Reflective Practice


Amplifying insights and efficacy through critical self-analysis

Principal Metaphors

The notion of “reflect” in Reflective Practice signals an alignment with the Illumination Metaphor:
  • Knowledge is … enlightenment; all that has been illuminated
  • Knowing is … seeing, insight
  • Learner is … one in the dark
  • Learning is … reflecting
  • Teaching is … shining a light on; highlighting




Reflective Practice refers to both one’s inclinations and abilities to reflect – that is, to critically review one’s actions, responses, interpretations, and motivations – as an integral aspect of one’s learning. Multiple descriptive and/or prescriptive models have been proposed, with varying levels of sophistication. Models typically involve sequences of describing, analyzing, planning, and implementing. Reflective Practice is often associated with:
  • Praxis – a notion dating back to the ancient Greeks, Praxis is a conscious attitude to unite theory-and-practice or thought-and-action. Activist Discourses take the notion a step further, using Praxis to bring together reflective action and critical theorizing.
  • Critical Praxis (Paulo Freire, 1970s) – an elaboration of the notion of Praxis to the space of collectivity – involving self-reflection, reflective action, and collective reflective action


Criticisms of Reflective Practice tend to revolve around accusations that its insights and advice are trivial, informed by the realization that an integral aspect of human cognition is iterative development. Reflective Practice seems to be little more than a formalization of this necessary process, layering a “critically” into the common admonition to “think about what you’re doing.” Some proponents of Reflective Practice have attempted to link it to Second-Order Cybernetics in suggestion that reflection constitutes a “second loop” or “double loop” in one’s cognition. This suggestion is worrisome in its naiveté; it is a trivialized interpretation of a complex, recursive dynamic that is argued to be integral to awareness.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

John Dewey; Donald Schön

Status as a Theory of Learning

Reflective Practice is a not a theory of learning. Rather, with regard to theories of learning, it is an application of a principle of learning that is common to most perspectives.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Reflective Practice is, in essence, a theory of self-teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Substantial empirical evidence has been gathered to show that deliberate and critical attention to one’s actions can contribute to more sophisticated understandings and more nuanced actions. However, that realization is neither unique to Reflective Practice (e.g., it’s an assumption that underlies the work of most counselors and therapists), nor one that relies on or affords deep insights into the human mind. Consequently, Reflective Practice does not meet our criteria of a scientific theory.


  • Critical Praxis
  • Praxis

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Reflective Practice” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

⇦ Back to Map
⇦ Back to List