Skip to Main Content

How Can We Learn Effectively?

Guidance on effective strategies for learning at University

Learning through experience and reflection

lotus flower in pond reflected in waterGibbs (1988) suggests ‘learners are involved in an active exploration of experience’, meaning that we can learn from our experiences.

There will inevitably be many times during studies, and in life, when you try things, and they don’t work as well as you might have hoped. However, crucially, they still offer an opportunity to learn from the experience.

There are various ‘reflective models’ which can help you to  actively reflect on your experiences, and importantly, consider what you would do differently next time. For example Rolfe (2001) ask three simple questions:

  1. What happened?(What was I trying to achieve? What was good/back about the experience?)
  2. So what?  (What does this mean? What is my new understanding of the situation?)
  3. Now what? (What do I need to do differently to resolve the situation, or to improve for next time?)

Next time you recognise an opportunity to learn from an experience or situation, why not begin with these three questions to help you unpick your next steps.

  • Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by doing:a guide to teaching and learning methods. Oxford: Further Education Unit, Oxford Polytechnic.
  • Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., & Jasper, M. (2001). Critical reflection for nursing and the helping professions. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Reflecting during your studies

It is important to reflect on your experiences throughout your studies. In particular, you might make time to reflect more fully at the beginning or end of each semester, or before you start on your next assignment. This will allow you to focus on what you might do next to develop even further.

Some reflections you might like to consider:

  • What study skills would I like to develop further? Is there anything I could do about this?
  • What does my  assignment feedback so far suggest is working well or I could improve on?
  • Are there other aspects of University I would like to get more involved in this semester, such as societies, volunteering opportunities, work experience, meeting new people? What steps can I take to do this?
  • What has my study/life balance felt like this semester? Is there anything I want to change about this?
Accessibility statement