You must have heard about Gibbs' reflective cycle. It is a widely prominent reflective cycle that helps individuals to work through past experiences and improve future practices. Gibbs' The reflective cycle was developed by Graham Gibbs in 1988 with the main aim of structuring individual learnings from past experiences (Markkanen et al., 2020). Effective utilization of this cycle offers a wide opportunity to examine past experiences and improve future actions.
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Hence, the efficacious use of Gibbs' reflective cycle helps individuals to learn from past experiences that went well as well as past experiences that did not. The 6 stages of Gibbs' cycle include description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusion, and action plan (Smith & Roberts, 2015).
Six stages of Gibbs' reflective cycle
For each step of this framework, you can work on a set of helpful questions given below to properly reflect on your past experiences and situations.
Stage 1: Description
The first step in Gibbs' reflective cycle is a description where you get an opportunity to properly describe a situation based on your experience. The following questions can assist you in describing your experience are
- What happened?
In this, you will explain the factual information about the experience you want to reflect upon.
- Why did it happen?
In this, you will underline the main reason behind the occurrence of the event.
- What did you do?
While answering this question, you will highlight all the actions taken by you.
- Who was present?
In this, you will highlight all the people that were present during the event.
- What were the major outcomes?
In this, you will underline the results of the actions that were taken by you.
Using these questions, you will provide complete background information about an incident as well as a factual description of the event you want to reflect upon.
Stage 2: Feelings
The second step in Gibbs’ reflective cycle is an analysis of your feelings where you can describe your thoughts as well as feelings in detail to reflect on the corresponding experience of your feelings. You can reflect on this phase on the basis of a few assisting questions given below:
- What did you feel?
In this section, you will highlight your feelings during the experience.
- Why did you feel this way?
You will highlight the major reasons behind feeling the way you were feeling.
- How did other external factors influence your feelings?
In this section, you will underline the positive or negative influence of other external factors such as the environment, and other involved people on your feelings.
- How did other internal factors influence your feelings?
In this section, you will highlight the influence of various internal factors such as mindset, attitude, and physical or mental health.
These questions will help you to describe your feelings and the way in detail and will also assist in making the reader understand your emotional aspect from the incident you are reflecting upon.
Stage 3: Evaluation
In the evaluation phase, you get a chance to properly evaluate what worked well and what didn't work well. This phase includes the evaluation of experiences from both good as well as bad points, allowing you to mentally create a report of the experience. Below given are the questions that can be answered in this phase
- What worked well?
In this, you will highlight the positive outcomes of your actions throughout the experience.
- What didn't work well?
This will highlight all the negative outcomes of your actions taken by you throughout the experience.
- What did you contribute?
Through this question, you will highlight your contribution to the whole experience.
- What did others contribute?
While answering this question, you will highlight the actions of others that were involved in the situation.
- What was missing?
In this, you will highlight the actions that were missing in the experience as per your opinion.
Based on these questions, you can honestly and objectively evaluate the past situation which will also help you in setting a base for future actions.
Stage 4: Analysis
In an analysis phase, you can make sense of a whole situation and determine the exact meaning of a situation along with the reasons for its success or failure. Some helpful questions for the analysis phase of Gibbs’ reflective cycle include
- Why did things not work well?
In this, you will point out the reason as per your knowledge that contributed to the failures of your actions in your experience.
- Why did things go well?
Through this section, you will highlight the reasons behind the success of your actions.
- What is the exact meaning that we can drive from a situation?
While answering this question, you will highlight the overall analysis of the situation.
Based on the analysis, you can get a clear picture of the situation and ensure that every aspect of the situation is covered and understood meticulously.
Stage 5: Conclusion
After a proper situation analysis, you can also conclude the whole situation by reflecting on your learnings. In this phase, you can highlight changes that you need to make to your actions while dealing with future situations. In this phase, a list of questions includes
- What did you learn?
In this, you will highlight all of your main learnings of the situation.
- What skills do you need to gain to handle situations more effectively?
Through this, you will highlight the requirements of the skills for handling the situation better in the future.
- What else could you have done to deal with situations differently?
In this, you will highlight the alternative actions that you could have taken to respond to the same situation in a different manner.
After the analysis, in the conclusion phase, using the above questions, you will clearly outline your learnings and the skills gained through the experience.
Stage 6: Action plan
In the action plan stage in Gibbs’ reflective cycle, you can plan to deal with future situations. It is an important phase of this reflective cycle as this phase helps to determine ways to deal with similar situations in the future and actions that you need to take to improve your ability to deal with various situations. Some questions that can be considered in this stage include
- How will you deal with this situation more effectively in the future?
