Gibbs’ reflective cycle was developed by Dr. Graham Gibbs in 1988 – a research leader in the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the University of Huddersfield. Gibbs’ reflective cycle is a framework giving structure to the process of learning from experience through six stages: description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusions, and action plan.
Understanding Gibbs’ reflective cycle
In his work entitled Learning by Doing, A Guide to Teaching and Learning Methods, Gibbs noted that it was “not sufficient simply to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflecting upon this experience it may quickly be forgotten, or its learning potential lost. It is from the feelings and thoughts emerging from this reflection that generalisations or concepts can be generated and it is generalisations that allow new situations to be tackled effectively.”
Fundamentally, Gibbs’ reflective cycle supports experiential learning through a structured debriefing process. The nature of the framework as a cycle means it can be used for continuous improvement of repeated experiences, enabling the practitioner to learn and plan based on things that went well and others that did not. With that in mind, the cycle can also be used to reflect on singular, standalone experiences unlikely to be repeated.
The six stages of Gibbs’ reflective cycle
Each of the six stages of Gibbs’ model encourages the individual to reflect on their experiences through questions.
Following is a look at each stage and some of the questions that may result.
1 – Description
In the first stage, the individual has an opportunity to describe the situation in detail. It’s important to remain objective – feelings, thoughts, emotions, and inferences can be described later.
Some helpful questions include:
- What happened?
- Who was present?
- When and where did it happen?
- What were the actions of the people involved?
- What was the outcome?
2 – Feelings
Now is the time to explore feelings or thoughts associated with the event:
- What were you feeling before, during, and after the event?
- What do you believe other people were thinking or feeling?
- What do you think about the situation now that some time has passed?
3 – Evaluation
Evaluation means determining the positive and negative aspects of the event – regardless of whether you consider the event to be one or the other. Again, objectivity is key.
Some pointers include:
- What was good and bad about the experience?
- What did you contribute to the situation?
- Did your actions have a positive or negative impact? Repeat the question to consider the contributions of others.
4 – Analysis
During the analysis stage, you have a chance to understand what happened using theory and context. This step should comprise the bulk of your reflection and should take into account any insights gleaned from the previous steps.
- Why did things go well or go badly?
- How does your experience compare to academic literature, if applicable?
- Could you have responded differently?
- Are there theories or models that can help you understand what happened?
- Are there factors likely to have contributed to a better outcome?
5 – Conclusions
In the fifth stage, conclude what happened by summarising key findings and reflecting on changes that could improve future outcomes.
This step should be a natural and intuitive response to the previous steps. It may incorporate questions such as:
- What did the situation teach you? You can be rather general or more specific.
- How might the situation have been more positive for all concerned?
- What skills or competencies are required to handle the situation more effectively?
6 – Action plan
To get you in the right of mind, consider these questions:
- What would you do differently when faced with a similar situation? How would your new skills or knowledge be applied?
- How can you make sure you act differently when faced with a similar situation in the future?
- How and when will you develop the required skills?
- Gibbs’ reflective cycle is a framework giving structure to the process of learning from experience. The framework was developed by Dr. Graham Gibbs in 1988.
- The cyclical nature of Gibbs’ reflective cycle is best suited to fostering continuous improvement of repeated experiences. However, it can also be used to reflect on standalone experiences.
- Gibbs’ reflective cycle is based on six stages: description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusion, and action plan. Each stage encourages self-reflection through the posing of multiple questions.
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