Deepening reflection on practice with mobile technology

Workplace learning (WPL) provides students with a unique opportunity to reflect on professional practice. However, though reflection is an everyday life occurrence that happens in and on practices (1), it needs to be framed and supported. Indeed, Martin and Ertzberger (2) found that students guided by experts to reflect scored better than those that were assigned no reflection or self-reflection support.

Researchers (3) have shown that well-facilitated reflection needs to be at the core of the three defining stages of placements/practicum/internships: at the beginning, during and after.

Reflection is required in order for the activities that students take part in or observe on placement to become learning experiences. Reflection helps students have perspective and make decisions: “coming to realize and explicate differences, between practices”. (4) Indeed, as Dewey (5) wrote, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience”.

The relationship between reflection and learning is, however, complex. Simply put, learning is the outcome of the multi-layered process that is reflection. Harvey et al. (6) define reflection as “a deliberate and conscientious process that employs a person’s cognitive, emotional and somatic capacities to mindfully contemplate on past, present or future (intended or planned) actions in order to learn, better understand and potentially improve future actions”.

It is important to note that reflection needs to be closely related back to action especially when reflection is used in the context of education for practice. A better preparation for future practice requires that reflection be followed by an integration of the experiences into practice or the workforce (7). It is only with the integration of theory and practice that reflection leads to meaning-making (1) and ensures that student ‘feel’ work-ready (8).

There are different types of reflection related to different types of learning. McAlpine et al. (cited in 6) identified three general types of reflection in learning and teaching: 1) Practical reflection (improving practical actions in context); 2) Strategic reflection (applicable across contexts); and 3) Epistemic reflection (awareness of reflective process). Ryan and Ryan (9) define a four-level hierarchy of reflection (the 4Rs): reporting of and responding, moving into relating to personal experiences, then reasoning, and finally reconstructing. Harvey et al (6) describe an ecology of reflection that ranges from reflective learning, to critical reflection, critically reflective practice, and critical thinking, that highlights an increasing level of conscious engagement with processes, purposes and outcomes.

Photo credit: Lancering UAR-app Den Haag via Photopin, Creative Commons licence

While on placement there are opportunities for reflection, we also know that at times, there is limited encouragement from practitioners or workplace educators (WPEs) for students to ask questions and investigate issues (10). In that context, mobile technology, as border crossing objects that fulfill a bridging function (Star, cited 4), can be most useful in overcoming some of those issues. For instance, mobile technology can allow students to think deeply about their placements’ learning experiences in their own time and at their own pace. Mobile technology lends itself well to recording thoughts (e.g. audio recording, photographs digital diaries, electronic log books, blogs), reviewing notes taken during the day as students go about their practice or accessing information on the Internet to clarify points or practices that could be improved in the future.

Mobile technology also lends itself well to connecting and sharing learning and insights with others (peers, mentors, professionals etc.), by joining or creating closed or private online forums or online learning groups (on social media networks, universities’ Learning Management Systems or other purpose-built platforms). Students can also work in groups to collaborate or co-create blogs, wikis, documents (using GoogleDocs for example) and co-present. With the appropriate consideration –including permission from academics, WPEs and, of course, anyone who is named or captured in the reflective notes, and review of laws governing information privacy and confidentiality and workplaces’ ethical codes of conduct‑ it may be useful to share insights in a public forum.

The use of mobile technologies, thus, offers new ways of teaching and learning to capture and reflect on professional practice. With a mindful approach, we are confident that technology-enhanced reflection for WPL can be widely implemented so that students can make better sense of their WPL experiences as well as ensure they feel work-ready and have more options to help them improve their future practice.


(1) Schön, D. A. (1996). The reflective practitioners: How professionals think in action. Hampshire, UK: Arena.

(2) Martin, F., & Ertzberger, J. (2015). Effects of reflection type in the here and now mobile learning environment. British Journal of Educational Technology. doi: 10.1111/bjet.12327

(3) Billett, S. (2009). Final report for ALTC Associate Fellowship: Developing agentic professionals through practice-based pedagogies. Strawberry Hills, NSW: Griffith University.

Dyson, L. E., Litchfield, A., Lawrence, E., Raban, R., & Leijdekkers, P. (2009). Advancing the m-learning research agenda for active, experiential learning: Four case studies. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 25(2), 250-267.

Edwards, D., Kate, P., Pearce, J., & Hong, J. (2015). Work Integrated Learning in STEM in Australian Universities: Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).

Guggi, N., & Glover, R. (2012). Digital literacies for student employability: Spotlight on work placements. Paper presented at the T & L Showcase: Assessing work placements, Reading, UK.

Taylor, J. D., Dearnley, C. A., Laxton, J. C., Coates, C. A., Treasure‐Jones, T., Campbell, R., & Hall, I. (2010). Developing a mobile learning solution for health and social care practice. Distance Education, 31(2), 175-192. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2010.503343

(4) Akkerman, S. F., & Bakker, A. (2011). Boundary crossing and boundary objects. Review of educational research, 81(2), 132-169. p. 144

(5) Dewey, J. (1933). How we think; A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process (Revised ed.). Boston: D. C. Heath. p. 78

(6) Harvey, M., Coulson, D., & McMaugh, A. (2016). Towards a theory of the Ecology of Reflection: Reflective practice for experiential learning in higher education, Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 13(2). Available at:

(7) Zegwaard, K. E. (2015). Innovation in work integrated learning: Working towards our future. Paper presented at the Think Tank, Adelaide.

(8) Ferns, S., Russell, L., & Smith, C. (2015). Learning for Life and Work in a Complex World. Paper presented at the 38th HERDSA Annual International Conference, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

(9) Ryan, M., & Ryan, M. (2013). Theorising a model for teaching and assessing reflective learning in higher education. Higher Education Research and Development, 32(2), 244-257. doi: ttp://

(10) Trede, F., & McEwen, C. (2015). Critical Thinking for Future Practice: Learning to Question. In The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Thinking in Higher Education (pp. 457-474). Palgrave Macmillan US.


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