Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2014

Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance

by Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano and Bradley Staats

Abstract

Research on learning has primarily focused on the role of doing (experience) in fostering progress over time. In this paper, we propose that one of the critical components of learning is reflection, or the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience. Drawing on dual-process theory, we focus on the reflective dimension of the learning process and propose that learning can be augmented by deliberately focusing on thinking about what one has been doing. We test the resulting dual-process learning model experimentally, using a mixed-method design that combines two laboratory experiments with a field experiment conducted in a large business process outsourcing company in India. We find a performance differential when comparing learning-by-doing alone to learning-by-doing coupled with reflection. Further, we hypothesize and find that the effect of reflection on learning is mediated by greater perceived self-efficacy. Together, our results shed light on the role of reflection as a powerful mechanism behind learning.

Keywords: learning by thinking; reflection; knowledge creation; learning; self-efficacy; Perception; Performance; Learning; Knowledge; Cognition and Thinking; India;

Citation:

Di Stefano, Giada, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano, and Bradley Staats. "Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-093, March 2014.