Posts Tagged Reflection

Journaling for Learning #futurereadylearning

Keeping a journal is a common approach to both building self-awareness and learning from specific events or activities.  Journalling can be a regular habit (e.g. daily or weekly), or done when specific triggers occur.  Either way, keeping a journal is one of the most useful personal development and learning habits you can develop.

Benefits of keeping a journal

Writing in a journal can be what Charles’ Duhigg refers to as a ‘keystone habit’ in his book The Power of Habit:

“small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.”

A keystone habit helps lock other habits into place.  As such I recommend regular reflection via a journal as a high leverage learning habit, and an excellent starting point for anyone wanting to be more effective with their personal learning.

The following articles discuss a range of benefits of keeping a journal:

More specifically, if your intent is to learn, keeping a journal is a form of sense-making; it helps you to make sense of and experience or even, see patterns and connections over time, and improve how you learn.

When to Write

You can either write on a regular schedule (e.g. daily or weekly), or when a specific event occurs (e.g a project milestone, after a recurring meeting).  Research on habit formation indicates that you are more likely to develop a habit if you identify a cue or trigger for doing the action you want to take.  For example, when you sit at your desk after your afternoon coffee, after your morning walk, after your weekly team meeting.

For many people scheduling an appointment in their calendar / diary helps to protect a block of time to write.

The time required to write in journal regularly does not need to be large.  You could invest as little as ten minutes a day to gain significant benefits over time.

What does a learning journal look like?

There is no set format for a journal.  A blank page can be daunting, so having a standard structure will make keeping a journal easier.  The following articles have some suggestions regarding structure and prompts:

One simple structure developed by John Driscoll is to use three questions:

  • What?  Describing an event
  • So What? Analysing the event
  • Now What? Identifying what you will do (or do differently moving forward)

Experiment with formats.  Combine different formats to figure out what you enjoy and find effective.

Journal entries can be made either by hand-writing or typing.  Each has their pros and cons – try both and see what you prefer.

My Personal Journal Practice

My Year 8 English teacher introduced me to journaling, and I’ve maintained this practice on and off for close to four decades.  When I commenced journaling hand-writing was the only option.  I enjoyed the tactile sensation of writing on paper, the look of my journals lined up on a bookshelf, and the ease of flicking through the pages.  However, I was always concerned with privacy as it is easy for someone else to look through a physical notebook, and this led to some self-censoring.  I’ve recently gone fully digital, including scanning a one-metre high stack of old paper journals (as shown in the photo).

I use Evernote for my journal as it synchronises across all my devices and has very good search capability. I’m interested to explore how my thinking on different topics has developed over time by searching for entries by word, phrase or tag.

I primarily use two formats – freeform writing for deep reflection and prompted entries on a daily and weekly basis using the following lists of questions:

This post is part of a series by Michelle Ockers outlining different ways of taking charge of your own learning.  It was developed following delivery of a keynote on the topic ‘Future Ready Learning’ to provide resources for participants to explore approaches covered briefly in the keynote.  Michelle can be contacted regarding keynote speaking on this theme at 

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'Speed' Mentoring – My Responses

AITD Mentor Qs.pngI’ve participated in the mentoring program run by the Australian Institute of Training and Development for the past two years – first as a mentee, then a mentor.  Last night was the end of program celebration event in Sydney, which Neil Von Heupt facilitated.  Neil ran a ‘speed’ mentoring activity.  Each mentee had a two minute conversation with each mentor to discuss their response to the three questions on the flipchart below.


The mentors were not forewarned of this activity, so our responses were very ‘top of mind.’  With the possible exception of the first question, my responses would be unsurprising to anyone who had worked with me in the past two years.

Most important aspect of my work

My gut reply to this when asked was ‘conversations.’  It’s not what I expected, and if I’d had more time to think about my response I may have crafted a different response.  However, I think it’s true and is at the heart of much of my professional practice and development.  I find it vital to talk with others to help me reflect, solve problems, ideate, explore, strategise and plan.  As an Learning and Development leader, having a performance consulting conversations with people who ask for a ‘program’ or ‘course’ helps in identifying underlying causes of performance gaps and appropriate solutions (which may not require training).  Conversation is also at the heart of social learning.

I’d like to acknowledge the influence of Harold Jarche in shaping my awareness of the power of conversation in learning  – fittingly, through two very memorable conversations we have had at Edutech conference in 2015 and on a Skype call earlier this year.


