The ROI of Reflection in
Learning Experience Design

The true beauty of learning is that we all can attend the same course, but have completely different takeaways based on our diverse perspectives and reflections.

John Dewey, the philosopher, psychologist, and foundational scholar of experiential learning stated, “’We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” 

Furthermore, Confucius was thought to have said, “Study without reflection is a waste of time. Reflection without study is dangerous.” 

If you are a course designer, creating a learning experience that encourages reflection is essential to ensure collaborative and interactive learning, and yet it is too often missing from most courses and educational providers. 

Here’s a question for you to reflect on: When organizing your learning event or course, do you mostly prepare to talk to your participants or listen to their perspectives? If you’re like most people, the emphasis is on the former and not the latter. 

Unfortunately, when we ignore the valuable life experience and insights from each learner in the room, we end up reducing everyone’s potential for impactful learning. 


Here are four reasons why reflection and peer sharing can maximize learning power: 

  • Aligning with the Biology of Human Beings: We’re inherently social beings, and learning in a social context aligns with our natural social nature. Leveraging group reflection builds community, which research has found is becoming more important to build a positive impact on course completion rates and enhancing brain activity.

  • Maximizing Engagement: Engagement is one of the most sought after qualities course providers seek, and engagement does not just happen, it is harvested. It’s the learning design choices we make which bear the most responsibility for encouraging or disheartening engagement, namely through the power of peer to peer learning.

  • Memory Retention Boosts: Reflecting on knowledge instead of just passively receiving information (for example, in a lecture format) enhances memory retention. Research has shown that spending time for students to think critically about an answer and generate one on their own, leads to better information retention. For example, one study conducted by Kornell et al. back in 2009  found that taking 8 seconds to analyze an incorrect response followed by 5 seconds of studying the correct response resulted in greater overall recall than just studying the correct response for 13 seconds. This is why it is so important to ask first, then tell.

  • Attention Span Management: While there is a lot of debate on what the actual attention span of a person is, it has been found that the brain loves storytelling. Integrating more reflection time and personal storytelling from learners about the content further aids attention and focus throughout a session.

Infographic depicting What the research shows on learning experience design (LXD)


Ultimately, in order for learners to retain the information and engage more in sessions, they need to be more involved in the content, generating and sharing their ideas with others. Here are 10 top techniques to integrate reflection practices in your next learning event:

  1. Shift your mindset from seeing your learners as consumers of the content to collaborators in the learning process. Remember, you can design incredible learning experiences, but what truly makes them come alive are the participants and their contributions. Set an intention to ask more questions of the audience to honor their lived experiences and perspectives and you may be surprised by how much you learn, too. As Bill Nye the Science Guy said, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”
  2. Design space in your agenda for your learners to reflect in a structured way. Be intentional about integrating more reflection questions and more space for individual reflection before sharing in plenary. You might play music, set a timer, and ask everyone to jot down their thoughts about the topic for a couple of minutes. You might also designate more time for small group discussions and breakouts to have learners share their thoughts with peers.
  3. Make it explicit so they know how to engage. Even if everyone has been using the same technology online for the last few years, each instructor expects interaction differently. Generally, creating guidelines at the start of a course or session about how you want to encourage the power of reflection can set the tone and make it explicit for students to grasp how they can best engage and interact.
  4. Ask first, then tell. Offer ways for learners to generate their own ideas and connections to the topic, while maximizing their critical thinking skills. For example, always ask the group for a response first before you tell them yours. This even goes for  definitions – invite learners to define the topics first for themselves, before you share the “official” definition. They’ll be far more likely to remember it in the long run.
  5. Invite reflection in a variety of ways. Participation looks differently for everyone, particularly when we think about the spectrum of introverts and extroverts. Offer diverse ways for your audience to reflect in a way that can include all learners. For example, encourage contributions regularly in the chat or out loud so students have autonomy in how they interact.
Photo depicting a group of young people sitting at a table and working
  1. Give people time to collect their thoughts. Before you ask open questions in a large group or more complex questions for breakout rooms, give everyone a moment to collect their thoughts, journal, or reflect on the question. This is not only kinder to introverts, but gives everyone time to fully process the question instead of feeling pressured to come up with ideas on the fly.
  2. Be comfortable with silence. It takes more than a second for people to hear your question, think about it, formulate a response, and then speak up. The more comfortable you are with posing a question and then slowly letting it land, the more people will speak up because they have had the time and space to process.
  3. Leverage creative modalities. Reflection lends itself to so many creative methods that can further engage your audience. Try out some different modalities, such as giving participants time to create their own mind-map on the content, and generate specific personal stories, drawing images or painting a picture to reflect on takeaways, bringing an object to the screen (in the virtual setting) that represents their own connection to the topic, creating a Haiku at the end of a session to summarize their learning outcomes on the material, and more! Of course it’s important to take your audience into consideration, however, don’t be afraid to get creative and have more fun with reflection!
  4. Reflect back what you heard. It’s not enough to just pose questions to your audience, but also respond appropriately after your participants share. Make sure to reflect back the nuances or details of what emerged and tie it back further to the content. You may also just acknowledge and appreciate the contributions to help students feel seen and heard, and encourage others to continue to share their perspectives more often. Remember Maya Angelou’s famous quote (which neuroscience and research upholds), “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
  5. Do the same in asynchronous formats. Keep in mind that even in self-paced or asynchronous courses, you can further tap into the power of reflection by providing thought provoking questions that allow learners to reflect for themselves in written, audio, or video format. You can even integrate some of the more creative modalities listed above to get learners thinking outside of the box. Lastly, create more space for a community of learners to share their reflections, remembering that we’re social beings, hard-wired for connection.


At Prepr, we’ve embedded this research in our learn-by-doing approach to designing courses. Deliberate reflection prompts are integrated into our learning platform and live sessions to encourage meaningful engagement and a thorough understanding of content. 

Last year, our programs taught critical workplace skills to 420+ youth entering the workforce and provided leadership training to 86 professionals. Read more about our impact here.

Image of learner studying in front of a laptop

To stay Updated

Let’s Chat

Curious about how a learn-by-doing approach can support you? Contact our team for a full program catalogue and explore experiential learning with our platform today! 

We respect your privacy. Privacy Policy

Search our website

Just type a few words describing what you need in the box below.

Join our email updates list

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date with our latest programs, insights, offers, and more.


Search our website

Just type a few words describing what you need in the box below.