Gibbs Reflective Cycle

Gibbs Reflective Cycle

Your experiences shape who you are.
However, experiences alone are not enough.
You need to learn from your experiences, form rules, principles, and theories that will make you better at what you do.
Gibbs reflective cycle is a 6-step process that helps you to reflect on your experiences.
The Gibbs reflective cycle was introduced in the year 1998 by an American sociologist and psychologist Graham Gibbs.

Graham Gibbs published the model in his book, ‘learning by doing.’

It is a cyclical process consisting of systematic or clear cut phases of an experience or activity.
With the Gibbs reflective cycle, you will learn what went well, as well as what could have gone better.
The model is sometimes referred to as an iterative model or learning through repetition.
The model helps you to put together an action plan that will help you in addressing your weaknesses.
The process requires critical thinking to reflect and develop from experience.

Gibbs reflective cycle


As you can see from the diagram above, the model is circular, starting with description, and the circular nature lends itself to learning from experiences over time so that you can get better and better at something.
The first three steps of the model (Description, Feelings, and Evaluation) focus on what happened during the experience you are analyzing.
The second three steps of the Gibbs Reflective Cycle (Analysis, Conclusion, and Action plan) focus on how you can improve your experiences for future similar situations.

The model can be used to evaluate your performance in the workplace, but it is also a great tool to use if you are coaching a subordinate or colleague to improve on a skill of a particular area.

The Aims of a Gibbs Reflective Cycle

  • The model helps you challenge your assumptions.
  • The cycle will help you to identify any strengths or weaknesses you may have and ultimately promote your self-improvement.
  • It will also assist you in exploring new ideas or exploring new ways of doing things.
  • The Gibbs reflective cycle assists students to link their practice and theory by combining observing or doing with applying knowledge or thinking.

Steps in a Gibbs Reflective Cycle

A. Description

The description is an exploration of the circumstances or situation.
It tries to answer, what was the issue or event?
While writing the description, make sure that you use specific information and provide a concise description of your experience.
Do not analyze this part; it is purely descriptive.
Also, do not draw any conclusions.
Consider the following questions when preparing the description:
1. What was the situation, and where did it happen?

2. What happened?
Be clear and do not add or subtract anything from the truth. Be accurate in your reporting.
3. How many people we involved, and what were they doing?
It may be a group or individual activity. Describe each person in the group and their involvement. Also, explain why each member of the group is essential as well as their roles and functions.
4. What did you do and what was the outcome?
Indicate precisely what you did and your contribution.
5. Indicate how you could have varied your contribution?
6. Could you have channeled your contribution in different areas?
7. What skills and abilities did you bring to the process?
8. Could you have improved?
9. Could you have brought other skills that perhaps you didn’t think of at that time to improve on the situation?

B. Feelings

Consider the feelings and emotions during the time of the incident or experience.
It is essential that you note down the feelings and emotions because if you have a positive or negative attitude, it may influence how you addressed a particular task.
1. How did you feel at the time of the event or incident?
Was it a good or a bad mood?
2. How did you react during the experience or event?
3. Were you tired, happy, upset? And so forth.
4. How do you think other people felt during the event?
5. Were they frustrated? Annoyed? Confused? Alienated?
6. Were they engaging or not engaging with the project?
7. How do you feel about the overall event now?
8. Compare how you felt then with how you feel now.
9. Do you feel like your colleagues needed motivation?

You ought to bring out a discussion of the overall feeling during the research project.
Note down how you felt as the project went through.
This aspect is not analytical; it is purely descriptive.
It describes your personal feelings, thoughts, actions, and reactions.

C. Evaluation

Think about the experience or incident and consider any of these questions that you think may be relevant to the situation:
1. What went well during the experience? What worked? What did you achieve?
2. What went badly during the experience? What didn’t work?
3. What was good about the experience?
4. How did the experience end? Was the experience complete? Was there a solution? Or was the solution or event left incomplete?
5. What have you learned? How are you different as a result of the consequences of your experience?
This part is also not analytical. It makes positive and/or negative judgments about an experience.
If a lot happened during the experience, try to focus on one or two aspects. Choose the things that are most important to you or the situation. Alternatively, choose the most relevant issues of the experience or event.

D. Analysis

In this aspect, reconsider all the things that went badly or, went well and write why you think they went badly or well (causes of action).
1. Write why you think the consequences are the way they are.
2. What are the factors that helped or hindered the development of the experience? 3. 3. What was missing that caused the problems?
4. Think about what could have been done to avoid the negative consequences or what you could do to improve the positive consequences further.
5. Think about your role in the experience; was it useful? Why was it helpful? Have you been in a similar situation in the past?
6. Did the past experience help you to deal with the recent experience?
7. If you did not contribute to the experience, why didn’t you?
8. Were your actions or reactions similar or different to the other people present in the experience?
Also, consider theories to compare your experience on the project or situation.
Try to find abstractions and models in various fields and subjects.
If you can find a model that particularly matches your experience, discuss that model as part of your reflective process.

NB/ This part is analytical and not descriptive. This step tries to explain the causes and consequences of things that happened during the event or experience.

E. Conclusion

The conclusion is a summary of what you have learned from the experience:
1. What could you have done differently, and what could you have changed?
2. What were the barriers to doing it differently?
3. Would a different approach alter the outcome of the project? Is the outcome dependent on the methodology used or the approach used?
4. Did I learn about myself during the experience? Can either be positive or negative lessons
5. Did I learn anything about the strengths and weaknesses of my practice?
6. What did I learn about my current knowledge or level of practice? These can either be strengths or weaknesses
7. Did the experience meet any of my required competencies or any of my learning goals?
8. Are there any factors that you would change? If you would do the project or process again, what would you change? How would you change it, and how much would you change? Would you want to read widely on the process? Would you want to countercheck your data to ensure that it is accurate?

