Reflective Learning: When An Opportunity Aligns With Your Vision

A few years ago, an excited group of founders sat around a table discussing where they wanted to go with their latest set of exciting business ideas. The discussion then progressed to what the business would do and how all of these ideals would combine and unfold.

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A few years ago, an excited group of founders sat around a table discussing where they wanted to go with their latest set of exciting business ideas. The discussion then progressed to what the business would do and how all of these ideals would combine and unfold.

The discussion was a typically lively one but something felt different about the one held on this particular evening. The collective ideals at the table started to shift from money-oriented goals to running a business that delivers benefit, value and goodwill. The unanimous decision was clear: “Let’s become new-age billionaires!” - that is to say, create a business that benefited billions of people before worrying about making billions of rands. Our impact needed to be more important than the bottom line. Had we gone mad?

Eighteen months later we were joined by an incredible woman named Tracey Butchart. Tracey’s single-minded mission was to bridge the gap between those fortunate enough to have enjoyed the benefit of good teaching, and those from schools whose resources simply didn’t allow them to afford students the same privilege. Gaps in knowledge, skills and understanding are the ones most urgently needing bridging.

Tracey’s approach was a paper-based one that was tried and trusted for over two decades. The assessment process involved learners answering questions she had developed which quickly identified gaps in the learner’s key conceptual understandings in the fields of mathematics and science. Her approach was never to test aptitude based on content from the curriculum (which simply showed that learners were inadequate), but rather to identify where the gaps were and fix them accordingly.

So does the process work? Absolutely. The results show that it changes the lives of almost all who undertake the testing. Her main challenge, though, was that Tracey could only administer the testing on as many people as she could physically see. This also meant that she could only mark a limited amount of tests within limited geographical regions. She needed to find a way to remove these shackles.

As a tech business, we were delighted to be put in touch with Tracey. Convincing her that we could digitise her brilliant concept wasn’t difficult, especially considering that the end product would certainly be one of the most rewarding things we would achieve in our business.

So what is Reflective Learning & what makes it such an important concept? Tracey’s explanation may be a mouthful but it’s rather enlightening too:

“In Reflective learning we use diagnostic, embedded assessments to drive adaptive instructional design. Creating deep understanding to connect concepts: to each other; to existing knowledge; and to multiple, different representations of knowledge;

We use mathematical and scientific language to explore and explain ideas, theories, processes and strategies. Developing and extending cognitive precision, rigour and procedural fluency; and guiding self-reflective, critical analysis of one’s own conceptual understanding (and misconceptions) to develop metacognition to further advance one’s learning progress and become a lifelong learner.

South Africa continues to observe that the gap between those who have access to good teaching and those who don’t grows wider every year. It’s hard to argue with that assessment especially when glancing at the numbers below:

What Tracey wasn’t aware of at the time was that this problem wasn’t unique to the poorer schools. The Reflective Learning solution, to date, has actually received more interest from private, well-funded institutions.

Reflective Learning is an incredible concept for a few reasons. The need for Reflective Learning solutions across the board stems from the fact that it is entirely syllabus-agnostic. That is, it tests for gaps in conceptual understanding and isn’t concerned with where a class or learner is on a prescribed maths/science syllabus timeline.

Reflective Learning provides teachers with security. The software isn’t designed to isolate the areas in which teachers have failed so that principals and department heads can follow up on them; the opposite is true as it gives them the opportunity to help learners excel. And that, after all, is the gift that educators possess and it’s why they are entrusted with such an important task.  

From a software development perspective, we’ve run ahead and built version 1.1.2. The software and tests are both accessible from desktop PCs, tablets and mobile devices. Date usage is minimal (thankfully) and reports are generated instantly following completion of all questions. Lloyd, Lightswitch’s lead developer, spent months (often over weekends) plugging away at the code and even his girlfriend had to concede that she’d lost him (temporarily) to a most worthy cause. We even paused work on our own marketing site to tell everyone about the Reflective Learning concept and take the time to share login details so they could have a scratch around.

As perfectionists, we have started design work on the site as well as the next set of features for the product itself. It will form part of our business DNA going forward.

If you would like to know more about Reflective Learning, the process we undertook to build it or indeed how you could get more people using it, please get hold of me directly. Whether you’re an educator, concerned parent, NGO or government official, I would love to share the beauty of the project and how it could benefit you.

Yours in tech and changing Africa,


About the author

Keelan Whiting
Keelan Whiting

When Tina wrote the song "Simply the best" she was singing about Keelan.

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