How do you reflect effectively?

Last Updated: 28 April 2022

Welcome to the CPD Guide! This article is the eighth (and final) installation of a series of articles that explain every element of CPD including the CPD period, general CPD requirements, and audits.

What is reflection in the context of CPD?

To reflect is to think deeply or carefully about something, usually in reference to the past — it’s a way for us to unpack our experiences and make sense of things that have happened. As its core, reflection requires intention. You can’t simply push an experience to the back of your mind and hope it becomes clearer on its own.

With this in mind, it’s integral that you apply reflection to your learning as part of your CPD plan. Not only is reflection a core requirement of your CPD as dictated by your Regulatory Board, but it also helps you to apply newly acquired knowledge to – and contextualise it within – your practice. Reflection is the glue that connects learning to your practice. It’s the piece of the puzzle that helps translate new knowledge or skills into your daily practice.

How does reflection impact your practice?

Often, the learning you complete in your CPD and the work you do in your day-to-day practice can seem worlds apart. However, reflecting upon your learning activities, extracting barriers that may prevent you from applying learning to your practice, and finding ways to overcome those barriers is the core reason reflection is a mandated part of your CPD. For example, if a nurse completes an Ausmed lecture on paracetamol safety but does not usually administer this medication to patients, they may feel as though this learning experience could stop with the lecture. However, during reflection this nurse may realise that their nurse unit manager has spoken about this topic before and would be a great mentor to help apply the learning in a real-life scenario should the opportunity present itself.

Without reflection, CPD learning is just a knowledge dump with no consolidation. Reflection is the key trigger/prompt to placing this knowledge into your practice.

Why should you complete reflection, regardless of regulations?

Here are several factors that make reflection an intrinsic part of effective learning:

  1. Course correction—It represents a chance to evaluate your own learning methods and assess how you are progressing towards your learning goals. Each time you reflect, you can identify processes that aren’t working for you and recalibrate your approach. You might also see that certain topics or formats are more interesting than others and can adjust the resources on your learning plan.

  2. Reinforcing—When you reflect on what you’ve learnt, you invariably expose yourself to a lot of the knowledge you encountered when you first engaged in the learning. We have a tendency to focus on the parts of the learning we found most challenging, which is a fantastic way to consolidate some of the more complex information. Being reminded of these more challenging parts of our learning helps us to identify them in the future. Reinforcement also helps to establish a connection between the various things we’ve learnt, which helps to consolidate all of the new information.

  3. Openness—When the brain engages in reflection, it necessarily enters a more open-minded state. This allows you to actually update your perspectives and approaches based on the new understanding you come to through the process. Without reflection, it’s easy to practice in an inefficient or ineffective way and entrench bad learning habits.

  4. Share your thoughts—There are many other people going through a similar learning journey as you and encountering the same kinds of challenges and obstacles along the way. Speaking with your colleagues about your experience is a kind of collaborative reflection and can help both parties to normalise and understand your learning processes. You might find that someone has been struggling with the same topic and has a handy way to overcome it.

What else can make your reflections more effective?

Reflection requires the right space, time, structure and – perhaps most importantly – self-insight.

  • Space: Getting the physical space right for learning and reflection isn’t always that simple. Read Ausmed's helpful guide on that: Setting Up Your Space.

  • Time: Time is a key element to engaging in reflection effectively, but one of the hardest to control. Much like learning itself, good reflection is not something you should try to multitask or rush. It should also feel like a discrete activity from learning, so even if you take a minute break between them, that can be a good way to separate the process. Again, if you’re interested in optimising your use of time, have a look at our helpful guide on time management: Why is time management important in healthcare?

  • Structure: Good reflection needs structure. When you use Ausmed, you’re prompted with questions to consider about how the learning might apply to your practice. Aside from these prompts, you might think of other questions you’d like to ask yourself, such as what you enjoyed most about a particular topic. You can even use this approach more generally by finding your own questions that help you to move through and understand things you learn and encounter in day-to-day life.

  • Self-insight: Being able to have insight into yourself is an incredibly important skill to develop regardless of context. However, self-insight is particularly valuable to reflective learning. When you engage in reflection, having self-insight enables you to apply a healthy critical view to your progress and thereby identify how you can improve. It also helps hold you accountable for your learning by helping to uncover the most truthful view of your learning practice.

Remember: you’re committing to this learning because you're committed to improving your practice. So if you notice yourself improving in certain aspects of your practice, your patients are noticing too!

What next?

If you’ve worked your way through all eight segments of this series, congratulations! You’ve finished Ausmed’s CPD Guide. If you’ve just dropped into installation 8, have a look at the rest of the CPD Guide to see if you have any knowledge gaps to fill regarding the CPD process.

Either way, your learning is not done yet! If you’re motivated to complete some learning right now, have a look at Ausmed's library of learning resources. If you’re looking to learn more about learning theories and the industry as a whole, keep an eye on our publication just for healthcare practitioners, The Handover.

Ausmed is here to help you be the best healthcare professional you can be. So go forth and conquer!

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