Three Questions – Rolfe et al.

In 2001 Rolfe et al. came up with a method of reflective practice that is one of the simplest models to use in order to gain something from reflection of experiences. It asks just three questions to the user, and can be used by both the advisor for their own work, and the client for their situation.


Image sourced from OpenLearn Works


The first question Rolfe suggests the user should ask themselves is “What?” This entails a simple description of the situation or experience that has happened, where the relevant parts are taken out so that they can be analysed further.

After realising which parts of the experience are important, the user should then look at these both individually and as a whole to start to gain an insight as to what they really mean. This is the second stage, the question being “So what?” Competent analysis is key here, and it is important to involve colleagues and other influences within this reflection in order to gain a more well-rounded understanding of the situation or experience.

The last stage of the model is “Now what?” The user now needs to think about what they have learnt from the second stage, and what they can do in order to learn from the experience and further improve their own practice. Ideally they should be able to break this down into steps that can then be followed easily, to help progression happen. They should also think about how they can measure this to show that the improvement has taken place.


For the advisor, this model can be a very simple way of reflecting on their own IAG practice with their clients. However, it can also be introduced as an activity within an IAG session, as a client could use it to reflect on their own experiences that relate to their careers/education pursuit. This would work particularly well with the following situations:

  • A job or course interview
  • An open day or information event
  • Within a work trial, work experience, or a job or course
  • As an evaluation of all of their IAG appointments to date


One of the positives of this model is that it is very simple and easy to take in. Because of this, it makes a particularly good introductory or starter activity for reflection, which can be very useful for people who have perhaps not really utilised reflective practice before. As the three steps are so simple, it is unlikely to look overwhelming to the user, and so they are more likely to try it out. This also means it can be really good for the client – time-wise it will fit easily into a session, and it won’t alienate them from further sessions by being too in-depth of complex (this is particularly important when working with either young or vulnerable clients).


However, the model’s simplicity is also one of its drawbacks. Although it specifies that detail is important, the very fact that it is quick and simple means that it is very easy for the user to avoid detail. If the user feels rushed for time, or perhaps doesn’t want to take it so seriously, then this could potentially mean that they miss out on a lot of reflective practice that would have really helped them. This would make it a pointless practice, and so having some more complex ideas might benefit the user more – especially if they need the extra guidance to begin with.

The other drawback is that, although the model focuses on three important questions, it seems to ignore “Why?” and “How?” To some it may seem obvious where these can slot in – “Why?” works well with the second stage, and “How?” with the third stage – but because they are not explicit they could easily be forgotten about or left out. Asking “Why?” is incredibly important during reflective practice, as is “How?”, and so not including these within reflective practice could lead to results that don’t really explore deep enough to help the user move forward.


Try this one both with yourself and your clients, and see how you find it benefits your practice.



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