Reflective Journal

Sample Cases from Dublin Institute of Technology

See some samples cases for this assessment method in the table below or browse the full set of cases in the assessment toolkit.

Assessment MethodLecturerAssociated Programme(s)NFQ LevelYear
Blogs for work placement assessment Julie Dunne and Sinead Ryan Higher Certificate in Pharmacy Technician Studies
BSc Pharmaceutical Healthcare
Level 8 Years 2, 4
Reflective Practice Robert Tully BSc Product Design Level 8 Year 4
Blog Ted Burke BE Electrical / Electronic Engineering
BEngTech Electrical and Control Engineering
Levels 7, 8 Years 1, 2, 3


It is widely acknowledged that reflection plays a key part in a learner’s learning cycle, and in helping to develop a deep approach to learning. Reflective learning encourages a professional practitioner to think about an observation or a particular event, and to analyse what went well or what didn’t go quite so well. This analysis allows them to think about what could be learned from that event that would help the same event to be handled in a better way in the future. This reflection (thought process) may include how the participant might approach something differently in the future or how it increased your understanding of a particular concept.

The reflective learning journal provides a template for the participant to consider learning events related to the programme learning, what they learned from the event, and their consideration of how this may affect their practice in the future.

The journal is based on reflection-on-action. Through the provision of opportunities for reflection-in-action at critical learning stages with appropriate support, students can be encouraged to engage in reflecting about their individual and/or group work experiences and a reflection-on-action can be built up (Salmon, 2002). Reflection-on-action is the thinking that takes place after an experience. It is thinking back on what you have done in order to discover how the knowledge you put into action may have contributed to an unexpected outcome.

The purpose of writing a reflective journal is to facilitate individual reflection and add to the learning. As a learner, one may try to create meaning from the learning experience by trying to re-frame the experience. This can involve re-examining the problem (learning experience) from one or more theoretical platforms. It can also mean trying to create meaning during or after the learning experience.

It is important not to think of this journal as a work log or diary in which the student itemizes and records events. Rather, as a reflective and analytical activity, the journal will allow to grapple with problems and frustrations in addition to identifying accomplishments and other learning experiences.


  • Integrating the learning from the in-class modules and assignments.
  • Encouraging synthesis between module learning process, professional experience and independent learning
  • Facilitating self-assessment of individual development on the programme, including key skills.


Keeping a journal can capture the process of learning and stages in a learner’s development over the time of the module. It can be valuable as evidence to show learning and development at the end of the module and it can also act as a spur to regular reflection.

There are four types of written reflection (Hatton and Smith, 1995):

  1. Descriptive writing: not showing evidence of reflection, is a description of events
  2. Descriptive reflection: there is description of events, but the account shows some evidence of deeper consideration in descriptive language. No notion of alternative viewpoints
  3. Dialogic reflection: demonstrates a ‘stepping-back’ from events and actions; there is an exploration of the role of self in events/actions; uses judgments and possible alternatives for explaining and hypothesising; reflection is analytical, linking factors and perspectives
  4. Critical reflection: is aware that actions/events may be seen in different contexts with different explanations associated with the contexts

“Critical Incidents” can be used as a basis for reflection. These can contain vivid accounts of the most significant or distressing learning experience. Learners recall exciting and rewarding incidents…behavioural characteristics that they found helpful or hindering, important insights, and the pleasurable and painful aspects of their learning (Galbraith, 1992).

It will force students to think about their experiences and can help provide insight into what they are experiencing, what they are feeling and learning; and any action that they may take as a result.

A reflective journal can take many forms, however a few ingredients are essential. Probably the most important advice to journal writers is not to edit as you write. Instead, the writer should write his/her thoughts freely, without regard to grammar, spelling or punctuation. Editing can be done later. The point is not to stop the flow of your thoughts.

A very important element of journal writing is candour, and a keen use of “gut” feelings and reflective skills. Try answering important questions such as:

“What did I see?” (Observation)
“What did I feel? What did I learn?” (Analysis); and perhaps most importantly
“What can I or am I going to do about it?” (Synthesis)

The student will find the reflective journal less of a chore if he/she only takes a few minutes at the end of each day to make observations, record thoughts and ideas and then attempt to analyse and synthesise those experiences.

Among the many benefits of journal keeping, the aspect that continually emerges as a special strength is its value in enabling learners to make multiple connections. Depending on the particular purpose and strategy used, learners are encouraged to make connections between:

  • theory and practice
  • concepts and observations
  • readings and experience
  • beliefs and behaviour
  • thoughts and feelings
  • old knowledge and new knowledge
  • between themselves and other students
  • and between themselves and staff.

Structure of Reflective Journal

It is important to stress that the structure is flexible, and students are encouraged to be creative and individual in their approach.

Writing brief responses to some of the following questions might help to give a start:

  • What was the moment(s) during my module when I felt most connected or engaged with my learning on this programme?
  • What was the moment(s) this week when I felt most disconnected or disengaged in my learning on this programme? The moments when you felt you were just going through the motions?
  • What was the situation that caused me the greatest anxiety/distress on the programme?
  • What was the event that took me most by surprise on the programme-something I observed or did myself?
  • Of everything that I did on this programme, what would I do differently if I had the chance to do it again?
  • What do I feel proudest of in my participation on the programme?
  • What are my impressions of the group process that took place in this programme?
  • What were my reasons for participating throughout this programme?
  • What were my reasons for my motivation (or lack thereof) throughout this programme?
  • What were my expectations/aspirations for completing this programme?
  • How did you go about gathering and managing the research material you needed for the solution to the problem?
  • Feel free to ignore these questions and suggest your own. They are only and aid to get you started.

Confidentiality of Reflective Journal

This journal should be treated as a private document.


Assessment can be made on the extent to which there is evidence that the participant has moved beyond description to commentary and reflection.

An excerpt from a reflective learning diary template is provided below:

Learning Event
What happened  
What did you learn? (Learning point)  
How may this affect your practice in the future?  


Boyd and Fales, (1983). Reflective Learning Key to Learning from Experience, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, vol. 23 no. 2, 99-117.

Galbraith, (1992). Conditions for discovery through writing. Instructional Science, 21, 45-72.

Gray, (2007). Facilitating Management Learning Developing Critical Reflection Through Reflective Tools, Management Learning, Vol. 38 No. 5, 495-517

Morrison, (1996). Developing reflective practice in higher degree students through a learning journal. Studies in Higher Education, Vol. 21 Iss: 3.

Robert Loo, Karran Thorpe, (2002). "Using reflective learning journals to improve individual and team performance", Team Performance Management, Vol. 8 Iss: 5/6, pp.134 – 139.

Salmon, (2002). E-Tivities: The Key to Active Online Learning, London: Taylor & Francis.

[Return to the Assessment Toolkit]

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