload.
I looked round for any recent research that might be useful for colleagues in making the case for reflection time, and came across some interesting research in the form of a paper from Harvard Business School. In this research a random sample of 202 people were each individually given an online creativity test. One group of participants were directed to reflect on their experience and how they might approach a future test, writing down any strategies they thought might be helpful. Another group was told to also write down their thoughts and strategies, understanding that their notes would be shared with others. The final group was given no instructions about the need for reflection time.
In the end, both of the groups that were tasked with thinking about the tests performed significantly better than the group that did not spend any time thinking about the tasks at hand.
The authors present the following conclusions:
1.Learning from experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection- i.e. the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience.
2. Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive.
3. Reflection builds an individuals’ confidence in their ability to achieve a goal (self-efficacy), which in turn translates into higher rates of learning.
(Learning By Thinking: How Reflection Improves Performance by Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano & Bradley Staats HBS 2014)
My case to those tasked with designing corporate learning is that the provision of structured, active reflection time at the end of a programme is not a ‘nice-to-have’, but is an essential core component of the learning process. There’s a time to stop the input and give people the space and the scaffolding to consolidate their learning.
My case to those commissioning corporate learning is this, if you see some space at the end of the programme when your people are not apparently actively engaged in learning, don’t be tempted to think that this has little value and that chopping it is a way to get people back to work quicker. This is about protecting your investment, getting more learning for the cash you’re putting in, maximising your ROI. Whatever language you use to make your case; this is a fight worth winning.
So, as we approach what is traditionally a season for reflection, reflect on the value you place on reflection itself - are you giving it the space in your learning processes that its potential demands?