The process of reflective learning

All practice based learning relies heavily on the concepts articulated by Schön.

The expert practitioner uses knowledge and skills influenced by attitudes to solve problems in the work place, this is her ZONE OF MASTERY. This solving process is automatic, routine and intuitive – it requires little critical thinking. This is the area of KNOWLEDGE IN ACTION.

When the facts or features do not fit the usual pattern then a SURPRISE is said to occur. The larger the field of mastery the less surprises occur. The less surprises occur means that the practitioner needs to be extra sensitive to recognise them.


  • the surprise is recognised,
  • the problem is reviewed,
  • alternative hypotheses are raised, which might lead to research
  • further information is sought
    • from the patient / client
    • from the body of professional knowledge
      • colleagues
      • meetings
      • information systems

The problem is then solved with the new information (the gathering of more or new knowledge does not necessarily mean new learning)

REFLECTION ON ACTION is where the surprise and its resolution are reviewed. This then leads on to new learning. This process often raises more questions which require further information from the body of professional knowledge or by doing research or self inquiry – audit; both of which will add into the pool of knowledge, skills and attitudes that make up the zone of mastery.

LEARNING OUTCOMES that also add to the zone of mastery are:

  1. new practice
  2. discontinuing out-moded practice
  3. continuing professional education
  4. reinforcement of established effective practice.


  • Schön D A (1983) The Reflective Practitioner, (1983) Basic Books Inc. ISBN 0-465-06878-2
  • Schön D A (1987) Education the Reflective Pracitioner, Jossev-Bass Ltd. ISBN 1-55542-220-9
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