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Personal development planning: what does it mean?

Norman Jackson

HE teachers use a variety of strategies to encourage students to reflect upon and evaluate their own learning experiences and plan for their own development. The term Personal Development Planning is now being used to describe this process and Universities UK, SCoP, Universities Scotland, QAA and LTSN have produced guidelines to promote this as a core educational process. This interactive paper is designed to encourage you to contribute to the thinking on what PDP means and help create a database of PDP practice so that others may benefit from your experience.

Norman Jackson BSc, PhD is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Educational Studies at the University of Surrey. He is also Senior Professional Advisor to the Learning & Teaching Support Network (LTSN) Generic Centre where he is leading projects which aim to develop an understanding of Personal Development Planning and Subject Benchmarking from the practitioner's perspective. Prior to joining the LTSN he held Assistant Director posts in the Development Directorate of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), where he was responsible for developing policy on programme specifications and progress files. He was also a member of the core team on the Graduate Standards Project when he was an Assistant Director with the Quality Enhancement Group of the Higher Education Quality Council. He has authored over 40 publications in the field of education including six HEQC/QAA reports and a co-authored book on the use of benchmarking in higher education.

personal development planning; reflective learning; action planning recording achievement; key skills

The motivation for developing and expanding practice in personal development planning (PDP) grew out of recommendation 20 of the Dearing Review (NCIHE 1997), which directed HE Institutions to develop the 'means by which students can monitor, build and reflect upon their personal development'. But this recommendation is founded on a long history of 'grassroots' activity aimed at embedding in mainstream HE the forms of documentation, practices, skills and capabilities that have been central to the Recording Achievement Movement for the past 20 years (see bibliography). Higher education already employs a variety of strategies to encourage students to reflect upon and evaluate their own learning experiences and plan for their own development. A variety of terms are used to describe a process of reviewing and recording learning and achievement and action planning, e.g. Personal Profiling, Personal and Academic Records, Personal (Academic) Development Plans, Progress Files, Learning Portfolios, Learning Logs and Diaries (see bibliography for examples of use). Many of these terms emphasise the records that are a product of process. The term Personal Development Planning is used in order to emphasise that this is an active learning process undertaken by individuals to improve themselves.

PDP is defined as 'a structured and supported process undertaken by an individual to reflect upon their own learning, performance and / or achievement and to plan for their personal, educational and career development.' (see Appendix 1). Between Jan 1999-May 2000 the Dearing recommendation was developed into the concept and policy of the Progress File through a consultative and development process led by QAA, Universities UK, Universities Scotland and the Standing Conference of Principals. This process culminated in a joint policy statement in May 2000. Guidelines have now been produced for HE Progress Files ( and the LTSN, with the Centre for Recording Achievement and Personal Development Planning in HE Network Scotland, are all committed to helping institutions and subject communities to develop, expand and share their practice in the use of PDP. This paper uses extracts from the guidelines document to engage practitioners in discussion about the concept and use of PDP to support student learning. Appendix 1 provides a framework to gain feedback from you on the aspects of PDP that are flagged in the text by a number. Appendix 2 provides a framework for encouraging you to describe and share your practice.

What is PDP intended to do?

Personal development planning is centred on student development. It seeks to:

improve the capacity of individuals to understand what, how and when they are learning; encourage them to monitor, review, plan and take responsibility for their own learning.

It is intended to help students:

understand how they are learning and relate their learning to a wider context; improve their general skills for study and career management; articulate their personal goals and evaluate progress towards their achievement; and encourage a positive attitude to learning throughout life.

The ideas that underpin these conceptions mean that PDP is:

a structured process that is integral to higher level learning; concerned with learning in an holistic sense (both academic and non-academic); something that an individual does with guidance and support: the latter perhaps decreasing as personal capability is developed so that it becomes self-sustaining; a process that involves self-reflection, the creation of personal records, planning and monitoring progress towards the achievement of personal objectives; intended to improve the capacity of individuals to communicate their learning to others who are interested in it (e.g. academic staff and employers).

