Rolfe Reflective Model

What is Rolfe et al's 2001 model of reflective practice?

Rolfe, Freshwater and Jasper (2010) present a model which may be used to undertake reflective learning. Reflective learning is more than just reflection; it is a process where past events are recalled to recapture the experience and then examined it to consider why the observed outcomes occurred and assess personal permanence or reactions to identify how these may be improved in the future (Schon, 1991). Rolfe's model provides a framework that can be used to undertake a reflective process. The model is not entirely original; it is based on Borton's (1970) model.

In line with Borton's (1970) model, the Rolfe et al. (2010) model, initially published in 2001, starts by asking the same three questions: What? So What? and Now What? However, Rolfe et al. (2010) introduced a higher level of prescriptiveness into the model, with more details regarding the questions which should be asked and how it can be applied, to increase its credibility (Skinner and Mitchell, 2016). Rolfe argued the three stages related to different processes; the first was descriptive, defining what happened and how. The increased detail include factors such as considering what occurred from different stakeholder perspectives (Jasper, 2013). The second stage which Borton defined as analytical, Rolfe et al. (2010) enhance by expanding the guidance, stating this should be completed referring to theory and empirical knowledge, with the application of those ideas used to help explain what happened and why. The final stage of Now What looks to the future, with Rolfe et al. (2010) presenting this as an action-oriented stage, focusing on a proactive approach. A summary of the model with examples of the questions at each stage is presented in figure 1

Rolfe's Reflective Model

Rolfes Reflective ModelSource: (ScOPT, 2017, p. 1)

Rolfe et al's 2001 reflective cycle

Rolfe et al's reflective cycle

Source: (ScOPT, 2017, p. 1)

What Fields of Study use Rolfe's Reflective Cycle?

Rolfe et al. (2010) developed the model specifically for application within nursing, for those learning and well as practitioners. However, it is a model that could be applied to other areas of healthcare, or other practitioner areas, for example, Fontaine (2018, p. 1) advocates for its use in veterinary practice.

Why Use Rolfe et al's Reflective Model?

Reflective learning is is a process which increases the value of experience by creating a higher level of self-awareness, with the second So What theory and knowledge stage enhancing understanding and supporting the transference of theoretical knowledge into the practical world, and allow for personal planning to facilitate improvement (Jasper, 2013). Griggs et al. (2018) argue the use of reflective learning can be valuable and leading to reflective practice. The use of the Rolfe et al. (2010) model will support this with a model that can be used in both formal and informal settings, allowing for a variety of depths, and supporting people at different stages of their career.

The Pros and Cons of Rolfe's Model

The pros of this model are:

• Easy to use.

• Simple to understand, with clear guidance on the contents of each stage.

• More comprehensive compared to Bortons (1970) model.

• Rolfe's model was developed specifically for nursing and healthcare. For example, consideration of what happened from the client and others perspectives (ScOPT, 2017).

• Incorporates intangible elements of the experience, including feelings (Jasper, 2013).

• Can be used by novices and professional practitioners, with increased complexity as competence increases (Vong, 2017).

The cons are:

• More complex than other simpler models, such as Bortons' (1970).

• A narrower focus on nursing, reducing support for application in other disciplines (Griggs et al., 2018).

• Comprehensive analysis of the second stage is reliant on appropriate theoretical knowledge (ScOPT, 2017).

• The model requires consistent use to support learning (Moon, 2004).

Why is Rolfe's Reflective Model Good?

There are more pros than cons, which indicates this is a good model, particularly when considering the ease of application; models are likely to be used more extensively when they are easy to use. Also, if this is used within a clinical setting, the guiding questions created to enhance Bortons' basic model provide a higher level of guidance, which is particularly useful for novices and provides advantages over the more generic models.

How to Cite Rolfe's Reflective Model

Where a model or theory of another person has been used, the source should be cited. Rolfe's model was initially published in 2001 and has been republished. Where possible, students should attempt to use Rolfe's own publication as a source. The in-text citation should include the author name and then years, although the requirements may vary based on the different styles which can be used. In the bibliography, the full details of the publication should be given (see the reference list of this paper for examples). If an original source cannot be located, Rolfe et al. should still be credited, but if taken from a different source, this should also be provided, such as Rolfe et al. (cited Jasper, 2013).

