Journaling touches parts of the mind that thinking and talking can’t access so easily, it promotes insight, understanding and wisdom.

The benefits of keeping a journal are well understood and regularly promoted by writers, artists and professionals from many fields. Mainly, a journal is seen as an aid to personal development, but it goes further.

Reflecting on and recording your experience touches parts of the mind that thinking and talking can’t access so easily, so a journal promotes insight, understanding and wisdom.

A learning journal records your thoughts, observations and impressions gathered during a period of study or working practice. Writing and thinking about your learning activities will improve your grasp and retention of the ideas you are exposed to. Your journal is personal and private. It reflects your understanding and reflections during a period of study or working practice (placement or internship, for example). 

Another dimension

Keeping a journal adds an important dimension to your learning experience. Learning is generally thought of as an intellectual process, but that is only part of the story. You also need to understand what you have learned, and put it into the context of your life (how does the acquired knowledge apply to you and how will you be able to use it).

A learning journal encourages reflection, which is at least as important as the information being taught. Reflective learning allows you to step back from your learning experience. It helps develop your critical thinking skills, analyse what you have learned, and acknowledge your changing understanding and progress.

Keeping a journal is a huge contributor to effective learning. This is why I recommend that you keep a learning journal during this course.

What is a learning journal?

A learning journal is generally a part of an educational programme or professional development. It consists of a collection of personal notes, observations, thoughts and other relevant materials built‐up during a period of study or learning. Its purpose is to consolidate your learning through the process of writing and thinking about your ideas, reactions and observations, in relation to the topic you are studying.

Your learning journal should not be a report where you stand outside your experience. It should be subjective and personal. It is a private log that will reflect your emotional reactions (to the study content) as well as your thoughts and ideas about your learning journey. The process of recording your intuitive reactions along with your intellectual insights helps to promote self-awareness and development.

Why use a learning journal?

  • It provides a “live” record of your growing understanding of your subject
  • It demonstrates how your understanding is changing and growing
  • It acts as a reminder of your thoughts and ideas during the course
  • It helps you identify your strengths, areas for improvement and preferences in learning
  • It can reveal personal biases and potential limitations you may have been unaware of.

Your journal will help you reflect on your learning and development. It should not be a descriptive report on what you did, but a record of your thoughts, feelings and inner reactions to the content and exercises of the course, and anything you learn about yourself.

What form does a learning journal take?

A journal could be a notebook, an electronic document or can even be recorded verbally on a digital recorder or smartphone. Choose a method that works best for you, but don’t get too caught up in technical distractions. 

Some people believe that the physical process of writing with a pen and paper further enhances reflection and insight. Writing manually has been shown to help with managing emotions, relieve stress and tension, prioritise problems, and identify any fears and concerns. 

Bear in mind that you might want to capture insights, thoughts and feelings at any moment, so a small notebook works best for many people because it can be carried with them at all times. Some students have used a small portable notebook to record day-to-day impressions, and they then transfer the content to a larger journal at a convenient moment.