Making Experience Count: The Role of Reflection in Individual Learning
53 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2014 Last revised: 17 Jun 2022
Date Written: June 30, 2021
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 previously accumulated practice, most people opt for the former. What we argue in this paper is that this preference is misinformed. Results from a series of four experiments (N=1,419) conducted across different environments, geographies, and populations show that the marginal benefit of accumulating additional experience through practice is inferior to the marginal benefit of articulating and codifying the experience previously accumulated. We start with an exploratory field experiment (N=101) in which we allocate employees participating in a training program to a reflection condition or practice condition. We then test the main effect of reflection in the lab (N=468), where we also control for the possibility that our reflection effect is confounded with taking time off from the task at hand. We replicate this latter study in a follow-up experiment (N=290) where we unpack the effect of reflection, explore the moderating role of task familiarity and examine the case for superstitious learning. The final experiment (N=560) applies the same protocol to a different task, which makes performance improvements more difficult to gain. We also add an additional condition to explore whether the benefits of reflection spill over to related tasks. Our findings provide a rich understanding of how individuals can use reflection to spur progress along the learning curve.
Keywords: learning, reflection, knowledge articulation, knowledge codification, field experiment, laboratory experiment
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