Audience Dialogue

Learning Journals

What is a reflective journal?

A reflective journal - often called a learning journal - is a steadily growing document that you (the learner) write, to record the progress of your learning. You can keep a learning journal for any course that you undertake, or even for your daily work.

This page is mainly about reflective or learning journals for online courses, such as those run by Audience Dialogue. Students from other institutions (including the Open University) are also welcome to use these ideas, though the conditions for marking and submission may be different.

A reflective journal is not...

Who benefits from a reflective journal?

You, the learner. The fact that you are keeping a record of what you learn is an incentive to keep pushing ahead.

There's an old saying "you don't know what you know till you've written it down" - and several research studies have found this to be true. By telling yourself what you've learned, you can track the progress you've made. You also begin to notice the gaps in your knowledge and skills.

How to write a reflective journal

A hundred years ago, distance education didn't exist, and textbooks were very expensive to buy. Therefore, students had to attend lectures and write notes while they listened. Most of those notes simply recorded the contents of the lecture. The act of writing the notes, and deciding what to write, was a major factor in students' learning.

These days, you don't need lecture notes for online courses, because (a) there are no lectures, (b) the notes are already on the web site, (c) books are relatively cheap, and (d) because you are doing an online course, you must also have access to the entire Web. So instead of lecture notes, we use reflective journals. The emphasis is different, but the purpose is similar: to help you make sense of what you've been learning.

Entries in a reflective journal can include:

Each time you submit your reflective journal, think back over everything you've done since the last time. Which sources did you learn most from? Which did you learn least from, and why was that? (Did you know the material already?) Write a paragraph or two about the sources of your new learning.

What form should it take?

Some people prefer to write at a computer keyboard, while others prefer to write by hand. Depending on your preference, a reflective journal could take any of these forms:

Whichever form you first write the journal in, you'll need to submit each weekly section by email - see our instructions for submitting assignments

Private thoughts

You may also want to include private thoughts in your journal - something that you don't want the instructor to see, but might be useful for you later. That's fine - just keep your private thoughts on a second file, which you don't send in with the main journal.

How much time should I spend on this? How much should I write?

If you make notes whenever you think of something, the only extra time it will take for the journal is to type it out - maybe an hour a week. As a rough guide,we expect a learning journal to have about 2 pages for each weekly module, and about the same for your summary at the end of the course. At the end of a 10-week course, you'll have written about 20 pages.

Marking

Because learning is such an individual thing, the marks for the learning journal will not vary much: mostly between 6 and 8 out of 10. You won't lose marks for poor spelling, or mentioning problems, or asking what might seem silly questions. You will get good marks by showing that you've been reading widely, and raising issues that flow from that reading, and making it clear that you have been thinking a lot about these issues.

How to use a reflective journal

The purpose of a reflective journal is that you should be the main one to benefit from it. Writing down your thoughts helps to clarify them in your own mind. So why are you given a mark for it? Two reasons: (a) to encourage you to get around to writing it, and (b) so the instructor can see any problems you're having, and help solve them.

It doesn't have to be all plain, linear text. Feel free to use varied forms of writing: quotations, tables, diagrams, and pictures (either sketched by you, or found elsewhere).

After you finish the course, you'll probably forget most of the details, but you may need to use that knowledge again, perhaps years afterwards. If you keep the finished journal, you can read through it later, to remind you of what you learned in the course. The more clearly and vividly you write it, the better you'll remember it.

You can keep a learning journal for any course that you undertake, or even for your daily work.

More about reflective journals

There's an excellent book, Learning Journals, by Jenny A Moon (Kogan Page, London, 1999), but there's no need to read it unless you're really interested in the concept. On the Web, see www.maslibraries.org/infolit/samplers/spring/doub.html.

Any questions? Please email us.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in web hosting say for a learning project (even an online journal) then I suggest you visit this link to check options.

Suggested format for a reflective journal

This is one of many possibilities, but it will give you some idea of the types of question that you can usefully ask yourself. Feel free to modify this two-part format to suit your needs.

Part 1
A page (or two) for each session, completed by you in order of the sessions.

Complete this information after each time you do some work on the course. This includes the formal sessions, the related reading and any other preparation, such as work in groups. Answer only the questions that apply - but think carefully about whether each question applies or not.

Your name  
Session date  
Session number  
Session topic  
What did I read for this session (apart from the notes)?  
What was the most interesting thing I read for this session (mark it above with an asterisk) - why was that?  
What were three main things I learned from this session?  
What did I previously think was true, but now know to be wrong?  
What did we not cover that I expected we should?  
What was new or surprising to me?  
What have I changed my mind about, as a result of this session?  
One thing I learned in this session that I may be able to use in future is...  
I am still unsure about...  
Issues that interested me a lot, and that I would like to study in more detail  
Ideas for action, based on this session...  
What I most liked about this session was...  
What I most disliked about this session was...  
Miscellaneous interesting facts I learned in this session...  

Part 2
This part will be more useful after you've finished the course. It's a mixture of all sorts of thoughts you have about the course that don't fit into any specific session. These items can include:

This Part 2 stuff can be messy, because there's no fixed order to it. Four ways to reduce the messiness are:

  1. Use a pad with very small pages, and write each note on a separate page. At the end of the course, remove all the pages, sort them into some logical sequence, then copy them into a permanent notebook. All that copying isn't a waste of time: it will help you recall the course material.
  2. Use a notebook, starting every new topic on a new page. Number the pages (if they're not already numbered), and at the start the notebook create a contents page as you go. At the end of the course (when you're not going to start any new pages), copy each page heading from the contents page onto a little scrap of paper, and sort the scraps into alphabetical order. Then you can create an index, and put it on the last page of the notebook.
  3. One big computer file, normally created with a word processing program such as MS Word, and lots of subheadings. If you use outlining, hyperlinking, highlighting new topics in different colours, and/or sorting paragraphs into alphabetical order, it's easier to find an entry later.
  4. Lots of little computer files. Excellent software for this includes: All of these can be used to organize lots of little notes. Another alternative is to write each note as an email, and send it to yourself. More ideas can be found in our page on software for qualitative research.

One suggestion: if you decide to keep your reflective journal on a computer, try out the software first on a small scale. If you don't feel confident using it, or find it too restrictive, it's best to write your journal by hand. After all, you're meant to be learning about the subject you're studying, not how to overcome software problems.