Cycles of learning and development, all year round…

As I crawl out from what feels like some Christmas hibernation period back into the ‘real world’ I find myself reflecting on how different points of the year can echo different stages of learning and development…

December and the run up to Christmas:

Where has this year gone? What have I done with my time?! Did I do everything I resolved I would do with my career development? It’s all about reflection and winding down (putting off new projects and start-ups until the New Year).

New Year:

Radical New Me (did I not say that last year too)?!

Perhaps the after-effects of a festive and party season require a rejuvenation of goals, values and actions that will also make the continued short winter days and lack of annual leave more bearable…

Or maybe we are enforcing a little self-punishment in the form of detox and abstinence to make up for our overindulgence.


Falling off the wagon. All those (often ridiculously high and unrealistic) expectations are proving hard to live up to. We become a little more realistic with our goals and aspirations.

Learning and developing as we go…

No matter what time of year or what we are doing there are always opportunities for learning and development: not waiting for that opportunity to find us (or stoping to look just because it’s December);  looking forward but also being realistic (during January and any other month you choose); realising one ‘mistake’ or lapse doesn’t mean you have to give up (during February or whenever)…

It’s also important to consider that we each have different styles of learning: there are the cerebral thinkers and reflectors; the snap-decision action-oriented; the methodical planners…

Each and every type and aspect of learning has its benefits. Yet we can find we stay in certain domains more than others because they are more fitting with our character or qualities. Let me use a model to demonstrate:


Kolb’s (1884) experiential learning cycle is arguably the most widely used learning theory.

Concrete experience

You have to actually DO things to learn; active involvement is paramount. In career development this may take the form of performing in interviews, liaising with potential employers, participating in assessment tasks, problem-solving, presenting.

Reflective observation

This requires stepping back from the ‘doing’. It could be diarising or logging what you have taken from the experience (e.g. summarising learning points, noting how you answered interview questions and where you could improve), or asking for/providing feedback.

Abstract conceptualisation

In short, making sense of your experience: interpreting what happened; understanding connections between aspects of the experience. For example, generating ideas around what prompted a certain interview question and what this suggests potential employers are looking for. Or generating a theory around what stood in the way of you getting a job and how you may seek to improve this area.

Active experimentation

How will you put what you’ve learnt into practice? Do certain areas for development stand out? How will you gain experiences that you are lacking? What will you try next time to optimise your chance of success, building on what you know already works and developing weaker areas?

So, in the same way that we may find ourselves in yearly cycles of reflection, action (or indeed inaction), such learning cycles are present all year round. Act, observe, reflect, learn from, and use your learning to plan for next time. Just don’t do the New Year thing of setting yourself up to fail (or if you do, at least you can learn from it…)



About libbywatson

Dr Libby Watson is a Clinical Psychologist. She completed her Professional Doctorate at the University of East London (UEL), where she received the School of Psychology's research prize, and obtained her BSc in Psychology (with first-class honours) from the University of Sheffield. Libby is a Lecturer on the BACP accredited BSc Counselling programme at UEL. She also works as an Associate Lecturer at Birkbeck. Whilst adopting an integrative approach to her work, she also specialises in: Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) including 'third-wave' approaches; Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT); physical health (pain management, obesity and long-term health conditions); and qualitative research methods (specifically IPA). She also holds an honorary post in the psychotherapy department at St Thomas's Hospital.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *