Keeping a learning journal

As part of maintaining formal registration, Australian psychologists need to demonstrate that they’ve undertaken ongoing learning during the year.

This is done by keeping a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) record.

The Psychology Board of Australia (part of AHPRA,) who manage the registration of psychologists, outline what needs to be done in their guidelines for CPD. In essence, psychologists need to set learning goals, identify goal-appropriate professional development opportunities, engage in these activities, reflect on their learning, and make sure that over the CPD year, their learning activities meet certain criteria. There are generic criteria and criteria specific to psychologists with expertise in certain areas.

Over the last few years, I’ve grown increasingly interested in this aspect of being a psychology professional. If you’ve browsed this website, you might have seen the CPD workbook, and the guide for keeping a digital CPD record.

It started out as an interest in the administrative aspects of keeping such a record. The CPD workbook was/is an attempt to streamline note-taking and record keeping. The basic idea is that if you record participation in activities and the notes taken during those activities, in the same place, this makes life easier. It means at the end of the year, your CPD workbook contains everything you need to demonstrate your learning over the year. Given that psychologists can be audited on their engagement in CPD, this is useful.

Whilst I sell those workbooks, I don’t actually use them myself. That is because I moved away from written notes to typed notes. I’ve also become more interested in whether what you write in those records actually helps you learn. It is one thing to keep a record of the CPD you’ve done in a year. It is another thing altogether to try to maximise what you learn in the process.

That is why my focus now is the guide to keeping a digital CPD journal. This is more of a deep-dive on what to actually include in a CPD record. Version 1, the current version, was an attempt to capture the diversity of activities that constitute CPD. This is reflected in the heading structure that invites the participant to reflect on many different types of learning activities: workshops, peer supervision, conferences, courses, books, articles, magazines, podcasts, audiobooks, journal clubs, post-grad study, research and writing.

As I look forward to and start planning Version 2, the goal is shifting from a CPD record (what I did) towards a Learning Journal (what I’ve learned and how). The goal is supporting psychologists to write a narrative of their year of learning. Yes, it contains all the necessary administrative content (who, when, where, for how long, how much, certificates etc) but the more interesting story is:

  • Where am I in my psychology career at the moment?
  • What do I know and can do well?
  • Where are my gaps in knowledge and skill?
  • What professional goals do I have?
  • What learning opportunities will help me move meaningfully towards those goals?
  • For any given learning activity, what did I actually learn from it?
  • How will this learning activity change how I practice?
  • What activities are providing the best types of learning for me and why?

The current guide provides some basic prompts for exploring those areas above, but I am keen to enhance it further. I don’t just want me and my colleagues to have high quality CPD records. I want us to maximise what we learn from the activities we do, which are often time consuming and expensive. I want to get better at my craft and support my colleagues to do the same.

With that goal in mind, I recently stumbled on an interesting line of research exploring how writing supports learning. Researchers in this area encourage those engaging in self-guided learning (which is what CPD essentially is) to journal the process. What they’ve found is that structured journaling (responding to prompts) outperforms unstructured journaling (freely writing whatever comes to mind).

I’ve only just started digesting their work, but it seems they have identified a range of successful prompts for journal writing that support learning. You can see some of their writing prompts here. You’ll notice some of the language of those prompts focuses on students but you can see how they could be reworded for adult learners.

Prompts fall into four categories:

  1. Organisation prompts – what is the best way to organise what I’ve learned?
  2. Elaboration prompts – what are some ways to apply what I’ve learned and connect it to existing knowledge and skills?
  3. Metacognitive prompts – what was the learning process like, and what are the implications of that for future learning activities?
  4. Remedial planning prompts – what learning do I need to engage in next?

The idea is that you could take any learning experience and use the basic reflection questions above to process it better. For example, after reading a book you might take the time to:

  1. Jot down everything you remember and organise it in a way that makes sense to you
  2. Notice where you can apply or find examples what you’ve learned in your current life
  3. Reflect on what it was like to read the book and engage with the content
  4. Identify gaps in knowledge or skill highlighted by the book that might need your further attention

I’m only early in my exploration of these prompts so forgive the overly simple analysis, but I can see this work provides a nice next step for me in helping psychologists extract more from their CPD opportunities. I write about it here also knowing that journaling for learning isn’t limited to my profession. It could be utilised by many professions for whom ongoing learning is a critical activity.

Take care.

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