Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Can Spur Progress Along the Learning Curve

64 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2014 Last revised: 22 Jan 2023

See all articles by Giada Di Stefano

Giada Di Stefano

Bocconi University - Department of Management and Technology

Francesca Gino

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Gary P. Pisano

Harvard Business School

Bradley R. Staats

University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School

Date Written: December 23, 2022

Abstract

It is common wisdom that practice makes perfect. And, in fact, we find evidence that when given a choice between practicing a task and reflecting on their previously accumulated practice, most people opt for the former. We argue in this paper that this preference is misinformed. Using evidence gathered in ten experimental studies (N = 4,340) conducted across different environments, geographies, and populations, we provide a rich understanding of the conditions under which the marginal benefit of reflecting on previously accumulated experience is superior to the marginal benefit of accumulating additional experience. We show that reflection has the potential to generate spillover effects to different but related tasks, and that reflection is mostly beneficial at the beginning of the learning curve, as long as one has accumulated a sufficient amount of experience on which to reflect. Interestingly, our study results also suggest that the way in which one engages in reflection may play a major role in its effectiveness as a learning tool. We test the robustness of the reflection effect to different tasks and its persistence over time in a series of additional studies.

Keywords: learning, reflection, knowledge articulation, knowledge codification, field experiment, laboratory experiment

Suggested Citation

Di Stefano, Giada and Gino, Francesca and Pisano, Gary and Staats, Bradley R., Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Can Spur Progress Along the Learning Curve (December 23, 2022). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 14-093, Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 14-093, HEC Paris Research Paper No. SPE-2016-1181, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2414478 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2414478

Giada Di Stefano (Contact Author)

Bocconi University - Department of Management and Technology ( email )

Via Roentgen 1
Milan, MI 20136
Italy

HOME PAGE: http://faculty.unibocconi.eu/giadadistefano/

Francesca Gino

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Gary Pisano

Harvard Business School ( email )

Technology & Operations Management Unit
Morgan Hall
Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-6562 (Phone)
617-496-5265 (Fax)

Bradley R. Staats

University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School ( email )

McColl Building, CB#3490
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
United States

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