Reflection in health and social care is essential for challenging and improving practices. Reflection can also provide a way for healthcare workers to deal with the sensitive issues they are likely to experience. Today we’ll be discussing the benefits of reflection for healthcare professionals and introducing Kolb’s Model of Experiential Learning for formal guidance on reflective learning.
In health and social care roles, reflecting on tasks gives us an opportunity to look at each stage of a caregiving process and decide if an appropriate action has been taken. Let’s take, for example, an elderly couple who require daily assistance with food preparation. We know the easiest solution would be to go in and cook for the couple for an entire week, freeze the remaining food and demonstrate how to use a microwave. If we reflect on this action, we can say the couple are being empowered, time is being used efficiently by the healthcare provider and this efficiency results in more service users being given care. But there are many other elements to be considered. Is the couple housebound? If so, how many visits are they receiving each week from friends and family members? By providing for their needs just once a week, are we neglecting their social health? Could the couple find it difficult to accept the help of a caregiver?
By asking these questions, we begin to develop a sense of how different each caregiving situation might be, even if they appear very similar on paper. Being sensitive, flexible and reflective should result in a better service being provided. Taking time to observe the impact our work has can really improve the care we provide.
Kolb’s Model of Experiential Learning
Kolb’s Model of Experiential Learning works by including reflection in the learning process. Every time a new skill or practice is learned, we must spend time reflecting on an event or action – for this reason, Kolb’s model is particularly useful for those learning through practical application.
Stage 1 – Concrete Experience
To learn (and eventually, reflect) we must first experience. It’s important to think in detail about what happened during an experience if we want to reflect on it.
Example – An elderly couple refuse assistance from a new caregiver.
Stage 2 – Reflective Observation
After the event has taken place, it’s time to think about it in detail and try to understand various perspectives. We must think about both our own understanding of the situation and the service user’s perspective.
Example – Were the couple notified that a new caregiver would be coming on that day? How did the caregiver interact with the couple? Did the caregiver provide enough emotional support? Perhaps the caregiver simply notified the couple and attempt to begin working?
Stage 3 – Abstract Conceptualisation
Now it’s time to analyse the experience and think about the event in more detail. We’ll also want to start thinking about theories, models and practices that can be applied to the interaction. Think about what we did in the situation and what impact it had on the service user. Finally, identify models or alternative practices that could have changed the situation, and hypothesise about how the application of those models might have changed the outcome. Knowing or being able to find relevant theories regarding various healthcare situations is important in Kolb’s Model of Experiential Learning.
Example – The situation is assessed and thought about in detail. Systems theory (families, organizations, societies, and other systems are inherently involved and must be considered when attempting to understand and assist the individual) is hypothesised as potentially applicable to the event. The caregiver attempted to contact the couple prior to the visit but was unable to reach them; could contact with a member of their family prevented the refusal for help? Were there alternative means of making contact?
Stage 4 – Active Experimentation
We’ve reflected on the various ways to approach the situation and evaluated which we think is best in stage three. Now is the time to apply those models in a similar situation. Outcomes should be noted and compared, then caregivers will go back to stage one and begin the process once again.
Example – Prior to visiting the couple again, the caregiver has spoken with a member of the family that maintains daily contact. The couple is aware of what time, when and for what purpose the caregiver will be visiting.
Kolb’s Model of Experiential Learning promotes continual improvement – an essential skill for those looking to make an impact in health and social care. Can you apply Kolb’s model in your healthcare work?
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