The conclusion lists all the improvements that can be made to make the process better. It sums up what you have learned from the experience.
It is, therefore, important that you are specific about what you have learned and what you have realized about yourself.
It is important that you give out specific details and avoid making general statements.

F. Action Plan

An action plan expresses what you could do in order to be better prepared for the experience in the future.
An action plan is all about self-criticism.
Look at the outcome of the exercise as it is a greater insight to the situation.
Even if the experience was a positive one, what could you do to improve on it if it occurred again?
1. What are the areas that you need to prioritize in the future?
2. In order to see improvements, what specific steps do you need to take to attain it?
An action plan is not analytical. It simply states actions that that are designed to improve your knowledge, ability, and experiences.
You can include the justification for and the value of your actions in the action plan.
Try to be specific about what you plan to do; determine any specific training you may need to undertake.
List down the information that you may need to review or learn to be competent in this area.
It is important that you are honest in this whole process so that in case the situation arises again, you can understand and solve it in a better manner.

Advantages of the Gibbs Reflective Cycle

  1. As seen from above, the model is easy to understand and easy to use.
  2. The model allows you to learn over time.
  3. The model gives you a more balanced and accurate judgment over time.

Disadvantages of the Gibbs Reflective Cycle

  1. The model is reactive and not proactive.
  2. The model does not have deep probing questions.
  3. It can be a superficial reflection as there is no reference to critical thinking, referencing your assumptions, or analyzing the situation from a different viewpoint.
  4. It can be difficult for people to open up and discuss their feelings.
  5. The model works best with a coach or expert practitioner guiding you through the process.

Using a Word Count for the Gibbs Reflective Cycle

To ensure that your reflection is not overly written, well-structured, and balanced, the table below shows a general guide on how each section should be weighted depending on the final word count of the reflection that you are asked to produce.

[table id=5 /]

Gibbs Reflective Cycle Example

Imagine that you gave a presentation to your senior management team and that the presentation did not go well.

Using the Gibbs Reflective Model, your analysis may look like the one below:

Step 1: Description                       

Last Friday I was giving a presentation to the board. The purpose of the presentation was to provide an update on my department’s progress in the previous financial year.

I only got to slide four before the whole thing fell apart!

The finance director asked me a question in the figures, and I got flustered. He already didn’t agree with the direction of my presentation. A big debate ensued, and I didn’t even complete my presentation!

Step 2: Feelings

In the lead up to the presentation, I felt very nervous as it’s not every day that I happen to be the one to give a presentation to the management team. I panicked when asked the question of the numbers. I felt like an idiot when my time was up, and I hadn’t even made it past the introduction.

Step 3: Evaluation

On the positive side, I’ve heard from my boss that this kind of thing happens all the time. Afterward, I just felt sad that I had messed up and a little mad with the finance director.

Step 4: Analysis

On reflection, I should have sent a copy of the presentation to each member of the management team in advance of the presentation. I should also have followed up with each of them in person to check that they didn’t have a problem with the presentation. This would have helped to calm my pre-presentation nerves.

Step 5: Conclusion

On balance, I realize that these things happen and it’s not the end of the world to have a presentation go wrong like this. The good news is that I can see a way to go forward which has a good chance of a better outcome next time.

Step 6: Action Plan

  1. Distribute the presentation to key stakeholders in advance
  2. Run through the plan with anyone who might have an issue with it. This will also serve as a practice run at performing the presentation.

Frequently Asked Questions for the Gibbs Reflective Cycle

1. What does a Reflective Essay Mean?

A reflective essay is an insight to a particular situation or event. Through the reflection, a student or practitioner is able to learn from the experiences of the factors that resulted to a specific outcome. The positive and negative elements of an experience are used to improve on future interactions.

 NOTE: Always follow the appropriate writing and grammar rules when preparing a reflective essay

2. How do you start a Reflective Essay?

When preparing a reflective essay using the Gibbs Reflective cycle, you should start your essay with a detailed explanation of event or experience being reflected upon. You should start with the description which is an exploration of the circumstances or situation.

3. How do you cite Gibbs Reflective Cycle 1988?

Referencing Gibbs in APA

Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods.  London: Further Education Unit.

In-text citation

Gibbs’ reflective cycle (1988) cited in Jasper (2013) shows that…
Gibbs’ reflective cycle is a seminal theory in reflective practice (Gibbs, 1988, cited in Jasper, 2013).

4. Why is Gibbs Reflective Cycle Good in Nursing?

The cycle is important in nursing as it shows insights by identifying actions that will help nurses learn, improve their practices, and develop better insights and self-awareness.

The Gibbs reflective cycle helps in identifying opportunities to improve the quality of care and patient safety in organizations.

There is a strong public interest in medical students, doctors, and nurses being able to reflect in an open and honest way.

It is also important to note that the Gibbs reflective cycle emphasizes the role of feelings and emotions; acknowledging the significance of emotions in the process of reflection.

5. Why is Gibbs a good reflective model?

  • The model helps people make sense of situations at their workplaces, hence making them understand and become better at what they do.
  • The model is easy to understand and easy to use.
  • The model allows you to learn over time.
  • The model gives you a more balanced and accurate judgment over time.


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