PDP as a way of learning

The reflective and planning skills on which the idea of PDP is based are probably integral to knowing how to learn in different contexts and to the ability to transfer learning from one context to another, although we probably apply the skills and behaviours that PDP is intended to promote intuitively. The process model that underlies PDP underpins the new Ufi Learning through Work initiative that will promote mass work-based learning by encouraging people to use their learning in the workplace to gain academic credit and ultimately HE qualifications. PDP is an integrated process that encourages people to:

learn about themselves and reflect on what they are doing; to value themselves and their achievements; identify ways of improving themselves.

In adult learning (for example the Ufi model of work-based learning) the reflective and planning process can be framed around the simple questions:

where have I been? retrospective reflection where am I now? reflection on current situation where do I want to get to? review of opportunities and identification of personal goals or objectives

how do I get there? review of possibilities and decisions on the best way of achieving goals/objectives how will I know I've got there? strategy for setting targets and reviewing progress

In an academic context the core questions that underpin reflective learning and planning for self-improvement might be re-framed, e.g.:

what have I learnt or done? retrospective reflection what do I need to learn or do to improve myself? reflection on current situation how do I do it? review of opportunities and identification of personal goals or objectives how will I know I've done it? strategy for setting targets and reviewing progress

Skills, attitudes and behaviours that PDP might promote

Examples of skills, capability and attitudes relating to reflective learning

able to recognise, value and evidence their own learning in academic and non-academic contexts; able to gather and record information on learning experiences and achievement; able to evaluate and recognise own strengths and weaknesses and identify ways in which perceived weaknesses might be improved and make best use of strengths; able to learn from things that did not go according to plan; able to utilise personal records and evidence of learning to demonstrate to others what they know and can do.

Examples of skills, capability and attitudes relating to planning for self-improvement

demonstrate a responsible attitude to their own personal, educational and career development; able to identify what needs to be done to improve something; able to recognise opportunities for new learning; able to create a strategy for self-improvement; able to monitor and review progress towards the achievement of goals and targets; able to change the strategy if it isn't working; able to justify and account for their personal strategies.

What results from the PDP process?

PDP has the potential to:

develop the skills and attitudes listed above; enhance self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses and directions for change. The process is intended to help individuals understand the value added through learning that is above and beyond attainment in the subjects they have studied. Crucially, it relates to their development as a whole person. Greater self-awareness also enables an individual to relate what they know and can do to contexts outside HE; create personal records of learning experiences and achievement that provide a unique resource to each individual.

The information in such records is generally owned by the learner and their maintenance, authenticity and use is the responsibility of the individual. But institutions, through their support and guidance structures, the context for PDP and requirements for a programme or award, may influence how this responsibility is exercised and require these records to be made available as evidence that the responsibility has been exercised. Professional and statutory regulatory bodies that accredit HE programmes preparing people for a particular vocational/professional field may also influence PDP.

What are the potential benefits of PDP?

It is recognised that an important factor in the successful introduction of policy on PDP will be the winning of hearts and minds of those who will be responsible for implementing and using policy. A number of universities and colleges of higher education have introduced their own policies to support the process of PDP. The benefits they cite include the following: PDP will help students:

integrate their personal and academic development and improve their capacity to plan their own academic programmes;

be more effective in monitoring and reviewing their own progress; be more aware of how they are learning and what different teaching and learning strategies are trying to achieve; recognise and discuss their own strengths and weaknesses; identify opportunities for learning and personal development outside the curriculum; be better prepared for seeking employment or self-employment and be more able to relate what they have learnt to the requirements of employers; be better prepared for the demands of continuing professional or vocational development when they enter employment.

PDP will help academic staff:

by helping students to be more independent / autonomous learners; improve the quality of experience for tutors and tutees when it is linked to personal tutoring systems; make more effective use of off-campus opportunities for learning like work placements or study abroad; by creating a mechanism through which career-related skills and capabilities can be recorded; by improving their understanding of the development of individual students and their ability to provide more meaningful employment references on their behalf.

For departments and institutions PDP will:

facilitate more effective monitoring of student progress; result in more effective academic support and guidance systems; enhance their capacity to demonstrate the quality of support they are giving to students in external review processes.

PDP Quality Standards (see Guidelines for HE Progress Files)

Opportunities and entitlements The minimum expectations for institutional PDP policies are that:

at the start of a programme, students will be introduced to the opportunities for PDP; students will be provided with opportunities for PDP at each stage of their programme; the rationale for PDP at different stages of a programme will be explained for the benefit of students (e.g. in student or course handbooks or module/unit guides); the nature and scope of opportunities for PDP and the recording and support strategies will be determined by each institution.

