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Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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6.1 Learning journals

An image of some sample text from an example of a learning journal.
Figure 6Example template for a learning journal

A learning journal encourages you to reflect on your learning in relation to specific activities (e.g. an assignment, a development framework, a topic of study), and can be used for different purposes including project development, experiential learning and personal development planning.

Use specific questions to structure your reflective thinking. You can adopt a structure for each entry, which could include the topic, activity or setting and date, the learning objectives, and key critical notes on your reflections about what you did (experienced, observed etc.) and what and how you have learned. Keep your portfolio up to date, and review, reflect on, evaluate and record your progress. Monitor your performance, relating the activity to your coursework, for example, by making constructive use of any feedback received from your tutor, acting on this to improve your existing work or future assignments by considering how you would do things differently.

  • Update your learning journal regularly, even if individual entries are sometimes short.
  • Focus on a specific activity, issue or a topic for an individual entry – think about how you could address or resolve the issue, or what you’d like to improve (e.g. your understanding of a concept).
  • Use questions or prompts to help you focus on the task.
  • Avoid descriptive writing – take an analytical approach.
  • Review your entries, identify themes and recognise the longer-term action you might need to take (for example, to improve a particular study skill).

Remember that writing itself can be used as a learning tool. You can use writing to explore ideas as a way of understanding them. The template is provided just as an example – you can structure your learning journal according to your own requirements. Your journal could include other entries that may be relevant to your reflective learning. These could include ‘purpose’, ‘outcome’, ‘focus’, ‘method’, ‘theory’, ‘audience’ and other entries. The important thing is to ensure that you have used the key reflective questions (Figure 3) to evaluate your learning (What did I learn? What was my experience?), to reflect on your learning at a deeper level (What does it mean for me in the context of my previous learning?), and to use that understanding to develop further (What has been learned? What is the impact of the learning? What will you do differently as a result of your learning?).

  • Think back over your learning and experience.
  • Understand these at a deeper level.
  • Use that understanding to do things differently in the future, to effect change through learning.