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Learning Logs – Moving from Theory to Practice

November 20, 2013

The study of theory, models and concepts is not an adequate goal in itself for professional learning. Theory helps provide a sound basis for the professional to better understand their world and what they experience in their life. Theory provides a skeleton that the practicing professional can take, shape, reshape, combine and discard as they see fit. They are valuable in sense-making and in predicting the result of changing systems. Theory is, however, limited and needs to be examined in the light of the evidence that underlies it and in the context of your own experience and the context in which you wish to apply it [1].

In Kolbs [2] Experiential Learning Cycle we saw that theory helps us examine the concrete experience more systematically. One approach that I find useful to enable learning cycles and moving iteratively from theory through reflection to action is to write a learning log when events happen that I want to understand better. A learning log helps me identify issues that are not apparent in my own experiences thereby supporting my professional or personal learning.

Using a learning log also introduces a certain discipline into my examination of what happened which ensures I follow something like Kolbs cycle. I use my own template (derived from several sources [3], [4], [5] and own experience) with four section populated with questions that guide my iterations through the learning cycle. It is a useful guide and checklist, but I do not slavishly answer every question every time I use it. Its purpose is to support the deliberate nature of reflection – examining ones own professional or private life for opportunities to improve or change [4]. The questions I use, sometimes but not always, help me to uncover assumptions in my mental models that are barriers to further change or improvement.

Learning log writing is not about recording events – its goal is to support the process of understanding  significant events, understanding how and why the people involved interacted as they did, and to uncover new ways forward or new personal theories of what is happening.

Writing learning logs without subsequent action is  not very productive. The resulting action may be small-scale change in your private life or work, or large-scale change that is longer term in nature. Learning logs can ultimately help us move from single-loop learning to double-loop learning [6] where we question our models of how the world works, leading to real potential for change.

Journal template

Bibliography

[1] Cameron, S., 2008, The MBA Handbook – Skills for Mastering Management, (Sixth Edition) Pearson Education Ltd.

[2] Kolb, D., (1984), “Experiential Learning”, Engelwood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall.

[3] Schoen, D.A., (1983), “The Reflective Practioner: How Professionals Think In Action”, Cambridge MA, Basic Books Inc.

[4] Ramsey, C (2006), “Introducing Reflective Learning”, Milton Keynes, Open University Business School

[5] Pedlar, M., Burgoyne, J. and Boydell, T. (2007), “A Manager’s Guide to Self-Development” 5th Edition,  Maidenhead, McGraw-Hill.

[6] Argyris, C., (1994), “On organizational Learning”, Oxford, Blackwell.

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