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Learning how to learn
Learning how to learn

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2.4 Organising your study - keeping a learning diary

If you have found this approach to learning interests you, you might like to take the analysis a stage further. To do Activity 4, you need to be studying a course so that you are engaged in learning on a regular basis. To examine your learning patterns, try keeping a 'learning diary' over a short period of time - at least a week - or maybe during the period that you are studying a particular section of your course.

Activity 4

The process of keeping a learning diary is simple. On the first page, draw up a daily diary and record in summary form what days and times you were engaged in your work. Then for each study session or activity keep a record of:

  • the practical details - what, when, where and how you studied
  • the study methods and the various skills you used
  • your feelings about the methods of studying you used
  • a note on the effectiveness of each session
  • a comment on how you might change your practice to be more effective next time.

To really learn from this activity, you could stop reading this course now and return to it after recording your study activities over a few days. Or, you may prefer to go on reading and return to the activity when we revisit this task later in the course.


The real value of keeping a learning diary is what you decide to do with the information once you have recorded it. You need to set aside a time when you can look back at your notes, see what you can learn from them about how you learn, and then consider any changes you might make.

For example, look at your diary and consider:

  • What circumstances were most conducive to study?
  • What sessions worked best (where/when/how long)?
  • What activities were most successful and why?
  • How much planning in advance did you do - about how/when/where/what you would work on?
  • What did you do if you got stuck/lost concentration/felt unmotivated?
  • What changes can you make that might improve the effectiveness of your study?
  • Where or to whom can you go for help and advice?

Here is part of Tim's diary:

10 Feb.

Have worked out timetable for study. Will try to stick to it! Will try to do two hours per day - every day - one morning and one evening, even at the weekends.

9.30 p.m. to 11.30 p.m. - Started on course 1. Didn't cover many pages (8) but have done the activities and made loads of notes. That'll help me remember. Worried about how long it's taking. Didn't really feel like working this evening though - bit tired after meeting at work and didn't get home until 8.30. The whole thing was a real struggle and I can't say that I enjoyed it.

11 Feb.

6.30 a.m. to 7.30 a.m. - Good progress this morning. Getting up at 6.30 isn't nearly as bad as I thought it'd be. Still worried about how long I'm taking to work through this course though.

Didn't manage anything this evening. Wanted to watch the football and then not in the mood.

12th Feb.

6.30 a.m. to 7.30 a.m. - Did usual hour this morning. Achieved quite a lot - made me feel really good. Stopping to look at the illustration book breaks time up. Had first, proper tutorial this evening and met someone I used to go to school with - haven't seen him for 20 years! Signed up for self-help group and Bob and I will definitely get in touch anyway. Tutor has suggested that we try different forms of note taking. Couldn't study after tutorial. Too tired when I got home. I'm already behind my schedule.

13 Feb. etc.

What I've learned from doing this

Writing things down has enabled me to pull out some surprising points:

I'm really a 'morning' person so I should avoid studying late at night if possible. I might think about doing a bit before dinner though if I'm home at a reasonable time. It's worth studying for half an hour or so at a time - over a week it adds up.

Sue's notes were brief but to the point:

Tues 3 March eve. Read through Book 1 Ch. 1–5 again. Made extra notes. Each time I read something, I find something new to note.

Sat 8 March am. Realised the first assignment is based on first 9 chapters of Book 1! Mustn't panic. Concentrated on Q1 first - genetics - I need to understand this. Read Ch. 3 several times, concentrating on diagrams.

Tues 10 March eve Q1 parts 1 and 2 seem to be OK and straightforward, but worth only 5 marks each. Not sure about the rest (worth the other 40 marks!). Jotted down ideas. Need to think. Will come back to it. Q2 is essay. Need to start this. Subject sounds OK - how animals stop behaving in a particular way. Found relevant sections in 3 different chapters. Draft 1 started.

Sat 14 March on and off all day Realised essay was on how animals STOP behaving and all my notes are on START behaving!! Drew up new plan. Did draft 1.

Sun 15 March on and off most of day Finished Q1. Draft 2 of Q2.

Mon 16 March eve Must finish and post. Due in tomorrow. A few minor changes to essay - no time for any more.

Sat 28 March Assignment came back - 65%. Quite pleased but tutor comments explained how I could have got more if I'd checked the precise wording of the questions a bit more carefully. So felt I'd short-changed myself. Decided to underline key words in future.

At this point it might be worth considering how you developed your approach to study. Are you using methods you used in other learning situations? Have you ever thought about how you work or do you just 'get on with it'? Have you used any books on how to study or discussed study methods with other students or with your tutor?

Many of us use methods that we have developed from a range of experiences and sources - some of which are likely to be more effective than others. Being aware of how we learn enables us to make choices about the most appropriate way to tackle any learning task more efficiently and effectively. This does not imply that you have to be organised and regimented in your study programme - it means just thinking about what works best for you. If you feel comfortable with a relaxed and unpredictable approach that suits you and your lifestyle, that's fine. But if that approach is not working too well, at least you should be considering the possibility of changing it.