Reflection Toolkit

The CARL framework of reflection

This framework takes you through Context, Action, Results, and Learning.


The CARL model is adapted from a job interview technique where you structure each of your answers according to the different aspect of the model. Given the reflective nature of successfully answering many job interview questions, this model can easily be used in general to guide your reflective process on experiences. CARL stands for:

  • Context: Briefly describe the context of you experience
  • Action: Explain what actions you took
  • Results: Explain what happened as a result of your actions
  • Learning: Identify what you have learned


One thing to be conscious of with this model is that it is possible to work through the stages while only describing at each level. Be sure you stop and ask yourself how and why the things happened – this will help move it from descriptions to reflections.

Below is further information on the model – each stage is given a fuller description, guiding questions to ask yourself and a couple of examples of how this might look in a reflection.

This is just one model of reflection. Test it out and see how it works for you. If you find that only a few of the questions are helpful, focus on those. If you think about each area you are likely to engage more critically with your learning experience.

The model

A graphic of the CARL model with the words spelled out. Context, Action, Result, Learning
The CARL framework of reflection

This model, unlike a fair amount of other reflection models, does not explicitly require further planned actions. This is not essential for reflection, as identifying new learning is an extremely valuable process and will in many cases affect practice on its own. The model is frequently seen in interviews without the ‘learning’ stage, however it is important to include this stage in reflection as it allows you to critically extract knowledge and learning from the situation.

One potential challenge with using this model is that it encourages you to describe throughout - that is describe the context, the actions, and results and only think about implications in learning. While there can be benefits from solely describing as it can make you aware of the consequences of your actions, describing is not the same as being critically reflective. To ensure that you remain reflective throughout, keep asking yourself the question why – ‘why did I do what I did?’ etc.

For other models there is a natural place where you introduce and think about relevant theoretical literature. In this model each step can benefit from literature, as it can help explain your motivations, for example in actions you might want to use a particular theory to explain why you chose a specific action above another.

A number of helpful questions are outlined below for each of the sections. You don’t have to answer all of them, but they can guide you to what sort of things make sense to include in that section. You might have others questions that work better for you.



Here you will set the context for yourself or the reader. Describe what is essential to understand the situation.

Helpful questions:

  • What was the context of the situation?
  • What was the situation?
  • Where was it?
  • Who was there?
  • What am I hoping to accomplish?


Depending on whether you are presenting the reflection, for example as an interview answer, or using the model as a helpful framework for your own reflective process, you may wish to tailor how extensive you are. If doing it for yourself, it can be very helpful to understand a full comprehensive context, whereas when presenting it to others you may wish to only include enough that the audience understand the context.

Examples of Context

The examples below show how the reflective process can happen at an overarching process level and a specific experience level. Both will tackle the same scenario, but their conclusions can be different. When reflecting both levels can be helpful.

Developing public speaking as a skill over time Public speaking individual experience
I am currently working on improving my public speaking as a part of my ongoing professional development. I could specifically take opportunities within my role as class representative, where I will have to stand in front of an entire course. I was given the opportunity to give a presentation about my subject to high school students who might be interested in applying to study it. I had 20 minutes and could spend them as I wished. There were 30 students present in the auditorium at the high school where I gave my talk.



Here you can describe what your actions were in relation to the context specified above. To critically engage with the reflection it is important not only to describe your actions, but think about why you did these actions and not something else.

Helpful questions:

  • What did I do?
  • What else happened (other actions)?
  • Why did I choose this action?
  • What other actions could I have chosen? (not necessarily giving you the same result)

Examples of Action

Developing public speaking as a skill over time Public speaking individual experience
Within the class representative network I was made aware of an opportunity to go and present our course to high school students who might be interested in taking the course. I signed up despite being slightly time pressured, as I wanted to give myself the chance to practise. I prepared the presentation and the public speaking part went well, however I feel that I might have structured my presentation poorly for the students to gain the most from it. I chose to do a PowerPoint presentation with a lot of practical information on it. It wasn’t a particularly nice PowerPoint, I generally don’t like them with a lot of text, but I didn’t prioritise the preparation enough so I needed to create something quickly. I could have spent more time actually making a nicer PowerPoint communicating the value of my course more than the practical aspects.



Here you can discuss the results that came from your actions and what the implications are of the results.

Helpful questions:

  • Did I accomplish what I wanted?
  • Did my actions accomplish what I wanted in the way I expected?
  • What are the implications of my actions on myself/others/similar situations in the future?
  • Could different actions have given me the same result?
  • Is there a way I could improve my results or actions?

Examples of Results

Developing public speaking as a skill over time Public speaking individual experience
I gave myself a chance to practise my public speaking and I am feeling more comfortable standing in front of a group of people now, just because I have practised. As mentioned above, I could have structured the presentation differently. Having a well-structured presentation would have given me the same feeling of success in terms of public speaking and had a better impact on the students. However, from this experience I now know I can spend less time stressing about the public speaking element of it, and spend more time on the actual presentation. I could see that the students were desperately trying to write down everything I said and what was on the slides. However I felt confident in my delivery of the content, I didn’t feel a loss of breath or anything, which suggests I’m feeling more confident with public speaking itself. That said, I didn’t feel like they were actually getting any value from the presentation. They didn’t seem excited, and no one asked questions or anything. I think they would have gotten more from why they should study this course, rather than how to apply. I think equally if I had allowed times for their questions they would have gotten much more value from the situation.



Here you have a chance to conclude using the insights gained from the three sections above. While not explicitly suggested by the model, if you want to include an action plan this is a natural place to do so.

Helpful questions:

  • What did I learn from the experience?
  • Would I do the same thing again or would I change something?
  • What should I do next time I’m in a similar experience?
  • Should I change anything about the way I do things? What?

Examples of Learning

Developing public speaking as a skill over time Public speaking individual experience

I have learned that I get better at public speaking when I give myself the opportunity to practise in front of people. I will therefore continue to seek out challenges including public speaking. However, I have also realised that while I get similar benefit to my own development in term of confidence through standing in front of others, I can practise the most effective way of delivering the content. In the future I have to give myself more time to prepare.

I have realised if I had spent more time thinking about what information the students needed and how to present it, it would have been a more impactful experience. The way I presented is an example of passive learning (people just sitting and receiving information) which has been shown to be less effective than active learning (people participating in the activity; e.g. Michel et al, 2009) Therefore, I think using group participation and allowing them to guide the discussion by asking questions and following their interests would have been better. I will ensure I incorporate interactive activities in my future presentations.


Adopted from

The CAR model of interview techniques, for example BlueSteps (2011) CAR interview Technique.