In conversation with Simon Terry at Edutech 2015 – photo taken by Harold Jarche

Favourite tool for L&D

As a personal and professional development tool, it’s definitely Twitter for me.  It’s turned my learning on it’s head since I started actively using it three years ago by enabling me to access people to engage with in a mutually beneficial interchange of sharing resources, ideas and experiences.  It’s one place where I have useful conversations.  Need more convincing?  Read what others have to say about Twitter as a development tool.


Hot career tip

Make time for reflection using whatever method suits you.  It’s vital to make sense of your experience, figure out what’s working and what you’d like to improve, and to inform your future actions.  I do a daily reflection in Evernote using a list of prompter questions on this linked list.  I write a dot point answer to those that seem relevant.  At the end of the week I then use the weekly reflection questions in my list to draw out key themes.  When I have the capacity I also blog about my work.

Which leads me to my second hot career tip – Work Out Loud.  In essence this is what I do on my blog.  Make your work and working processes visible to others – both when it’s a work in progress and when it’s complete.  Search on social media platforms or an internet search tool (#WOL #showyourwork and #WOLWeek) for a wide range of examples of how you can make your work visible.  Follow Jane Bozarth who provides practical guidance and examples to help you get started simply and quickly.

To maximise the career benefits of making your work visible, adopt the expanded Working Out Loud practice using the Working Out Loud Circle Guides.  Adopting Working Out Loud has radically altered my professional development, enabled me to build a contribution-based network, and created many opportunities.

Your Turn

How would you respond to these three questions?  Post a reply below or share your response on Twitter with #LNDcareertips

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Reflection – The Power of 'Why'

I recently wrote a post where I applied the ‘5 in 5’ technique for reflection.  This technique uses the following three questions to quickly generate ideas for small improvements:

  1. What?
  2. So What?
  3. Now What?

After running a half-day performance consulting workshop last week I’ve realised that there is a critical question missing from this reflection formula.  The purpose of the workshop was to define current performance gaps in an area, desired future state (desired behaviours), identify causes of the gap and identify potential solutions.  We used the ‘5 Whys’ technique to explore root causes of the gap – asking ‘Why’ a problem is occurring, then iteratively asking ‘Why’ again until you reach the root cause of the problem and can identify a counter-measure to prevent it recurring.

5 whys

There were some obvious elements of the solution identified before we got into 5 Whys – like improving processes and tools, updating role descriptions, standardising reports and review processes, and developing knowledge and skills.  However, when we started asking ‘Why’ the desired behaviours might still not materialise despite having great processes, tools, reports, reviews, role clarity and skills in place, we delved into underlying factors that need to be addressed.  Factors such as a short term focus on operational KPIs, conflicting KPIs, ‘fire-fighting’ being recognised and celebrated but not investments in capability building, teamwork, communication, and engagement.  ‘Why’ was probably the most useful question asked during the workshop, leading to deeper insights and the potential for higher impact solutions.

To access the power of ‘Why’ the new formula I shall try for quick reflection is:

  1. What? (Identifies current situation/performance)
  2. So What? (Identifies the impact of current performance, providing rationale and motivation for improvement)
  3. Why (5 times)? (Identifies root causes)
  4. Now What? (Potential solutions – including measures to prevent recurrence of root causes).

I shall apply this updated formula to a challenge I am having with my personal organisation that I recently reflected on using ‘5 in 5’ and post a comparison of the identified solutions.


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Working Out Loud is a Powerful Reflection Method

This week I joined a 702010 Forum Community of Practice teleconference where one of the participants discussed how she uses voice dictation to reflect.  She uses Siri on her iPhone to  translate voice to text notes. I have two blocks of at least 30 minutes per day when I walk my dog, and voice dictation may be viable during these times. This would give me a written record of my reflections, and potentially material for blog posts.

This post is based on my first attempt at dictating a reflection. I used Dragon Dictation on my phone. I find it accurately transcribes my dictation and exports the text easily to a range of tools / platforms.  I’ve transferred it to Evernote by emailing to my Evernote email address.  Another alternative is to copy and paste from Dragon to other software where it can be edited.

Another technique I’d like to try is a short reflection method called the “5 in 5” technique which I heard about from the Curve Group at the Australian Institute of Training and Development 2015 national conference. The idea is to generate ideas for small improvements (5%) in a short time (5 minutes).  You simply answer three questions: (1) What? (2) So what (3) Now what?  I dictated my road test of the technique to identify how I could improve my reflection practices.  Then I expanded on this short reflection to create a blog post.

