Learning Journals

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Contents

Module Summary

Learning journals are written / drawn / spoken / videotaped recordings of learners’ learning journeys. Sometimes, these are stand-alone assignments; in other cases, these are part of e-portfolios. Learning journals may be private works, not even shared with an instructor (and not directly assessed). Learning journals may be semi-public or public. Some learning journals are assessed. This short module highlights the uses of learning journals for learner reflection and other learning objectives. This summarizes some of the learning journal prompts in the research literature. Finally, this introduces some of the contemporary technologies used for the creation and sharing (publication) of learning journals.


Takeaways

Learners will...

  • consider what a “learning journal” is, what typical contents comprise a learning journal, how these are used in learning sequences, and how such journals are thought to benefit online learners and their learning
  • think about how learner reflection is an important part of learning
  • review some common prompts for learning journals
  • consider learning objectives for learning journals
  • list some contemporary technologies used for the creation of learning journals


Module Pretest

1. What is a learning journal? What sorts of contents are typical in learning journals? How are learning journals used in a learning sequence? How are learning journals supposed to benefit online learners and their learning?

2. Why is reflection considered an important part of learning? How does David Kolb’s experiential learning model underlie the uses of learning journals?

3. What are some common (writing, drawing, creativity) prompts for learning journals? What are the respective roles of these prompts?

4. What are some common learning objectives for the uses of learning journals? Why are learning journals sometimes not assessed? In the cases where such journals are assessed, how are they assessed?

5. In the contemporary online learning space, what sorts of technologies are used for the creation of learning journals? What are some digital modalities used?


Main Contents

1. What is a learning journal? What sorts of contents are typical in learning journals? How are learning journals used in a learning sequence? How are learning journals supposed to benefit online learners and their learning?

Generally speaking, a “learning journal” is a semi-formal collection of writings by a learner that captures his / her experiences learning a particular topic. Such journals help learners externalize and express their internal thoughts. These are generally written in an author voice and are fairly free-form within the limits of the prompts for the journal. Learning journals tend to involve less formal writing bridging between a “life narrative” and a “university essay” (Creme, 2008). How these instantiate in different disciplines vary. In the education space, learning journals have been applied to learners of all ages, from childhood to adulthood. One authoring team described learning journals:

Learning journals may be considered topical autobiographies or personal documents that consist of regular entries in which the writer focuses and reflects on ideas, a certain theme, or a series of events and experiences. They are a valuable adjunct to almost any academic course content because they validate students’ personal contributions to their learning (Hedlund, Furst, & Foley, 1989). In addition, they afford a variety of functions in university classrooms and, therefore, may be structured in many ways. Journals may be spontaneous, predetermined in form and purpose, or guided. Guided journals are used most often in educational settings; they help students to center on specific facts, themes, and concepts that are being learned as they are incorporated into their personal experiences (Hedlund et al., 1989). Journaling necessitates that students: (a) elaborate upon and connect new knowledge with previously learned concepts, memories of personal experiences, and likes and dislikes (declarative knowledge); (b) practice thinking about the subject matter and how to apply it (procedural knowledge); and (c) develop a metacognitive sense about when and where to use their new information (conditional knowledge). (Black, Sileo, & Prater, 2000, p. 72)

Learning journals, while assigned, may or may not be directly assessed. In some cases, they are private to the learner and are only for the learner’s eyes. In other cases, these may be shared among learner groups or within a course; in some cases, learning journals are published broadly for the world to see (such as on wikis). In cases where people’s learning journals may be viewed by others and are communally shared in the course (Brett, Forrester, & Fujita, 2009, p. 2), these are thought to have social learning value—so learners can become more empathetic and more understanding of others’ points-of-view.

As this assignment type has evolved over the years, the contents have evolved beyond text to imagery, drawings, diagrams, audio, video, multimedia, and other digital modalities.

In learning sequences, learning journals are often introduced early. Learners are encouraged to record their thoughts regularly. They may receive prompts every so often. Journals may be kept to the end of the course…or throughout a learning program.

The potential benefits of learning journals vary. In multiple published research papers, the journals help learners transition theory into applied contexts and practices. Learning journals are used to improve workplace performance of both individuals and groups (Loo & Thorpe, 2002); in several works, learning journals help people working in high-pressure environments to de-stress and to handle high work-based pressures with emotional resilience.

Ideally, learning journals help learners actively engage with the learning process and to empower them with a sense of agency; they enable learners to convey important information to the instructor (Park, July 2003). The analyses of learning journals have enabled instructors to understand how learners learn. These have enabled instructors to understand how effective or ineffective the pedagogy and curriculum have been.

