Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education


Graphic design education has traditionally adopted project-­‐ and studio-­‐based learning approaches in which students are introduced to the principles of design through a series of projects. The intention is that students’ expertise increases as they progress through their program of study. For this curriculum approach to be effective, students need to transfer their learning between projects. However, despite the widespread application of project-­ and studio-­based learning, there is little empirical research examining their efficacy.

Studies from other design disciplines, such as industrial design and architecture, reveal concerns about the efficacy of project-­‐ and studio-­‐based learning. Researchers have argued these learning approaches emphasise the artefact leaving the student at risk of not learning from the design process itself. Research suggests that learning can become overly bound to the project, resulting in learning outcomes that are unclear, and students who are often unable to articulate what they have learned. This suggests that important learning opportunities are potentially being lost.

Reflection offers a means to support students to connect their learning across projects by introducing a more deliberate engagement with the design process and the learning opportunities this presents. This study investigated a structured and critical approach to reflective practice, and its role in supporting graphic design students to learn from their project in ways that foster the conditions for transfer.

A case study strategy of inquiry was employed, drawing on a mixed-­‐method research approach, and framed by theories of reflective practice and cognitive psychology. An intervention in the form of a structured critical reflective learning framework was designed and introduced to a third year graphic design studio class. The reflective framework aimed to foster the conditions for transfer by prompting students to think about their design process and artefact in a systematic and specific manner, to identify learning from their project, and then connect that learning with thinking about how they might approach projects in the future.

The results indicate that a structured and critical approach to reflection can foster the conditions for transfer, however not all students may achieve this outcome. In its most successful form, this approach to reflection can support learners to critically analyse their process in ways consistent with the principles of reflection-­ on-­action, and both low-­ and high-­road transfer. However, students may take differing periods of time to achieve these learning outcomes, and some may not achieve these outcomes at all.

The results further reveal an effective way to support students to reflect is through the activity of reflecting, and providing multiple opportunities to reflect is an important way to help students grasp the concepts of reflective practice. However careful consideration must be given to how reflective tasks are scheduled within the curriculum with respect to the scheduling of submission of the design artefact.

It is concluded that reflective practice, applied in a structured and critical manner can play an effective role in guiding students to identify and analyse the learning inherent in their project. This approach fosters transfer by supporting students to connect their thinking from the project with thinking about approaches to projects in the future, and importantly to the broader context of their practice. In this study, not all students achieved these learning outcomes and further research is needed to understand the limitations of this approach, and more importantly, how future students might be supported more effectively. Further research is also needed to examine how the results from this study might inform the broader discipline of design education, and indeed other education settings that employ project-­ and studio-­based learning.

FoR codes (2008)




Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.