In this, you will highlight the actions that you have thought of that will help you in dealing with a similar situation differently in the future.
- How will you develop your skills and abilities to deal with similar situations?
In this situation, you will highlight the methods in which you will develop the skills for dealing with situations more effectively.
After understanding the cycle, let us now take an example of reflective practice in health education to reflect on the learning situation using Gibbs’ reflective cycle.
Gibbs’ reflective cycle example in health education
Case assessment - This reflective example will highlight the experience of students in a group task of completing a health project. In this, a student will reflect upon a group task assigned to students during their MSc in health practice.
While doing my MSc in health practice, I was required to engage in various group work assignments and during a certain group work task, my team members decided to divide tasks among group members. All team members encouraged me to divide the tasks among the team. I divided tasks among team members according to their knowledge regarding various healthcare practices to ensure that all tasks are completed within a set deadline. All team members encouraged me to divide the tasks among the team. I divided tasks among team members according to their knowledge regarding various healthcare practices to ensure that all tasks are completed within a set deadline. However, I failed to consider the risk of various contingencies in completing projects and the same occurred when one of our team members was hospitalized due to some health emergency which resulted in a lack of task completion assigned to that team member. My whole team was present when I got a call from the injured team member about the accident that occurred to him. This then resulted in an increased burden to complete tasks among team members and failure to complete a task on time.
Before beginning the health project, I was very confident regarding my team management capabilities. I felt that our team will be able to complete assigned tasks on time due to my strong knowledge and abilities. I was already feeling very guilty that our project got delayed because of my lack of planning but the external factors made me feel even worse. Other than that, I felt like it was my overconfidence that made me feel more guilty because things did not work as planned.
During the group health project, a thing that worked well was the effort of team members to complete work within the extended deadline was cooperation as well as motivation among all team members. However, I believe that the hospitalization of one team member resulted in a lack of task completion on time.I felt that contingency planning is one most important requirement in a team project which was missing in this project. Thus, I believe that I am also responsible for the bad repercussions of this situation as I failed to properly plan and did not consider the risks of contingencies in a group. But still, till the end, everyone contributed effectively and did not lose hope till the end and gave their best.
I think the major reasons behind the successful completion were group efforts, cooperation abilities, self-identification of strengths, effective division of tasks, and ability to help others. However, the only thing that created a problem in completing a project is a lack of time management and planning capabilities. Through this whole experience, I believe that I need to focus on improving my time management skills as well as leading the ability to effectively manage group tasks.
After getting into this group health project, I got to know that time management and contingency planning are important skills that every project manager needs to possess to effectively manage group tasks. I also found that team management is possible only through the cooperation of team members as well as their effort to give the best results to a team project. I learned that as a project manager, it is always better to have a contingency plan ready for implementation than to develop one as risk is taking its toll (Heimann, J. F. 2000). However, I found that various problems can arise in a group task which could be managed effectively by making contingency plans for such situations in advance. I would have prepared contingency plans in the beginning and I believe that it would have helped me in dealing with situations differently.
In order to deal with this situation in the future, I have decided that I will use various time management tools such as PERT and CPM while planning various group tasks to keep separate times for various contingencies.For enhancing my time management and planning skills, I have decided to use time management skills such as making time tables and assigning time blocks for each task. If a similar situation occurs again in the future, I will ensure that in the planning phase only, I take time for contingency planning and plan things accordingly.
How to reference Gibbs reflective cycle?
To reference Gibbs' reflective cycle, include the author's name "Gibbs" and the publication year (if available) in parentheses. For instance, in APA style, it would be: (Gibbs, 1988). If you use a direct quote, add the page number as well.
Can Gibbs' Reflective Model be used in any profession?
Yes, the model is versatile and applicable in various professions and fields, including education, healthcare, social work, and more.
What are the disadvantages of Gibb's reflective cycle?
Gibbs' reflective cycle lacks a strong theoretical foundation and may not suit complex or long-term learning experiences. Some of you may even find its structured approach restrictive that could potentially overlook unique aspects of individual experiences. Additionally, it may not be universally applicable to various learning contexts.
Markkanen, P., Välimäki, M., Anttila, M., & Kuuskorpi, M. (2020). A reflective cycle: Understanding challenging situations in a school setting. Educational Research, 62(1), 46-62. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131881.2020.1711790
Smith, J., & Roberts, R. (2015). Reflective Practice. Vital Signs For Nurses, 222-230. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119139119.ch14
Heimann, J. F. (2000). Contingency planning as a necessity. Paper presented at Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium, Houston, TX. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.