Learning journals have been linked with lifelong learning, and to encourage reflection and critical thinking as common practice (Varner & Peck, Feb. 2003).


2. Why is reflection considered an important part of learning? How does David Kolb’s experiential learning model underlie the uses of learning journals?

“Reflection” refers to a purposeful focus on a particular topic and thinking about various aspects. This mulling over a particular topic is necessary for human learning, particularly for more complex knowledge. Reflection is to knowledge as practice is to certain skills.

A number of educational theories are linked to the practice of “learning journals.” One of the central ones is Kolb’s experiential learning model, which suggests the importance of observing the world closely, reflecting on the experiences, abstracting the learning from the experience, and testing that in the world.

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3. What are some common (writing, drawing, creativity) prompts for learning journals? What are the respective roles of these prompts?

Learning journals range from unstructured to highly structured. A more unstructured approach begins with simple directions, maybe a limited word count requirement, and students can then take the journal in any direction that they prefer. A more structured approach may include a template, unique directions for any number of entries, and other directions.

One research work shared ways to enhance learner journaling with evolving modifications including “a) use of orienting questions, b) question content, c) journal assessment and d) amount of scaffolding” (Brett, Forrester, & Fujita, 2009, p. 1).

The prompts are to encourage disciplined and thoughtful journaling. They are to inspire learners to explore the topic and their thoughts on the topic and themselves.


4. What are some common learning objectives for the uses of learning journals? Why are learning journals sometimes not assessed? In the cases where such journals are assessed, how are they assessed?

As noted earlier, learning journals may be assigned for a variety of objectives. Core ones are to strengthen learning for the learners by encouraging their constructive and in-depth reflection on the topic. Another objective is to help learners learn by doing experientially (McHann & Frost, Aug. 2010).

Learning journals are used in workplaces, too. In counseling contexts, learning journals can have “therapeutic” effects (Burnett & Meacham, Fall 2002, p. 410). Trainings may be improved with the uses of reflective learning journals (RLJ) to enhance the transfer of learning from trainings in work places (Brown, McCracken, & O’Kane, Sept. 2011).

In one quasi-experimental study, learners who kept learning journals showed increased self-efficacy and learning performance:

The experimental group wrote their reflection in learning journals. The research has discerned that there is a difference between experimental and control groups and experimental groups’ students have been effected more positively on self-efficacy for learning and performance, elaboration, organization, critical thinking and metacognitive control strategy dimensions of self-regulated learning. (Güvenc, Summer 2010, p. 1477)

In one research work, learners were asked to create learning journals of up to 10,000 words in length, partially in order to collect information for a formal paper (Park, July 2003, p. 186). The learning journals were assessed; for example, an “A” or “B” journal would have to meet the following standards…of “showing extensive knowledge and understanding and an outstanding ability to analyze, synthesize and evaluate; evidence of very extensive reading and study beyond the course content; well presented in a very well-organised manner; exhibits a high level of insight, marked originality; as good an answer, or even better, than the course tutor could produce” (Park, July 2003, p. 187). Feedback to learners about their learning journals included observations on features such as the “presentation, format & language, content, reflections, reading and use of literature, bibliography, (and) overall” features (Park, July 2003, p. 188).

For years, there have been debates on whether student journals should be assessed, and if so when and how (Creme, June 2005). Students want credit for their effort, on the one hand. However, in some learning contexts, the learning journals are more about self-discovery, and instructors want learners to write without filter to better understand themselves…not write as a form of performance to either the instructor or classmates as audience members. Learning journals are thought to help learners integrate their life experiences with course contents (Black, Sileo, & Prater, 2000), to synthesize the new learning with learners’ lives. Learning journals are thought to improve decision-making with increased information and consideration (Black, Sileo, & Prater, 2000).

One research work described the cathartic nature of private learning journals:

The learning journal was an important part of the portfolio because it provided a refuge from observed and assessed work and a place to record frustrations and difficulties, and to express emotions and feelings in a 'cathartic space' (Moon. 1999) that conventionally has no place in academic work. Specifically, Moon (1999) argues that the learning journal has distinct advantages when used within a personal support framework. For example during difficult phases of transition in university life. Moon (1999) observes of the learning journal that writers can be authentically themselves. The learning journal was not assessed in the module to protect that personal space, but students were expected to make use of its contents by reviewing their progress and achievements to produce a reflective commentary on the module. The learning journal provided a detailed, emotionally charged and highly dynamic representation of confidence, support, frustrations and expectations that were believed to be indicative of individual cycles of learning. The commentary produced startling and frank feelings about the module. (Chappell, March 2006, p. 20)

In yet other cases, learning journals are assigned by instructors for research purposes…to improve the teaching and learning.

