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ATD Blog

Why Journaling Is A Useful Learning Tool

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

In my last blog post, we discussed project-based learning (PBL), a subset of action-based learning. This time we’ll cover another subset of action-based learning that can support PBL: journaling.

What Is a Journal?

The simplest description of journaling might be Emine Pilar and Ali Yildez’s article, “Writing to Learn.” A learning journal is a bit more complicated than a diary because it is not a recording of the day’s events. Rather, it requires the learner to dig deeper, capturing what they do and don’t understand about the course content as well as what it means to them.

The Benefits of Journaling

Keeping a journal is a reflective learning activity that requires the writer to consider what they’ve learned, explore how they feel about the content, connect it to previous learning, and capture any questions they may have. Several studies have discovered these benefits, when a journal is used in combination to any other learning modality:

An added side benefit of this practice is the improvement that learners show in communication skills, particularly in writing and composition. The most important benefit for adult learners in today’s fast-paced world may be the acceleration that happens when learners reflect on the learning experience. The practice can help learners acquire new skills in a much shorter amount of time than deploying any single learning approach that does not include journaling as a regular practice.


Guided Journaling

While the structure and content of a journal can be left completely to the learner to construct, it is often helpful to provide “ guided journaling,” where the learner responds to prompts or questions throughout the course. This approach helps provide a bit of structure to people who may be unfamiliar with journaling and make it easier for learners to share their entries with each other.

This approach is taken in Ekpedeme “Pamay” M. Bassey’s Let’s Learn Our Way Through It, Shall We? The book is designed to prompt the reader to learn something new every day and reflect on it by responding to questions and suggestions throughout a 365-day journey. A similar approach can help new employees or people who are moving into a new role explore and grow during a learning journey of any length.

Social Media Posts as a New Journal Format

Recent experiments have involved posting journals via social media rather than in pen and paper. This approach creates the potential for collaboration with fellow travelers who are embarking on the same learning journey.


Where to Begin

If you want to incorporate journaling in any form into your learning programs, there are several ways to begin. Here are two examples from my consulting practice:

  • One leading technology company provides a modern collaborative journal approach by setting up weekly prompts in a discussion board. The prompts follow the cadence of the onboarding topics in their training for newly hired sales employees.
  • A leading financial services company provides learning journals in the form of personalized One Note files. These entries are meant to spark conversations between managers and employees and reinforce more formal learning experiences.

If you’re interested in learning more about journaling as an education tool, the most obvious place to begin is with yourself. Once you’ve committed to documenting your own learning journey, you’ll probably think of many ways to support the learning of others. If you’ve never kept a journal before, know that you’ll be in great company.

Resolute journal writers include Flannery O’Connor, Susan Sontag, and Benjamin Franklin. I have kept a journal on and off for years but often with major gaps between entries. In researching this article, I’ve come to realize that the greatest benefits of a learning journal come from the consistency of the practice. I encourage you to join me by answering the questions below in the comments section below.

What did you learn today? What questions do you have? What do you hope to learn tomorrow?

About the Author

Margie Meacham, “The Brain Lady,” is a scholar-practitioner in the field of education and learning and president of LearningToGo. She specializes in practical applications for neuroscience to enhance learning and performance. Meacham’s clients include businesses, schools, and universities. She writes a popular blog for the Association of Talent Development and has published two books, Brain Matters: How to Help Anyone Learn Anything Using Neuroscience and The Genius Button: Using Neuroscience to Bring Out Your Inner Genius.

She first became interested in the brain when she went with undiagnosed dyslexia as a child. Although she struggled in the early grades, she eventually taught herself how to overcome the challenge of a slight learning disability and became her high school valedictorian, graduated magna cum laude from Centenary University, and earned her master’s degree in education from Capella University with a 4.0.

Meacham started her professional career in high-tech sales, and when she was promoted to director of training, she discovered her passion for teaching and helping people learn. She became one of the first corporate trainers to use video conferencing and e-learning and started her own consulting company from there. Today she consults for many organizations, helping them design learning experiences that will form new neural connections and marry neuroscience theory with practice.

“I believe we are on the verge of so many wonderful discoveries about how we learn. Understanding what happens in the brain is making us better leaders, teachers, parents, and employees. We have no limits to what we can accomplish with our wonderful brains— the best survival machines ever built.”
—Margie Meacham

1 Comment
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Thanks alot. I totally agree. I have been doing this for past one year (personal and professional) and always looking back at what I wrote draw a smile on my face
It's such a versatile and powerful tool, Moza. Thanks for sharing your own experience. I hope it inspires others to pick up the practice for themselves and the learners they support.
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