Learning to think is not enough.
Unless you challenge the mind to think critically (to facilitate a judgement) or laterally (to facilitate problem-solving), it can be left roaming and at the mercy of easy dogmas.
A reflective journal, also called a ‘learning journal’ can help sharpen and nuance thinking by:
- Deepening and expanding knowledge
- Probing and challenging opinions and cognitive filters (preconceptions)
- Exploring and connecting seemingly disconnecting fields of knowledge
Let’s explore its ‘What’, ‘Why’ and ‘How’.
What is Reflective Journaling?
We are frequently confronted with arguments aiming to persuade us, i.e. influence our beliefs and actions. We are presented with reasons to embrace, believe and act in a certain ways. At the same time, as complexity increases, we are pushes to find one-fit-all solutions to seemingly intractable large problems. A learning journal is a safe space for reflections and thoughts on a learning process to be be teased out, it is also a record for further exploration.
It is not a portfolio, a learning log or a summary of course material.
Rather it is a space by which one can improve his/her own ability to tell whether a given argument is valid and whether you ought to be persuaded by it. By the same token, it also can probe whether particular problems call for convergent (analytical) or divergent (creative) solutions. Too often, analytical thinking is over-emphasised for problem that call for more creative thinking.
Why Does it Enhance Critical and Lateral Thinking?
Because reflective journaling record intellectual concepts but also our emotional reaction to it, it is a powerful medium for deep, transformative learning connecting beliefs, feelings and actions. By merging critical and analytical way of thinking, it highlights how the various aspects of learning interconnect and challenges, questions and expands cognitive filters (unconscious belief system). By facilitating the path of the inquisitive mind, reflective journaling empowers by nurturing an authentic sense of meaning, and an ownership of reached conclusions.
How Does it Work?
A learning journal deepens the thinking by reording and exploring points that are of particular interest. As the fields of knowledge expands, ideas get probed and challenged becoming more and more nuanced. By questioning further seemingly disconnected fields become interconnected, ideas, learning and conclusions start building on each other as patterns start emerging. The ability to tap onto various fields of knowledge and apprehend issue from various vantage points are cardinal to developing sound judgement and problem solving skills, both of which depend on critical and lateral thinking skills.
Here are some prompts to help deepen learning. The learning experience can be academic, practical or emotional.
- What was the most important point of the experience and why.
- What are the main things I learnt, disproved previous beliefs, didn’t expect.
- What the areas of further exploration?
- What should I remember?
- What is about this conclusion I am unsure of?
- What ideas are prompting me for further actions?
- What do I like/dislike about this learning ?
- What miscellaneous facts might make sense later?
- How does it overlap with other areas of studies?
Who would be benefit most?
It is simply a fact of life that not everybody is keen to embrace deep learning. So this technique is particularly suited to the inquisitive or questioning minds from any background. So if you are puzzled and dissatisfied with your level of understanding, wish to make a deep contribution to the world, through thoughtful action or solution, this is for you.
If you are a third level student, needing to master your own field of knowledge, shape your development and own your own conclusions, embrace journaling!