There is a widespread belief that people have different learning styles (visual, aural, etc.) and that those varying styles allow us understand and make sense of material, such as the content in college courses. In reality, though, an overwhelming amount of research shows that people do not have different learning styles despite the prevalence of such views. We are all capable of learning in different ways, but central to becoming a better learner is critically examining ourselves. In other words, we need to be able to reflect honestly about what we learn, how we learn, and how we can best understand what we learn.
According to the old saying from Confucius, “To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.” Reflection is an act that helps you better determine your own true knowledge about something. For many students, acknowledging their limitations or what they don’t understand about certain material can be key to real learning. Without such practices we may be faking our way through learning, which isn’t really learning at all. Inversely, we should strive to better and honestly understand our strengths, as well as our growth and progress. You have probably had friends who are good at a particular school subject, and when they are asked how they know so much about it or how they do so well at it, they say something like “It’s just easy for me” or “I’ve always been good at it.” But those answers oversimplify what learning is. If those students reflected on the question more, they might find interesting answers that help them more deeply consider themselves as learners. Writing can help us do that kind of deeper reflection.
While reflection certainly is a mental act, many people write to help make sense of their thoughts. And writing about your own writing is a deeply metacognitive practice that can help you more broadly as a learner.
Reflective writing about your own work allows you to explore the four knowledge types. Use the matching exercise below to learn about knowledge types.
Learn by Doing: Knowledge Types