Reference for the Rolfe et al model (2001):

Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001) Critical reflection in nursing and the helping professions: a user’s guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Reference for the Rolfe et al model (2010)

Rolfe, G., Jasper, M. and Freshwater, D. (2010) Critical reflection in practice: generating knowledge for care. 2nd edn. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

How to Write a Reflection Using Rolfe's Reflective Model

The model may be used with the learner noting down the different headings and then making notes on the event. The second stage may require some research to review relevant empirical theory or knowledge which may be applied to understand the influences present in the event. This will then guide the subsequent action plan.

Rolfe's Reflective Model Template

The following template may be used to guide the process, based on the work of Rolfe, Freshwater and Jasper (2010) and ScOPT (2017).


What happened, what was the outcome for the direct stakeholders (client, me, and others). How did the stakeholders feel?

So What?

What does this tell me about myself, what was I thinking, and which theories/knowledge can be applied? Are there broader issues to be considered?

Now What?

What should I do to improve the outcome, what do I need to do to improve the outcome, and what are the broader implications

Rolfe's Reflective Model Example


I was working as part of a team, and one team member had problems so had not completed their tasks. They were clearly upset about their personal issues, but they did not appear to be very apologetic, which I found annoying. I was quite sharp with her, and we agreed on a new date for her to complete the work, and again she missed the deadline. This left the team in a mess, and as it was a shared grade, the rest of the team felt it was unfair.

So What:

The initial handling at the first meeting created tension. Applying theories such as Maslow's (2014) hierarchy of needs may explain why the student was not motivated, as she was focusing on issues associated with her wellbeing. Also, the relationship with her teammates suffered, which may be explained with Mayo's (1976) Hawthorne Studies showing good team relationships may increase motivation and performance; if we had been more supportive, the outcome might have been different. Social exchange theory may also explain the emotional responses (Emerson, 1976). If I do not adapt my approach, I may have problems with teamwork in the future especially if I want to progress in my career into leadership positions

Now What:

I need to adopt a broader view, and acknowledge the emotional responses and challenges of others, adopting a more supportive approach. This will require increased consideration of others feeling and support for working relations, and asking what support to complete the work is needed.


Borton, T. (1970) Reach, Touch and Teach, London, Hutchinson.

Emerson, R. M. (1976) Social exchange theory, Annual Review of Sociology, 2, pp. 335–362, [online] Available from:

Fontaine, S. J. (2018) The role of reflective practice in professional development, The Veterinary Nurse, [online] Available from:

Griggs, V., Holden, R., Lawless, A. and Rae, J. (2018) From reflective learning to reflective practice: assessing transfer, Studies in Higher Education, 43(7), pp. 1172–1183.

Jasper, M. (2013) Beginning Reflective Practice, Andover. MA, Cengage Learning.

Maslow, A. (2014) Toward A Psychology of Being, London, Sublime Books.

Mayo, E. (1976) The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization with an Appendix on the Political Problem, In The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization, London, Routledge, pp. 60–75.

Moon, J. A. (2004) A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning, Abingdon, Routledge.

Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001) Critical reflection in nursing and the helping professions: a user’s guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D. and Jasper, M. (2010) Critical reflection in nursing and the helping professions: a user's guide, London, Palgrave Macmillan.

Schon, D. (1991) The Reflective Practitioner, San Francisco, Jossey Bass.

ScOPT (2017) Rolfe et al's Reflective Framework (2001), The Scottish Organisation for Practice Teaching, [online] Available from:

Skinner, M. and Mitchell, D. (2016) 'What? So What? Now What?' Applying Borton and Rolfe's Models of Reflexive Practice in Healthcare Contexts, Health and Social Care Chaplaincy, 4(1), [online] Available from:

Vong, S. (2017) Observe , Reflect , Action ! Transformation through Reflective Practice in Librarianship, In At the Helm: Leading Transformation: The Proceedings of the ACRL, Baltimore, MD, Association of College and Research Libraries, pp. 461–468.

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