It is easy to forget that learning is not a simple transfer of information from the head of the teacher to the head of the student. Students build knowledge in their own heads through a combination of external cues and reflection. This reflection component is critical to moving information from working memory to long-term memory. In order to retain what we learn, we have to periodically reflect on the learning itself.
Kadriye O. Lewis, professor of pediatrics at the UKMC School of Medicine, uses learning logs to facilitate student reflection in her online courses. Learning logs are short journals that the students fill out after each lesson module to record what they have learned and their thoughts on the learning. Students respond to a number of question prompts, including:
These learning logs help the student process what he or she has learned in order to improve retention. They also improve the students' metacognitive ability to self-monitor their own learning, which has been proven to improve learning itself. Plus, they help students become more active learners by thinking about what they are getting out of the material as they go through it. Finally, they help the students become deeper thinkers as they practice reflecting on the underlying themes and meaning of class content and topics.
These learning logs also provide the teacher with valuable insights into the students.
First, they help the teacher get to know the students. Most student/faculty interaction in an online environment is mediated by assignments. There is little interaction outside assessed requirements to help the teacher learn about the student himself or herself. The learning logs fill this gap with information about the student as a person.
Second, they express the instructor's interest in the student's learning, thus fostering rapport to improve the learning environment.
Third, they help the teacher discern what students are picking up and where they are struggling. It can be interesting to discover how students interpret the material and what they find important. Often students pick up different messages from the material than the instructor expects.
These logs allow the teacher to go back over the material in a different way, or to make revisions for the future.