In learning style theory, the Index of Learning Styles measures an individual's distinctive learning preference. The index includes measurements for visual-verbal, sequential-global, sensing-intuitive, and active-reflective styles. People who have a reflective learning style absorb new information best through passive rather than active curriculum. Educators can utilise their knowledge of the reflective learning style to plan and implement activities that encourage analysis and personal exploration.
The reflective learning style consists of absorbing, rather than acting on, new information. A reflective learner requires time to think through an idea and its ramifications, while an active learner prefers to jump in and test theories immediately. Reflective learners often enjoy working independently, at least before doing a group activity. Note that reflective learners are not passive learners in the sense that they only want to receive information. On the contrary, they wish to cognitively process and reason with educator input so that it conforms to their particular intellectual framework.
Reflective learners eschew rote memorisation and repetition for a deeper type of learning. They review new information, form questions and consider real-life applications of theory. They enjoy summarising, writing critiques, creating drafts of projects and papers, and tracking progress on a project. When given the proper amount of time to consider the diverse aspects of a concept, reflective learners often present a well-rounded, philosophical understanding of the information.
The Index of Learning Styles measures a student's reflective and active capabilities in learning, but it does not measure aptitude. If a student scores low on active learning, it merely means he prefers to reflect on new information. Some students do not have strong distinctions between the way they absorb information and may score relatively evenly between reflective and active learning.
There are several implications concerning an individual's preference for reflective learning. Educators must realise that, if they are active learners, their students may not approach new information in the same way. Likewise, reflective learners in the classroom will stand out from the active learners. No single approach to teaching can address both the active and reflective learners, so educators must design learning experiences that are multimodal and have reinforcement activities that embrace diverse learning styles.
Educational theorist Howard Gardner developed a list of students' different learning styles, three of which address reflective learning in particular. The first style, intrapersonal intelligence, concerns an individual's level of self-knowledge. Intrapersonal learners appreciate their own ideas, feelings, motivations and fears and use them to provide a framework for understanding the world. Gardner also describes a spiritual intelligence, defined as one in which the individual concerns himself with the nature of existence. Gardner also alludes to, but does not completely explore, the notion of an existential intelligence, one that is concerned with the ultimate issues of life.