There have been concerns about using learning journals in a curricular context. For one, learning journals may be “more appropriate to some students than others” (Varner & Peck, Feb. 2003, p. 64). In another research work, non-traditional students were found to be more skeptical of learning journals than traditional ones in higher education (Langer, 2002). One team wrote:

The dilemma of individual differences as they relate to learning journals raises many questions: Are we effectively addressing all students’ learning styles? Can all students achieve the learning objectives through this assignment? What is the appropriate balance between learning course content and developing new skills? Is there perceived fairness in our evaluation? (Varner & Peck, Feb. 2003, pp. 64-65)


5. In the contemporary online learning space, what sorts of technologies are used for the creation of learning journals? What are some digital modalities used?

If in prior years learning journals were created by students typing on paper, in the present day, especially for online learners, there are a range of technologies that enable born-digital learning journals. In learning management systems (LMSes), users may create a range of born-digital contents: text, imagery, audio, video, and other forms of multimedia. In terms of social media platforms, slideshows and photo essays and multimedia mash-ups may be created. Learners use wikis for both individual learning journal creation as well as co-created learning journals. LMSes enable the creation of walled spaces for learning groups to share learning journals in smaller sub-populations. Learning journals and web portfolios may be individually created and / or melded in online spaces, and many are used together as learner support tools (Walti, July 2008, p. 157).

Examples

How To

Possible Pitfalls

Module Post-Test

1. What is a learning journal? What sorts of contents are typical in learning journals? How are learning journals used in a learning sequence? How are learning journals supposed to benefit online learners and their learning?

2. Why is reflection considered an important part of learning? How does David Kolb’s experiential learning model underlie the uses of learning journals?

3. What are some common (writing, drawing, creativity) prompts for learning journals? What are the respective roles of these prompts?

4. What are some common learning objectives for the uses of learning journals? Why are learning journals sometimes not assessed? In the cases where such journals are assessed, how are they assessed?

5. In the contemporary online learning space, what sorts of technologies are used for the creation of learning journals? What are some digital modalities used?


References

Black, R.S., Sileo, T.W., & Prater, M.A. (2000). Learning journals, self-reflection, and university students’ changing perceptions. Action in Teacher Education: 21(4), 71 – 89.

Brett, C., Forrester, B., & Fujita, N. (2009). Online learning journals as an instructional and self-assessment tool for epistemological growth. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology: 35(1), 1 – 9.

Brown, T., McCracken, M., & O’Kane, P. (2011, Sept.) ‘Don’t forget to write’: How reflective learning journals can help to facilitate, assess and evaluate training transfer. Human Resource Development International: 14(4), 465 – 481.

Burnett, P.C. & Meacham, D. (2002, Fall). Learning journals as a counseling strategy. Journal of Counseling and Development: 80(4), 410 – 415.

Chappell, A. (2006, Mar.) Using the ‘grieving’ process and learning journals to evaluate students’ responses to problem-based learning in an undergraduate geography curriculum. Journal of Geography in Higher Education: 30(1), 15 – 31.

Creme, P. (2008). A space for academic play: Student learning journals as transitional writing. Arts & Humanities in Higher Education: 7(1), 49 – 64.

Creme, P. (2005, June). Should student learning journals be assessed? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education: 30(3), 287 – 296.

Güvenc, H. (2010, Summer). The effects of cooperative learning and learning journals on teacher candidates’ self-regulated learning. Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice: 10(3), 1477-1487.

Langer, A.M. (2002). Reflecting on practice: Using learning journals in higher and continuing education. Teaching in Higher Education: 7(3), 337 – 351.

Loo, R. & Thorpe, K. (2002). Using reflective learning journals to improve individual and team performance. Team Performance Management: An International Journal: 8(5/6), 134 – 139.

McHann, J.C. & Frost, L.A. (2010, Aug.) Integrating experiential learning into business courses: Using learning journals to create living case studies. American Journal of Business Education: 3(8), 1 – 12.

Park, C. (2003, July). Engaging students in the learning process: The learning journal. Journal of Geography in Higher Education: 27(2), 183 – 199.

Varner, D., & Peck, S.R. (2003, Feb.) Learning from learning journals: The benefits and challenges of using learning journal assignments. Journal of Management Education: 27(1), 52 – 77.

Walti, C. (2008, July). Implementing web-based portfolios and learning journals as learner support tools: An illustration. In J. E. Brindley, C. Walti, & O. Zawacki-Richter (Eds.)’s “Learner Support in Open, Distance and Online Learning Environments. Bibliotheks- und Informationssystem der Universität Oldenburg. 157 – 168.

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