How Writing a Learning Journal Can Increase Critical Thinking Skills
Remember reflection? That’s something we used to do occasionally before we all became addicted to checking our Web-enabled devices every few minutes for our much-needed digital data fixes. Prior to the mobile revolution, people could at times be seen staring off into space, just thinking. If you were to spot someone doing that today, you’d think “So sad. That person lost his phone.”
According to the American Library Association, by 2020, information on the Internet will be doubling every 15 minutes. Consuming information without taking the time to reflect is bad for the development of critical thinking skills. Without reflection, we become locked in a pattern of remembering and communicating information without taking the time to assess whether the information is true, utter garbage, or a valuable missing piece in a puzzle.
Keeping and contributing regularly to a personal learning journal can be an effective way to encourage reflection and develop critical thinking skills. Mark Smith’s article in the encyclopaedia of informal education titled ‘Keeping a learning journal‘ describes the following benefits:
- The first and obvious use of writing a journal is that it helps us to remember something later.
- Second, the act of putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) engages our brains. To write we have to think.
- Third, it isn’t just that writing a journal stimulates thought — it allows us to look at ourselves, our feelings, and our actions in a different way.
- Fourth, writing things down in a journal also allows us to ‘clear our minds.’ Having made a note of something we can put them on one side for consideration or action at a later point.
- Last, and certainly not least, making journal writing part of our routine means that we do actually take time out to reflect on what might be happening in our practice and in our lives generally
Learning journals can be made a part of a learning plan through the support of a learning management system. Here’s an example of how this learning strategy might be implemented for a management skills curriculum:
1. Create a journal template in MS Word or your preferred text editor to distribute to your learners. This template should contain questions or comments to encourage critical thinking.
2. Upload the journal template and make it available to learners.
3. Create a task as part of the curriculum that enables learners to upload their journal.
Learners will then be prompted to upload the file at the appropriate point in the curriculum.
4. In the event that you would like an instructor, coach, or mentor to review the learners’ journals, provide them with access to the files through the administrative control panel of your LMS: