What is a learning journal like

Although there are many different kinds of learning journal, they all have features in common.

• A learning journal is written regularly.

Most journals are written at least once a week and often more frequently. The regularity is what makes it a 'journal', so that you have a record of what you have been doing and thinking on a course, which you can look back on to see the progress you have made. A journal will rarely be written in note form and is not a substitute for making notes. You may, however, want to extend the notes you have taken from lectures or reading.

• A learning journal is an account of your progress through a course.

When you write a learning journal you are writing about the course as you experience it. You may include accounts of your reading as well as of seminars, lectures and discussions. You may explore your thinking about the ideas and issues raised. You may think about your own learning processes - what you don't understand, and what you gradually come to understand differently. You may write about connections between ideas within the course and ideas outside it; from other courses, the world generally, or your own particular experience. You see from this how a learning journal is about you plus the course, whereas most assignments focus on course material with 'you' as more or less absent (see Chapter 9 for more on your place in your academic writing).

• A learning journal asks for a different kind of thinking and writing from an essay. A useful way of viewing a learning journal is as an account of your own thinking on the page. It is a narrative with you - as 'I' - at the centre. A good deal of a learning journal will be in 'recounting' form (see Chapter 6); that is, you are telling a 'story' about what you have done and how you have felt and thought as a result: 'I did this, I read this'. But you will also include commentary and reflection - your thoughts - about what you did. A journal, then, is altogether more provisional and questioning than an essay, and a more personal document where you can allow yourself to be experimental and to put your own mark on it. Below you will find an extract from the guidelines for a learning journal that was not written every week but consisted of a specific number of entries, each on a different topic. Notice how the tutor stresses the creative aspect and developmental nature of learning journals.

The entries should be your own personal reflections of what you have read and discussed in the seminar . . . These may be hand-written and do not require the same level of planning as an essay. While it may be appropriate to include lists or spider diagrams, your writing should be mainly in complete sentences. You may decide to experiment with keeping your learning journal as a blog.

Wherever you write it, the idea behind a learning journal is to force you to try to develop your ideas through writing. Writing is a form of creativity which offers more than simply getting down your thoughts. Different possibilities and combinations only become apparent as you start to produce written sentences. Following the ideas and chains of association that start to appear before you often results in different outcomes to the one anticipated when you first sat down. Practice will give you more and more confidence to sit down and write. In the end it is through writing that you will help to develop your capacity for independent thought and originality.

(Source: Nick Hubble, University of Sussex course document for Critical Reading, entitled ' England my England' (2001))

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