Learning Logs

What is a Learning Log?

It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come; to articulate what we’ve learned. A learning log provides a place where team members can make note of key events and insights as they happen. It can help us track what’s happened so far and make meaning of our successes and disappointments in the crush of endless deadlines. Over time, a learning log can help us demonstrate our increasing capacity and impact; to prepare to tell the full story about what happened as a result of an investment.

The basic structure of a Learning Log

A learning log should take whatever form is most useful to a team. It might include the date, the event or opportunity, key results, key insights, a place to link notes related to the event, next steps, anything else that’s relevant to the team, and perhaps a column “in retrospect” to come back to an event after time has passed to reflect on what made it significant or what happened as a result — an important step in gaining a more systemic view of our work and its impact over time.

A learning log can only provide value if a team is willing to use it, which means that it needs to take a form and be used in a way that makes sense to the team. A spreadsheet can be helpful to sort by types of events, program, or project, or who was involved. But for some teams, using a graphic approach on a Miro board or other tool might engage their creative thinking and help them discover patterns more easily.

A learning log should be fit for purpose. Don’t expect people to capture every event or conversation in the log. Think about what’s happened in the last few days that stands out as most significant or represents a learning moment. Don’t set an expectation that people will write detailed descriptions for every event. What matters is that people quickly capture their top-of-mind ‘aha’ moments before they get caught up in whatever is next.

Learning Logs and Learning Conversations: A powerful combination

One of the most powerful ways to use learning logs is to pair them with periodic learning conversations. These conversations can happen whenever the team needs to stop and reflect. They might be part of a larger weekly team meeting, the basis for periodic team retreats, or in preparation for board meetings. Team members can be asked to prepare by quickly scanning the learning log for an entry they especially want to talk about.

We have found that the power is not in the log or in the conversation, but in the combination of the two. Learning logs help to keep the work at the center of learning. As with EL Table conversations, which are grounded with stories and data, learning conversations that key off of events captured in a learning log are more grounded and less abstract. They tend to generate more specific, productive insights that can be applied to the work at hand.

It can be challenging for teams and organizations to prioritize learning, despite the best intentions. When learning is focused on insights coming from what’s actually happening in the course of our daily workflow—and in ways that contribute to visibly improving results and our ability to talk about those results—it can make learning feel like a worthwhile investment.