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The Learning Log

A student’s Learning Log, in whatever form, is an important feature of the OCA learning experience but can be a tricky thing to get right. Over the past few years I’ve had several conversations with students about the best way to approach it. There isn’t, in truth, one simple answer but it ought to be a place of discovery and display as well as forming part of the conversation between tutor and student. It’s also a place for you to unselfconsciously think out loud and perhaps place your own work next to that of other artists. This article has been written to start a conversation about how you might get the most from writing the log while bearing in mind the work it has to do within the context of a course.
On the whole the log should tell the story of your journey through the course and ought, therefore, include reflections on exercises as well as responses to specific questions asked by the course document. As well as explaining what you did, it’s good to move from description to analysis. Your tutor can probably tell by looking at your drawing that is was made using pencil crayon and gouache and that you had trouble with the perspective, but might want to know why you composed it like that. Try and give an insight into your thought processes and decisions. You’ll probably find that writing down your reasoning will help you too, especially when you look back a few months later. It’s easy to think that you’ll remember everything about all your work, but that isn’t always the case. Speculating on why things worked or failed is good, too. I’m always pleased when a student realises what might not have worked, writes about it, and then, having acquired that knowledge, makes the piece again.

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Learning Logs can have a huge impact on how assessors see a portfolio of work, so it’s worth spending some time thinking about how to best approach writing one. As a document that plots your learning experience, it really helps if it’s easy to navigate. Using clear titles will help your tutor or assessors understand what you’re writing about and will also help you when you look back through the document. If an entry relates to a specific exercise or a ‘check and log’ course requirement, use the title in the course document. If you are writing a physical log, printing out small photographs of your work and pasting them into the relevant pages can make the job of locating work easier. Students who use blogs tend to include images and text in conjunction, and this can really help your tutor and assessors. These reproductions can then be annotated meaning that you don’t cover your actual work with notes. In this way the learning log cross-refers to the sketchbook while being separate from it and allowing the sketchbook to be more about visual exploration.
If you have trouble starting I recommend printing out your tutor’s report (or pasting it into the blog) and going through it, writing responses to their main points. This will help you but will also show your tutor that you’re taking notice of them. Exploring any recommendations they make is important, too. Don’t be afraid to take issue with them, but explain why you think differently.
Don’t be afraid, either, to write about things that fire you up that show an engagement in the wider subject. As a tutor, it’s always great to find relevant material not specified by the course. This might be notes about exhibitions, relevant films or television programmes you’ve seen. Accompany these notes with postcards, screenshots, or leaflets. If you’re writing a blog, then include links to sites. While including tickets and brochures might show the tutor you’ve attended an exhibition, it’s important to reflect on the experience.
The Learning Log, in any form, ought to become an important document that vividly evokes your time on the course, while documenting your progress and the changes you undergo while studying. Spend some time on it and it will enrich your experience immensely and contribute to a more useful dialogue with your tutor.

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Posted by author: Bryan
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10 thoughts on “The Learning Log

  • This can just as well apply to photography also. One other aspect that occurs to me regards the tutor reports. Some students provide a link to the whole of it (sometimes with their own responses in a different colour/font) whereas others include extracts which seem particularly relevant to them at the time (something I tend to do).
    In general it seems that some tutors are fine with links to the whole tutor report whereas others aren’t keen on this but are okay with extracts. Do you think there should be an OCA policy on this Bryan?

    • One of the great strengths of the OCA model is the personal relationship between a student and their tutor so the fewer blanket policies there are the better I think. Sch things as this should be a matter of negotiation.

      • I know what you mean regarding blanket policies Peter but, in this case, I think a policy could be helpful. Better to be discussed with the student rep I think than here on WeAreOCA.

      • I think you’re probably right. I try and have a conversation with my students when they enrol and I usually talk about the distinction between sketchbook and log. There’s overlap, inevitably, but for me the log plots the student’s journey through the course. I’ve often thought that ‘reflective journal’ might be useful way of thinking about it, but one that includes the ;check and log’ and research points’ included, too.
        Although I like the physical logs as they have a more interesting ‘messy’ quality (or at least the potential for it), the blog format – if well labelled and organised – allows the student to have sections for research into artists, reading, museum visits. It can be a bit diffuse, but as a useful document for the student to use it can make sense.

        • I think it is worthwhile considering the value of being familiar with the bloging format as so many placements/residencies and so on now require a blog as part of the deal, sometimes in addition to and sometimes instead of a report at the end.

  • I can’t look at a whole learning log but have learned how to skim and stop .I do revisit them though and think they are an essential part of the learning and teaching experience for all students in art and design.Ii think ti’s important to include contextual links to embed the contextual understanding firmly within the porcess of making practical work.

  • Catherine: I’m not sure I’d want to comment on policy here, but I tend to get everything a student has written for a submission. It can be daunting to get lots of text, but if it’s very long I usually skim it. Getting the whole thing gives an impression of how much time is being devoted to the course (and I’ve been known to suggest that some Learning Log time would be better spent making drawings), but also you never know where insight’s going to come from. Sometimes it’s a strange little drawing with a comment that can spark a whole field of enquiry. Other times it’s apparent that a student is learning a lot from looking at art by others. Different students need different teaching methods and a solid learning log can help me understand how a students can learn.

    • I certainly agree with you on this Bryan although I know that, in the early stages, some students do get anxious in thinking that learning logs have to be done in one particular way, especially when we see such wonderful examples on WeAreOCA that are works of art in themselves.

  • What interests me about this post and the previous one is that there is perceived to be a clear distinction between the sketchbook and the learning log. Perhaps for drawing/painting students this is true (I can’t comment), but from a photography perspective I find it very difficult to decide what should be in each.
    My “sketchbook” is more of a scrapbook of things I’ve seen that I liked, write-ups of exhibitions I’ve been to, and quick notes on things I’ve read or ideas I’ve had. My learning log (blog) is more formal and relates exclusively to the course material, but Bryan seems to be suggesting that exhibition stuff would be better as part of the log (my main problem with that being that for copyright reasons I can’t put the pictures of the exhibition on the internet!)
    Does it matter to assessors what is contained in each, so long as together they show an engagement with the subject?

    • I think the distinction for photography is between log and blog, rather than log and sketchbook. The log is more effective for some material, the blog for other kinds of material.
      Personally I think logs have more potential for alternative modes of communication as part of the assessment process than blogs.

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