Reflective practice

What can I do?

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  1. Use reflections over extended periods (8 or more weeks) [1]
  2. Have students provide feedback to each other when reflecting [1]
  3. Use online forums, case conferences, concept maps, and structured questions to get students to reflect [1, 2]

What is this about?

In a health education setting, reflective practice refers to the process of reviewing, reflecting on, and learning from an experience or activity. Reflective practice can be used to help students process and understand their experiences, to identify areas of strength and weakness, and to develop strategies for improvement. Reflective practice can be achieved in a number of ways, including:

  • Journaling or writing about the experience
  • Discussing the experience with a peer or mentor
  • Participating in a debriefing or review session with the educator
  • Using a structured reflective framework or model, such as the Gibbs Reflective Cycle

The educator's role in a reflective practice setting is to provide a supportive and structured environment in which students can reflect on their experiences, and to offer guidance and feedback as needed. The educator may also provide resources or tools to help students reflect, such as reflective prompts or frameworks.

What's the evidence say?

Reflective practices have been shown to have a moderate effect on learning ➕➕➕ [1]. Further, research with healthcare professionals (including students) shows that reflective practice improves diagnostic decision making ➕➕➕➕ [2]. The effect of reflective practices on learning is greater when students engage in reflective practices for 8 or more weeks ➕➕➕ , they reflect using discussion forums, present at case conferences, and create concept maps ➕➕➕ , and they discussed their experiences with their peers  ➕➕➕➕ [1]. Regarding diagnostic decision making, reflective practices are more effective when students reflect using structured questions and prompts ➕➕➕ [2].

What's the underlying theory?

  1. Social Cognitive Theory suggests that reflective practice can influence learning by providing students with information about the standards and expectations of the learning environment, and by providing opportunities for social comparison. Reflective practice can also provide a sense of social support and encouragement, which can enhance motivation and learning.
  2. Constructivist Theory suggests that reflective practice can facilitate learning by allowing students to construct their own understanding of the material through reflection and analysis. Reflective practice can provide a context for students to make connections between the material and their own lives and experiences, and to synthesize and integrate new knowledge with their prior understanding.
  3. Self-Regulation Theory suggests that reflective practice can facilitate learning by providing students with the opportunity to take responsibility for their own learning and to monitor and regulate their own progress. Reflective practice can provide students with a structured and supportive environment in which to reflect on their learning, identify areas for improvement, and develop strategies for self-regulation. This process can help students to become more self-directed and motivated learners.

Where does the evidence come from?

This evidence summary is based on two meta-analyses. The first explored reflective practices in higher education [1]. This meta-analysis included experimental and quasi-experimental research, included 23 primary studies, had a low heterogeneity score (I2 = 0.48), included students from a number of disciplines and backgrounds, and reported a low-risk of publication bias (fail-safe N = 1015). For these reasons, this study was rated as high-quality (5/5). The second study explore diagnostic decision making in healthcare professionals, including students [2]. The paper included controlled studies, analysed 44 primary papers, reported low heterogeneity (I2 = 0.35), and included a number of healthcare professions (from students to specialists). No publication bias calculations were conducted. Regardless, this quality of this meta-analysis is still rated high (4/5).


  1. Guo, L. (2022). How should reflection be supported in higher education? — A meta-analysis of reflection interventions. Reflective Practice, 23(1), 118-146.
  2. Prakash, S., Sladek, R. M., & Schuwirth, L. (2019). Interventions to improve diagnostic decision making: A systematic review and meta-analysis on reflective strategies. Medical Teacher, 41(5), 517-524.

Additional Resources

Fragkos, K. C. (2016). Reflective Practice in Healthcare Education: An Umbrella Review. Education Sciences, 6(3), 27.