Photo courtesy of Snapwire

Photo courtesy of Snapwire


Reflection is one of my personal learning tools.  It helps me to identify what is working well and what I could improve. I currently reflect by:

(1) Thinking things through in my head, which is efficient and mobile.  I can make observations and extract learning on the go.  However, I can get a little lost and go around in circles.  Depending on whether the responses or feedback of others enter into my thoughts, it may only be my point of view that I’m considering, which can limit the range and quality of insights.  I am also left without a record of my reflection for later use.

(2) Talking with others and engaging in reflection either intentionally or in the natural flow of conversation. Asking others for feedback can be done in many ways (e.g. “What are you happy about with this piece of work?”  “How do you think we/I could be making better progress?”  “How else could we/I improve on what we are doing?” “What would we (could I) do differently next time?”).  Different points of view arise. Talking helps me to discover and clarify my thoughts (it’s not unusual for me to be unsure what I am about to say when I start talking), so I find this method of reflection very effective.  There is also a level of accountability to take action on improvement opportunities I’ve generated with someone else.  Depending on the action I take I may have a record or artefact as an output of the reflection.

(3) Interacting with others online, e.g. by commenting on blog posts or via Twitter.  While it doesn’t give me the same direct feedback as talking with people I am working with, it provides opportunity to consider my own practices in comparison to theirs and identify adjustments or new approaches I could try.  Diversity and difference can yield ideas, insights and resources that help me to innovate.  If the idea is powerful enough I will make a note of it or add it to a task list to follow up.

(4) Writing a personal reflection in a journal I maintain on Evernote, accessible any time that I have a computer or device.  However, I sometimes prefer privacy when I am writing (no prying eyes on the bus!).  I also need to slow down and be still for long enough to write.  If I write soon enough after reflecting using the methods above I can quickly capture insights that I can elaborate on later.  Even if I don’t manage to elaborate my notes, the brief points can trigger my memory and further insights if I refer back to them.

(5)  Writing blog posts, and delivering presentations (e.g. webinars, conferences).  Knowing that this content will be shared publicly I document my reflection more thoroughly, providing context and thinking about key opportunities and lessons for both myself and others.  It provides a more complete record of where I have been, what I have learned, and where I am headed.  While I take care to present honestly and authentically, there are times when I omit some things out of respect for others, commercial confidentiality (which is far less of an issue than people sometimes imagine), or privacy for myself.  Working Out Loud so openly increases the accountability I feel to follow through on any improvements or next steps I commit to.  It’s a way of stretching myself.  However, this method of reflection takes a lot more time than any other that I use; and I am far less likely to do it if I am busy.  This is particularly true of blog posts where I don’t have a deadline to meet.

So What?

After writing the ‘What’ response I identified factors that differentiate these reflection methods for me and used them to rate each of method, as per the table below.  The first four factors have been discussed above. I added the fifth, ‘likelihood of use,’ to reflect how strong my current habits and triggers are to reflect using each method.

Reflection Rating

An interesting aspect of this road test of both voice dictation and ‘5 in 5’ is that as I edited the dictation transcript to prepare this blog post my insights deepened and shifted.  I have expanded my dictated text significantly, resequenced it, and added new ideas.  Nonetheless, dictating my initial reflection gave me a head start on this post and enabled me to write it quicker than if I had started with a blank sheet of paper. In many ways the combination of these two methods illustrates what the ratings in the table indicate – that all of these methods have a place in my reflection toolkit.

While I find reflecting privately efficient, the quality of my reflection and depth of my learning is greater when I Work Out Loud.  While this may seem obvious, I had not realised how much more effective Working Out Loud was as a reflection tool for me than more private methods.  If you are new to the idea of Working Out Loud you may find value in Sahana Chattopadhyay’s post Working Out Loud 101/Some Thoughts.

Now What?

My commitment to Working Out Loud has increased as a result of this reflection.  However, the reality is that life gets busy and it can be challenging to find time to blog and prepare presentations.  I shall use my dog walks as a trigger to reflect and capture key ideas into my Evernote journal using Dragon Dictation.  This shall provide source material for deeper reflection when I do have capacity.

I have missed blogging in the past two months as I have had a number of presentations to deliver.  I shall ‘catch up’ on blog posts by sharing content from these presentations, have another big push to finish the remaining 5 posts for the Social Learning Practitioner Program, then look through my journal for inspiration for future posts.