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Assessing reflection: Understanding skill development through reflective learning journals

Virginia Cathro (Department of Management, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand)
Paula O’Kane (Department of Management, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand)
Deb Gilbertson (Te Kaihau Education Trust, Lower Hutt, New Zealand)

Education + Training

ISSN: 0040-0912

Article publication date: 10 April 2017




The purpose of this paper is to suggest ways in which business educators can interact successfully with reflective learning journals (RLJs). Specifically, the research was interested in how students used RLJs and how educators assessed these RLJs.


In total, 31 RLJs, submitted as part of an international communication course involving a global virtual team exercise, were analysed. Thematic analysis was used to identify themes discussed by participants, while content analysis, based upon Kolb’s learning cycle, was used to assess the depth of student reflection.


Students appear to have engaged with depth and understanding and were able to articulate their skill level, but there was variance in their reflective ability across different skills.

Practical implications

An interpretation of Kolb’s (1984) learning cycle as a method to assist educators to assess RLJs is presented. Specifically, educators need to provide more guidance to students to enhance their ability to reflect. The authors suggest that a rubric based on Kolb could fulfil this objective.


This study responds to the call for more research examining depth of reflection (Lien et al., 2012); it also offers contribution to the variety of models characterising reflective depth (Ash and Clayton, 2009; Chamberlain, 2012; Lien et al., 2012) drawn from experiential learning in the form of written RLJs.



Cathro, V., O’Kane, P. and Gilbertson, D. (2017), "Assessing reflection: Understanding skill development through reflective learning journals", Education + Training, Vol. 59 No. 4, pp. 427-442.



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