The Value of Reflection

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”
– John Dewey


What is Reflection?

At its essence, reflection is “considering for further understanding.” A classic educational definition of reflection states: “Reflection is active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in light of the grounds that support it and the further consequences to which it leads” (Dewey 1933).


What characterizes Reflection in academic applications?

Reflection is purposeful. There is a stated purpose for the reflection, including learning outcomes and actions. The purpose of reflection in Senior Seminar is to help students consider, discuss, and develop their own philosophy of life.

Reflection actively draws upon prior experiences. Students are asked to draw upon prior experiences, knowledge, and assumptions and to put them in conversation with new knowledge and experiences (In some educational literature this is identified as “meaningful learning”). Ideally the learning environment includes experiential and applied learning events to encourage this dialogue. Senior Seminar is “meaningful learning.” The course prompts students to reflect upon their First Year Seminar experience (specifically through their FYS Liberal Arts Essay), their childhood and upbringing, and their experiences while a student at Hope College. New knowledge and experiences come from the readings, subject matter, and discussions that take place in Senior Seminar. Many Senior Seminars take place during the summer in off-campus locations, and students can also take Senior Seminar while studying off-campus through the Chicago Semester, Philadelphia Center, and Washington Honors Programs—all of which include experiential and applied learning events.

Reflection is integrative. It encourages dialogue between prior knowledge and new knowledge, between multiple disciplines, as well as engaging experiences, emotions, and beliefs. Senior Seminar is the capstone of a liberal arts education at Hope College. Seminar topics are interdisciplinary, the course are taught by instructors from across campus, and students engage classmates with different majors whose academic and disciplinary formation has differed from their own—particularly in their junior and senior years. Senior Seminar also prompts students to reflection in order to integrate their experiences, emotions, and beliefs into their philosophy of life.

Reflection is investigative and challenging. Putting prior knowledge and new knowledge into conversation. Senior Seminar

  1. encourages students to critically consider how and why they believe the things they do,
  2. challenges student assumptions, and
  3. promotes the search for clarification and alternative understanding.


Reflection deepens and shifts learning. In Senior Seminar, students move

  • from description to understanding,
  • from no questions to having questions to responding to questions,
  • from the momentary to stepping back and considering meaning,
  • from self-questioning to self-challenging, and
  • from focusing on one’s own view to the consideration of others’ views. 


Reflection is a continual part of the learning experience.

Senior Seminar can be an example of David Kolb’s model of experiential learning in which students move from concrete experience to reflective observation of that experience. Then, students learn from that experience through abstract conceptualization and move to active experimentation—trying out what they’ve learned by planning for their future.


Source: Kolb, David A. Experiential Learning: Experience as
the Source of Learning and Development
. Prentice-Hall, 1984.


Why the focus on Reflection at Hope College?

Reflection encourages high levels of cognitive engagement.

Reflection encourages student ownership in learning (i.e., moving away from being passive consumers of content and experiences to active participants and change agents).

According to Wabash data, as students engage in more reflective learning activities, they show grater gains in:

  • Attitudes toward Literacy and Need for Cognition (a measure of interest in and willingness to engage in considering and solving complex problems)
  • Intercultural Competence
  • Psychological Well Being
  • Socially Responsible Leadership
  • Civic Engagement


Special thanks for Ryan White, Director of Student Advising and First Year Seminars, for preparing and sharing much of this information.