Active Vs Reflective Learning Methods

Last Updated on October 6, 2023 by Editorial Team


Learning is a constant process. It is an outcome of imbibing a concept, reviewing it, and feeling confident about applying it correctly. The VARK model proposed by Fleming and Mills[1] introduced us to various learning styles (visual, auditory, reading/writing, kinesthetic) and confirmed the idea that one has to adopt a combination of learning strategies to get desirable outcomes.

There is another differentiation based on the method by which a learner builds end-to-end understanding. It comprises active learning vs. reflective learning. In this post, let’s try to understand if the learning-disabled person can benefit entirely from one of these types or need a combination of the two as per the concept’s need.

Active Learning’s role in learning disability

Active learning is where the learner develops concepts by being involved in the learning process by means of action. The buzzword is, “Let’s do and see the results”, for an active learner. This type of learning is achieved by imbibing concepts by doing activities. Teachers try to achieve the disposition of concepts in the learners’ minds through demonstrations and strategic solving of the problem at hand. Application of concept is the main route to learning.

Active learning

In helping the learning-disabled person grasp the concepts the active learning way, the following strategies are adopted:

  • Demonstrations
  • Brainstorming of ideas
  • Making models
  • Think-pair-share
  • Group projects
  • Play methods or game-based learning
  • Experimentation

All these methods stimulate the learners’ minds and encourage them to think more, analyze, and discuss their findings. Active learning helps keep the mind focused on the learning process and stops it from wandering while sitting in a classroom. However, to display the proficiency level achieved, the reflective practice does come into the picture. It takes us to discuss what comprises reflective learning.

Reflective learning – meaning and methods

Reflective learning is the style in which the learners gain knowledge from reflecting on what they read, listened to, or learned and how that can be related to life problems. It involves listening to lectures, making notes, pondering over what was learned, and answering questions arising from the knowledge gained.

Reflective learning

The major activities involved in reflective learning are:

  • Discussions with peers or asking questions to teachers
  • Making notes and going through them later
  • Pondering later on the lecture attended or notes taken
  • Drawing inferences and raising doubts
  • Experimentation using the knowledge gained
  • Understanding strengths and areas that need more work upon

A reflective learner prefers to study alone. He is a voracious reader and loves reading books and taking part in debates. He ventures into the lived experiences often to apply the learning to solve a problem at hand. The intervention of technological supports or accommodations like reading supports, text-to-voice tools, etc. has made it possible for learning-disabled students to adopt reflective learning methods.

The ultimate clarity comes from reflecting on the learning acquired; that is why the combination of active and reflective learning is being sought after to prepare students with a learning disability better for their chosen endeavors.

What works for learning disability

If we dissect the learning process for all types of learners, reflection and active learning go hand in hand. In one of the researches[2], the video self-reflection method was used to promote collaborative learning and to enhance participation.

This research highlights the fact that learning-disabled students tend to avoid participation or collaboration. Using video as the self-reflection tool helped students participate more actively and drew their interest in the lecture. Hence, a mix of active and reflective learning was used to manage learning difficulty in this study.

Active learning methods offer students with learning difficulties alternative ways of ingraining the concepts such as reading, spelling, number sense, etc. A study on the use of active learning[3] enablers such as manipulatives to teach fractions in a class of LDs indicates that these serve as support to the self-reflection process. Active learning or manipulative-based teaching instructions allow the implementation of an inclusive model of education and reflective learning allows the students with LDs to solve the problems just as expected and employed in practical settings.

In the active learning process, the students are given a quick introduction to the learning objectives. Swiftly, they are moved to the activity part. Thus, the students do not feel dragged into the process of reading, writing, or experimenting in conventional ways that sound alien to them due to the specific difficulty. It helps retain the student’s interest in the learning process. Overall, the teaching objective is met with ease.

Active learning has its specific challenges. The process requires the students to interact with their peers. Students with learning disabilities may not have pronounced social skills. They may need initial support like games, activities, etc. to develop such skills.

They may not come forward and exchange information due to low confidence and poor self-esteem. Such attitude is the biggest hindrance to the learning process. The students may have different kinds of learning difficulties. What works for one may not work for others. Hence, the active learning style may not prove to be the sure-shot solution or universal remedy for all LDs.

In reflective learning, the very first challenge is to engage the student in the concept imbibing process. With the help of accommodations that offer reading and listening support during the classroom sessions, the teachers attempt to increase a student’s engagement in the learning process. A study[4] indicates that the use of accommodations helps enhance motivation levels towards studying among students and helps create an environment more conducive to learning.

Hence, instead of depending entirely on active learning methods, the inclusion of learning supports to let reflective learning happen offers a more practical approach. It can be safely said that none of the learning methods can be exclusively picked and applied; testing, trials, and the kind of subject to be taught determine the correctness of any way sought. Mostly, having the combination of the two and their utility as per the learning phase works as the best approach.

Summing up,

Active and reflective learning approaches have their specific pros and cons. None of these can be applied exclusively to children with learning disabilities. In several cases, the assessment leads to the fact that children may have a combination of difficulties. Thus, the learning style of each student and their comfort level with those may be different.

The best approach is to keep the learning environment as flexible as possible. With the help of correctional measures, an IEP setting, and exposure to metacognitive ways of learning, a student may be given the best possible learning support that complements their learning difficulties the best.


  1. Fleming, Neil & Mills, Colleen. (1992). Not Another Inventory, Rather a Catalyst for Reflection. To improve the academy. 11. 10.1002/j.2334-4822.1992.tb00213.x.
  2. Moore, B., Smith, C., Boardman, A., & Ferrell, A. (2020). Using Video Self-Reflection to Support Collaborative Learning for Students With Learning Disabilities. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 53(1), 52–59.
  3. Grobecker, B. (2000). Imagery and Fractions in Students Classified as Learning Disabled. Learning Disability Quarterly, 23(2), 157–168.
  4. Chuang, Y. T. (2014). Increasing Learning Motivation and Student Engagement through the Technology- Supported Learning Environment. Creative Education, 05(23), 1969–1978.

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