Getting started with reflective learning and portfolios

23 Nov, 2022 | Learning and Teaching, Pilot, Portfolios | 0 comments

What is reflective practice and reflection in portfolio development?

Reflection is a helpful strategy in development as practitioners and especially with regard to reasoning processes. It involves describing, analysing and evaluating our thoughts, assumptions, beliefs, and actions and includes:

  • Looking forward
  • Looking at what we are doing now
  • Looking back

Critical reflection takes place in many areas of professional development and practice, including health care education, teaching, management, and research, as it encourages practitioners to gain insight into their own professionalism through their experiences.

Portfolios in themselves are products however reflection is a learning process.


Portfolios without reflection are simply a digital scrapbook.

Helen Barrett – 


Reflective practice is a process. A process of deliberate critical appraisal of self where connections are made between values purposes and actions.

Critical reflection is a metacognitive activity of evaluating and focusing on a problem, conception or idea.

Why is reflection important in portfolio development and the learning process?

Reflection also increases self awareness of abilities and attributes and helps with personal understanding in order to optimise strengths. A portfolio is an important space to reflect upon personal and professional identity with a goal of creating an online representation of the narratives around these.

Studies have shown the process of reflection increases competency and enhances professional growth leading to expanded employability.

What are effective strategies for reflection? (What does reflection look like?)

To scaffold reflection, Rolfe et al. (2001) provides a model using:

What | So What | Now What

  • WHAT? The first stage is a mere description of what happened and of the experience you would like to analyse and take forward for your own learning.
  • SO WHAT? Once the description has been completed carefully you should ask yourself what the experience and situation means.
  • NOW WHAT? Consider the steps you will be taking in order to improve your practice and learn from the initial experience.

The reflective model according to Gibbs (1998) is based on several stages, during which you are required to answer questions in order to go as deep as possible with your reflections.

Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle is a six-step structured process where you:

  • describe what happened
  • discuss feelings
  • evaluate and analyse the experience
  • draw conclusions, and
  • develop an action plan if faced with the same situation in the future.


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