There are many different models of reflection. They vary from the straightforward to the complex. Ultimately, though, all the models are based on the simple progression of thinking about what happened to you and what it means to you for the future.
However, you may be asked to write your reflection using a particular academic model of reflection. So, here is a handy guide to the most popular models of reflection that are widely used.
The ERA Cycle
The ERA Cycle was summarised by Professor Melanie Jasper in her book “Beginning Reflective Practice” as being: Experience – Reflection – Action.
We experience everything. You are experiencing reading this. You may have experienced drinking a coffee this morning as well. You might also have experienced a stunning lecture yesterday. Everything we do is an experience.
Sometimes you reflect on each experience. Sometimes you don’t. I doubt if you have reflected on that coffee you drank earlier – unless it triggered some kind of response because it was too hot, or tasted dreadfully. But if it was just your usual, everyday coffee, you didn’t think much about it. However, other experiences you do reflect upon. If you have been to an amazing lecture today, you may well have chatted with your friends about it afterwards and reflected on what it meant. So, some experiences get more of our attention and we think about them.
After we have thought about these more important experiences we then might go on to consider what it all means and what actions we might need to take. For example, if you did not have your usual coffee this morning and bought something else you might have experienced a more bitter taste. You would have reflected on that and thought you didn’t like it. Then you would consider the action you might take such as never buying it again…!
The simplicity of the ERA cycle is appealing because we can easily relate everything we do to it.
This model goes back to 1970 when the American schoolteacher, Terry Borton, wrote a book called Reach, Touch and Teach about his desire to make High School “as relevant, involving, and joyful as the learning each of us experienced when we were infants first discovering ourselves and our surroundings”. Borton describes three essential questions which need asking if we are to reflect on our learning effectively. These are “What?”, “So What?” and “Now What?”.
This model asks you to describe what happened. Then you consider what it means to you. Then you think about what you can do about it.
Some years after Borton’s book was published John Driscoll adapted the model specifically for clinical practice in nursing. Since then, the Driscoll Model has been widely used in the medical and health sectors. The Driscoll Model adds further questions as triggers for thinking about each of the main “what” questions that Borton suggested.
What? This includes trigger questions such as “What happened?”, “What did I do?” and “What was my reaction?”
So what? This has trigger questions including “So what did I feel at the time?”, “What do I feel now” and “What were the effects on me?”
Now what? This involves trigger questions like “Now what are the implications for me?” and “Now what is the main learning I take from this?”
Kolb’s Experiential Cycle
The Kolb Experiential Cycle is not just a model of reflection. It is a theoretical model of how we learn.
The essence of Kolb is similar to the other models discussed so far. However, added here is the concept of going beyond reflecting and thinking about what we have experienced. What Kolb introduces is the notion of “active experimentation”.
Kolb’s Cycle begins with us experiencing something, as in the ERA model. Then, Kolb suggests we reflect on it. We think about what the experience means to us. The ERA model suggests we then consider how to act in the future. However, Kolb’s model essentially splits this into two stages. Kolb’s model suggests that having reflected on our experiences we then form abstract concepts about meanings. Then we change our behaviour according to those concepts to see if we have made a difference. That leads to new experiences, and we go around and around the cycle again and again.
Gibb’s Reflective Cycle
One of the most popular models of reflection is Gibb’s Reflective Cycle.
This extends the earlier models even further. The three steps of the ERA model have now become six steps.
Description: What happened?
Feelings: What did you feel and what did you think?
Evaluation: What was good or bad about the experience you described?
Analysis: What other impacts can you think about?
Conclusion: What could you have done instead?
Action plan: What would you do in future in the same situation?
Using models of reflection
There are many other models of reflection you may read about. They all have the same fundamental basis in common, though, which is the ERA model. You may be asked to write reflections using a particular model, so make sure you conduct all the steps necessary. If you are in the healthcare sector using the Driscoll Model is going to be commonplace.
However, models of reflection are just that – models. They have problems. They do not always match the circumstances of your studies. Equally, they suggest you have to follow the “cycle” in a particular order that might not be useful in your specific situation.
So, even though these models are popular they are not the “final word” on reflective practice. Good reflection has an impact. And if your way of producing that impact does not follow one of these models, then it doesn’t matter. Reflection is personal, so having a personal model of reflection is just fine.