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Reflection is a key part of experiential learning, since it allows the learner to process and learn more deeply.  As defined by the literature, reflection is:bubble reflection

  • active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends (Dewey 1933: 118).
  • the intentional consideration of an experience in light of particular learning objectives. (Hatcher & Bringle, 1997)
  • a meaning-making process, a systematic, rigorous, and discipline way of thinking, interactive and it requires attitudes that value personal and intellectual growth of oneself and of others (Rodgers, 2002).

The 4 Cs of Reflection

According to the “Practitioners Guide to Reflection in Service-Learning,” there are four important principles to keep in mind for effective critical reflection which they call the four C’s of reflection: Continuous, Connected, Challenging, and Contextualized.

Continuous reflection

ensures that reflection, as well as community involvement, are ongoing components in the learners education. Often short-term experiences can lead to more complex long-term involvement which gives the student extensive material for observation, reflection, and experimentation. Continuous Reflection also means that reflection should be utilized before, during, and after an experience.  The Experience Learning model–based on Kolb’s cycle of learning–weaves reflection throughout the experience.

Connected reflection

is a component that most often occurs in the classroom and specifically in service-learning courses. Many of the students involved in community involvement programs will be in a service-learning course. Connected reflection is essentially the component that links the “service” they are doing at their community organizations with the structured “learning” they are working through in the classroom. Without structured reflection, “students may fail to bridge the gap between the concrete service experience and the abstract issues discussed in class; students may become frustrated and wonder why they are involved in the community as part of their course work.”

Challenging reflection

“requires intervention on the part of a teacher or colleague who is prepared to pose questions and propose unfamiliar or even uncomfortable ideas for consideration by the learner.” (3)

Contextualized reflection

It is important in this situation that the students feel they are in a safe and mutually respectful atmosphere where they can freely express their opinions, ideas and thoughts. Contextualized reflection…ensures that the reflection activities or topics are appropriate and meaningful in relation to the experiences of the students. For example, should the reflection be more formal or informal? Or should it occur in proximity to the community the students will be working with? Does the reflection topic coincide with the considerations and issues that the students have been expressing ? Contextualized reflection takes into consideration all these components, which makes for a more meaningful and educational reflection session.

Source: adapted from: Eyler, Janet & Giles, Dwight (1996) A Practitioners Guide to Reflection in Service Learning Nashville: Vanderbilt University, p.17-19.

Students benefit, since reflection:


Source: Pascarella & Terenzinni  (2005). How college effects students: a third decade of research. Vol 2.  Wiley.


What are some activities that help students reflect on their learning?  This page lists several types of reflection activities in four categories: cognitive, metacognitive, comprehensive,

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