Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to analyse the critical role reflection plays in work-based learning (WBL). Design/methodology/approach – This paper presents an contextualist examination of reflection in the WBL environment. Findings – People consciously reflect in order to understand events in their lives and as a consequence hopefully add and enhance meaning. Research limitations/implications – Reflection is associated therefore with “looking back” and examining the past in order to learn from what happened and perhaps not repeat mistakes. However, it is also increasingly associated with reflecting on action (Schon, 1983) and encourages an exploring of thoughts and feelings; looking for insights; and maximizing on self-awareness which all tie the process closely to identity formation (Lacan, 1977). Practical implications – If used effectively and purposefully reflection facilitates ongoing personal and professional learning, and creates and develops practitioners capable of demonstrating their progression towards learning outcomes and required standards. Reflection can also provide a structure in which to make sense of learning, so that concepts and theories become embedded in practice, and constant thought and innovation are simultaneously fostered. Social implications – By actively considering the thoughts and actions one becomes aware of the power of reflective thinking as a tool for continuous improvement, and one that has implications beyond the personal. Originality/value – This paper represents the first study which examines the role reflection plays in WBL.