Writing to learn

still life of old-fashioned desk and writing materials

This week I started writing a journal. Properly. It’s something I’ve been dabbling with off and on for a few years, but never really got it going. I tend to have lots of notes on pieces of paper and post-its and scribbles in various notebooks that have not been specifically organised into a learning journal writing habit.

So, alongside my weekly blogging habit, I’m writing in a journal for 10-15 mins a day. 🤓 📘

I’m on a 4-day streak! ⭐⭐⭐⭐

It’s a start, eh? I hope that if you ask me about it in a month, I won’t have to shamefully admit that I didn’t keep it up.

My conclusion about journaling, so far, is that it really feels like I’m remembering more about the things I’ve read and listened to. It’s helped me make some connections about things that hadn’t occurred to me before and it has helped some other ideas come into sharper focus. 

Once I’ve written my daily entry, I’ve also been skimming over the previous days’ entries to help my memory and see if I notice any connections. I think this is important, maybe not so often in the future, but in general. It’s like laying a learning trail behind me, capturing my knowledge at a particular moment in time. Something like an emergent syllabus of personal learning – something that came to me this week while I was scribbling away and which I’ll continue to explore.

At the moment, I’m not following any particular journaling technique, of which there are many. My notes are focused on ideas that occur to me about things, rather than any strictly planned questions, or a specific focus. In general, it’s me trying to figure out my opinion on things, not directly work-related, but certainly professional interest. I’m exploring ideas that I find interesting, this week mostly to do with self-directed learning.

Although I work as a learning professional, my work, in general, is mostly in designing and developing digital learning content. But something related that really excites me is the exploration of self-directed learning; making sense of how it’s possible, how we can improve, how businesses could implement it as a central part of L&D strategy and company culture and – without getting too excitable  – how it could change the world. I’m serious.

Traditionally, education has been organised like this…

“knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing.”

Paulo Freire

But now knowledge is everywhere and the more people who can guide their own learning, the better.

I like to try to be the kind of person that tries to ask: “why not?” and “what if?” (as Gayle Allen puts it in the intro of her podcast called “Curious Minds” – which I recommend).

I try to start with: how could X work if the boundaries or blockers removed?

Just in case anyone reading disagrees … 😆 … I’m pretty sure I have sometimes been more of a “that won’t work because” person, but I don’t want to be!

There are boundaries and blockers to self-directed learning. I know. I’ve got a few hours a week ‘free’ to explore things at the moment because I’m working about 25 hours a week. I’m lucky and I recognise that. When working full-time, I know there often isn’t much space for this and something has to give. In general, it depends on time, the capacity for effort, capability, motivation, focus/attention, self-organisation; awareness of techniques, strategies and possibilities. 

I believe that a focus on self-directed learning should be fundamental in the education system. The reason many adults find it difficult to learn in this way is largely because the whole idea just hasn’t been a thing at school (accepting that in some schools, particularly nowadays, it might be more of a focus). For the most part, we’re told what to learn, when to learn it and how to learn it. It doesn’t exactly provide a breeding ground for motivated, self-directed learners.

Following on from my post last week about capturing, filtering and curating content for learning, journaling represents part of the next stage of a self-directed, informal learning strategy. We can read blog posts, watch videos and follow Twitter conversations as much as we want, but it’s like doing a one-off training session, or a single, stand-alone unit of e-learning; unless it’s part of a longer, more holistic process of learning, which puts knowledge into action, then nothing is going to stick and nothing is going to change.

To me, some form of reflective practice is extremely important (perhaps essential) to self-directed learning and journal writing is part of this. It helps us make sense of the knowledge we’re exposed to, make connections and gain insights, and actually remember more of the content we are exposed to.

So here I am at the start of my journaling journey! And despite my general proclivity towards engaging in digital wizardry, I am actually writing this in a notebook, with a pen (research suggests this is a much better option). As a result, another finding from the week is that my hand is very much not used to writing! 😬 😄

Digital discovery

During the week, I came across a post on the Doist blog (from the people who make Todoist – the to-do list app – I also recommend this) about journaling. If you’re interested in more ideas about journaling, check it out.

Also, on the (as mentioned before) Curious Minds podcast, I listened to a really interesting episode with Ashley Whillans (Harvard Business School) about our relationship with time. In the episode, she discusses “the negative impact feeling time-poor can have on our health, our productivity, and our relationships”. Note that it isn’t a typical ‘productivity’ type of conversation. The focus is on our attitude to time rather than how to cram as much stuff into our lives as possible.


Thanks for reading! If you have any thoughts to share on any of this, I’d love to hear from you.

Featured image by Лариса Мозговая from Pixabay

4 thoughts on “Writing to learn”

  1. Richard, sounds like you’re modeling an inspiring learning journey for all of us – thank you for sharing the steps you’re taking and the resources that are helping you along the way. Thank you, as well, for citing several of my podcast episodes. Great to know they’re offering helpful insights to you!

  2. Ashley Whillans has some really interesting work! I quoted some of findings (around “time confetti”) in a recent LearnJam post: https://learnjam.com/learning-and-time . I also enjoy journalling and have recently combined it with my other love of reading taking the approach of ‘reading to create’ as a way to connect ideas. (thedeepdish.org/how-to-read-a-book – suggest to also check out the subsequent one about “compounding ideas”) I’m about to start the book ‘The Artist’s Way’ as recommended by colleagues which promotes the ‘morning pages’ journalling style…

    1. Hey Katy, sounds like we should have a journalling geek-out session! 🤓 I must have missed your post, so I’ll go and check it out.

      Thanks for the refs. That ‘how to read a book’ article looks interesting from a quick skim.

      I’ve been exploring a few journalling options this week and I’ve seen the ‘morning pages’ style. I think I’ve been doing the ‘evening pages’ so far!

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