These minimum criteria are not intended to constrain existing practice or local initiatives and institutional or local policies are likely to exceed these minimum expectations. Minimum outcomes On completion of their programme students will have:

participated in PDP in a range of learning contexts at each stage or level of their programme; demonstrated that they can access and use the aids and tools provided by the institution to help them reflect upon their own learning and achievements and to plan for their own personal, educational and career development; with support, created their own learning records containing information on the qualities and skills they can evidence which can be drawn upon when applying for a job or further study.

Information on PDP

The opportunities for PDP in student programmes will be made clear in the programme specification and through any other means the institution considers appropriate; Students who are applying to study in HE will be informed about the institution's policies on PDP; At the start of their programme students will be provided with information on PDP in their programme including a rationale for the approaches used;

Students will be provided with information on how they might integrate extra-curricular experiences (for example: voluntary service, part-time employment or work placements, study abroad, fieldwork and working as a student representative or Student Union officer) into their own personal development planning process; Students will be provided with information on any ways in which their own evidence of learning might be eligible for accreditation; Formal opportunities for PDP in the HE curriculum will be identified in the HE Transcript.

Quality Assurance Institutions will be expected to have mechanisms to assure themselves that PDP is being implemented effectively

How is PDP used?

PDP is used in many different ways and one of the objectives of the LTSN project is to gather intelligence about the different educational contexts in which it is used. Some examples are given below: Some contexts in which PDP is used in subjects:

Supporting the development and recognition of skills through the personal tutor system Supporting the development and recognition of skills in specified academic modules/units Supporting the development and recognition of skills through purpose-designed modules/units Supporting the development and recognition of skills through research projects and dissertations work Supporting the development and recognition of career management skills through work placement or work experience Supporting the development of skills by recognising that they can be developed through extra-curricular activities and part-time work Supporting the development of the skills and attitudes necessary to sustain a professional career that requires continuing professional development. >

PDP may be:

A voluntary or compulsory activity A one-off method of promoting learning or part of a strategy used throughout a programme Assessed or not assessed. There are many issues relating to assessing the learning that is evidenced through PDP.

Characteristics of effective PDP practice

The key lesson from practitioners who have used PDP to promote learning is that the process should be integral to learning. Students do not participate in such processes for altruistic reasons: they have to perceive the investment they make will be valued. PDP is likely to be most effective:

when it is a mainstream academic activity; when linked to the learning objectives/outcomes of programmes and modules; when the purpose is clear and meaningful to students and staff; when the process is supported and valued by staff; when learners feel that it is in their own interests to participate in the process; when learners see that there are longer as well as short-term benefits.

Students are more likely to value PDP if they see that academic staff themselves are involved in PDP processes, e.g. through appraisal and development policies or portfolio building linked to professional accreditation.

Role of PDP within the Progress File

The Progress File contains within it the ideas of:

institutional records of learning and achievement (transcripts); an individual's own personal development records and reflections of their learning, achievements, plans and goals;

personal development planning - a process that is undertaken by an individual to reflect upon their own learning and achievement and to plan for their own educational, academic and career development.

Implicit in this conception of a Progress File are:

a range of recording processes to create and maintain these records; opportunities within and outside the HE curriculum for developing and practising the skills that underpin personal development planning; guidance materials and support structures to enable and encourage the learner to participate and benefit from this active learning process; a society that recognises and values such information and skills.

Website resources and information

Summary Report of Progress File consultation exercise March 2000 and Joint policy statement for an HE Progress File May 2000 ( Guidelines for HE Progress File February 2001 ( Centre for Recording Achievement The main host outside Scotland for PDP resources and information ( Access to development work undertaken by LTSN generic centre and subject centres (to be developed through Spring/Summer 2001 ( The internet-pars project being run jointly by University of Newcastle upon Tyne and University of Nottingham (

Selection of DfEE Innovations, FDTL and other projects relating to PDP

University of Manchester From the Periphery to the Mainstream ( University of Leeds Strategic Model for Developing Materials for Recording Achievement in Traditional Universities ( University of Liverpool Implementation of a World Wide Web Based Profiling System ( University of Nottingham PADSHE Personal and Academic Development for Students in Higher Education (

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