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How to produce a reflective learning diary

By Anne Nicholls

How to produce a reflective learning diary. A GUIDE FOR TEACHERS, ASSESSORS AND VERIFIERS

You may be involved with courses, as a teacher, assessor or verifier, where learners are asked to produce a reflective learning diary. For some people this can be quite a difficult task if they’re not used to keeping written records or writing diaries.  

We’ve come up with some tips to guide you through the process.

What is a reflective learning diary?

Reflective learning diaries - sometimes called ‘learning journals’ or ‘learning logs’ – are personal records about a person’s experiences of learning. They may simply list the things learned in a day, or over a longer period, with comments on why they are important.  Or they may include personal feelings about learning something new, overcoming barriers, or perhaps “light bulb” moments.

What are they for?

The main purpose of a reflective learning diary is to consolidate and extend learning through reflection.  It can often be used to provide evidence of that learning to show that a learner has met particular assessment criteria.

For some OCN London qualifications, producing a learning diary, journal or log is an essential part of the assessment.  For example a course in counselling may require people to demonstrate their self-awareness relating to various issues, such as bias towards or against a particular political stance held by a client. A reflective journal entry around this issue should show the learner’s awareness of such issues and the steps they would take to ensure they do not adversely affect their counsellor-client relationship.

It’s really important to be aware of privacy and confidentiality. You should use a code or pseudonym  in place of the client’s name in the diary. If the learner has included very personal information about themselves it’s important to make them aware before they submit work for assessment  that they can edit out inappropriate information.

For some qualifications and awards producing a learning diary is an optional assessment method. In those circumstances you need to decide whether it’s appropriate, or not. But check carefully with OCN London’s assessment criteria first.

What form should the diary take?

If you decide a reflective diary is appropriate then it needs a structure. It could be a written chronologically (with dates), or as case notes, or it could be a reflective video diary. Try to discourage learners from writing rambling text.

It’s also important that you produce clear guidance notes so learners know what’s appropriate and what’s relevant to include. These notes can also alert them to issues of personal disclosure and confidentiality. There is a list of suggested questions below that may help.

What about length?

Where it’s an essential part of assessment requirements, the guidance should suggest the number or range of words.  For a level 1  or award this might be just around 50 words an entry, but for levels 3 and above 500-1000 words or more may be what’s needed. The actual range will also depend on the context and the type of diary entries needed.

What starter questions would be useful, in relation to the learning experience?

  • Which achievement are you most proud of?
  • What was the thing that surprised you the most?
  • What did you find most challenging?
  • What did you enjoy the most?
  • What skills have you learned?
  • What skills would you most like to improve?
  • Describe your experience of working in a team?
  • What things have you learned that you didn’t know before?
  • If you were to pick out just one thing that you have learned, what would it be?
  • What have you learned about yourself from this experience?

If your learners are struggling to get started, try some trigger questions immediately after a group activity such as “What have you learned?” or “Describe your experiences – positive and negative?”

Are there any examples?

Here are two examples of the kind of information that could be included in a learning diary.

The thing I found most challenging on the course was giving presentations as it’s something that I haven’t done in the past. I was very nervous to begin with but my tutor showed me how to structure the presentation and engage with the audience.        I learned a lot from that exercise and feel more confident about giving presentations in future.

It was very hard initially to remain neutral when the client expressed very strong political views. In a social situation I might have challenged this, but it was important not to show my own feelings and find a way of dealing with very pointed questions.

How should you encourage learners who don’t want to write about their experiences?

Some people are natural diary writers; others hate it. Some people may prefer to record a video diary. If a reflective learning diary is not an essential part of the assessment, perhaps you should question whether to insist on it for all learners.

What will the assessor be looking for?

There isn’t a single right or wrong way of producing a learning diary as there are a number of different formats. The main thing assessors are looking for is that the assessment criteria have been met.  Moderators will also want to see that effective feedback has been provided to the teacher. Don’t just write “Good” against a piece of evidence – say why it’s good.

Are there any do’s and don’ts?

DO ask learners to write in full sentences, not just notes.

DO ask them to check spelling and punctuation – or get someone else to proof read for them.

DON’T ask them to include names of people or organisations . It’s important to maintain confidentiality.

DO remind them that their diary will be looked at by external moderators so any inappropriate or personal comments that they wouldn’t want to share with a stranger should be left out.