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Five reflective questions for embarking on a new year of learning

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The start of a new year can be daunting for many, with increased pressure to set resolutions or goals to encourage personal growth. By leveraging the power of reflective questions, both L&D professionals and learners alike, can ease themselves into another year of development. 

6th Jan 2022
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The transition from one year to the next has many of us beginning to reflect on where we have been during the last 12 months and where we want to get to in the coming ones. Graham Gibbs’ model of reflection refers to this as retrospective reflection and prospective reflection – it’s something that we help our learners to do and which we do ourselves as part of our CPD.

As we head into 2022, which looks set to be another unpredictable year, asking ourselves these five questions will support the reflective process and get us all motivated for learning once again. 

My colleague and co-author Sara Thorpe and I first used these five questions in our book ‘Workplace Learning and Development’ and subsequently created a little book called ‘The Five Questions System’, which helps managers to use these questions as the foundation for performance management. 

What I have discovered is that these questions are really powerful in a range of settings, so here we go with today’s use! 

A little caveat before you get started… these questions can be used on a macro / strategic level and also on a micro / granular level – you choose the level at which you want to work. 

Looking back – the retrospective reflection

Test your previous measures of success before you choose some new ones for the year ahead.

Question 1 – The what and the why

To use this question to reflect back, ask yourself “What did I do? Why did I do it?”

By asking yourself both what and why you have the opportunity to consider the facts of actions that you took and the reasons behind those actions. You can start to do some analysis of your actions and consider how aligned they were with your personal values and overarching goals. This can help you understand where joyful moments came from and where tensions might have arisen.

Question 2 – The how

As you look back over the year, ask yourself “how did I do this?”

Once again, this will enable you to consider whether the methods you used and your ways of working supported your success or perhaps resulted in pressure and stress.

By evaluating this you will be able to keep using the methods that worked and consider changing those that didn’t.

Question 3 – The measures

This question is “how did I measure my success?”

Our measures of success often come from external sources. It feels important to consider a range of measures so that we can celebrate how far we have come, whilst also motivating ourselves to achieve more.

As you reflect on your own measures, you may decide to change these for the coming year so that they are more reflective of your personal goals and aligned with your own values.

Question 4 – The feedback

As you reflect on your year, ask yourself “how did I do?”

This links back to question 3 and gives you the chance to test your previous measures of success before you choose some new ones for the year ahead.

Sitting under this question are some sub-questions such as:

  • What went well?

  • What contributed to my success?

  • What challenges did I face?

  • How did I deal with these challenges?

Question 5 – Beginning to look forward

This question starts to take you down the road of your prospective reflection. It gives the framework to use your analysis from the previous questions to give you some signposts for the next period, whatever you choose that to be – it could be 6 or 12 months or it could be 5 years.

Ask yourself “what next?”

Based on the past year, what are some of the themes that you see? What are these themes telling you about your direction of travel? Are you going the right way for you or should you take a different route? 

Having answered the questions looking back, you can now use them to look forwards…

Looking forward – the prospective reflection

You’ve now got a feel for the questions you can use to help you to plan for the new year.

Asking yourself what a good year would look like is a great way to start your thinking

Question 1 – What do I want to do and why?

Use this question to paint a picture of what you would like the next 12 months to look like. What do you want to do? What do you want to learn? What do you want to achieve?

There are many ways to paint this picture – you can use words, but you might also want to use images so that you have both a verbal and visual representation.

As you create your picture, have the ‘why’ question in your mind as this will help you align your goals with what you see as your purpose.

Question 2 – How will I do it?

At this point, this question is used to consider the variety of different ways that you can achieve what you set out to achieve. 

Start with as many methods and possibilities and then whittle them down to those that feel realistic and achievable for you.

Maybe try some new methods and ways of working – after all, as the saying goes, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got”.

Question 3 – How will I measure my success?

By answering this question in a forward-looking way, you can consider whether you wish to use new measures of success for the coming year or whether your current measures are right for you.

You may want to consider how you will feel at the end of the year as you repeat this exercise again. Asking yourself what a good year would look like is a great way to start your thinking about this one.

Question 4 – How am I doing? And Question 5 – What next?

These questions are to be used during the year. 

They can give you information about progress against what you set out to achieve.

They can help you decide whether your goals were the right ones or whether you might want to adjust them in light of new information or changing circumstances.

They can be the compass that keeps you on track as you negotiate the mountains and valleys that we all inevitably come across during the year.

Moving into 2022 with direction

I hope you find these questions useful and that they support you to get wherever you want to go in 2022.

I also hope that you find other uses for this 5-question framework and would love to hear how you’ve adapted them – both for yourself and for your learners.

Thank you for reading and I wish you everything that you wish for yourself in the year ahead.

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