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PDP: personal development planning
Department of Psychology,
University of Glasgow.
This page contains brief notes on how to start thinking about PDP (Personal
Development Planning). I suppose I felt the need for this because most of
the talks I've heard related to PDP seem very narrow: lacking all critical
thought, awareness of others' views, and above all a complete lack of contact
with actual student actions and concerns.
This page is my main one on PDP. It supercedes an earlier one under "best/".
PDP is also briefly dealt with on
my qee page,
where its relationship to other enhancement themes and to employability is
discussed. It could be thought of as a practical instantiation of taking
seriously that students self-actualise: develop a notion of themselves as
students, which is mentioned on
See also this page and diagram about how PDP relates to other issues.
The 3 types of PDP
There are several rather different major areas within a complete PDP (personal
development planning) approach.
- Personal life goals. That is, working out what, for the individual, are
their main aims in life, and how that relates to what they do. Thus for an HE
student, this would deal with why they are at university and what they want
out of it whether that is a certificate, a career, making friends, pursuing
an interest etc.
- Study skills.
- Study skills. How to be an effective student. How the particular
subject you are doing intersects with the study methods you have, or need to
- More grandly though: being a student. Not the tactical details like
study skills, but the self-development or self-actualisation of Maslow, or
Kelly's construct development.
(You could relate that to
the 5 levels that employability qualities could be divided into.)
- What you might do after university, how what you are studying
relates to that; whether there are other topics, subjects, skills you should
- Secondary aspect of that: acquiring skills at applying for a job
successfully (CV writing, interview skills). Also, acquiring documentation
for this (portfolios, lists of things you have actually done that employers
would count as evidence e.g. number of essays written, talks given, ...)
Five levels of "graduate attributes"
In considering the notion of employability together with what a student takes
away from a degree course, we might distinguish five levels. These interact
with the three kinds of PDP.
In fact there is a huge range of possible kinds of thing:
- Low level employability features that employers (such as
I) definitely find handy, such as a driving licence, ability to operate a
spreadsheet; although teaching them is scarcely the core purpose of a
- The skill of assembling an argument, preferably based on evidence, to an
employer about the graduate's worth. This relates to "PDP" (personal
development portfolios) which may collect material for use in this way.
A good example course aimed at this is Ian Bushnell's Professional skills
module (described in part of
- Critical thinking etc. Lists of general intellectual properties,
expressed as skills. These are the things referred to as
"graduate attributes". (Of course, they tend to make all
disciplines sound the same, yet the chief defining attribute of a graduate is
that they have been educated in one particular discipline, and NOT in all; and
their habits of thought are markedly different because of this.)
A good example course aimed at this is Helen Fraser's
course for level 3 physics undergraduates.
- A critical appreciation of the virtues and limitations of the discipline
studied (i.e. of its approach and methods in general, as opposed to particular
ideas or findings within it). Many departments do not do this well. (For
example, I have heard an employer say she preferred to employ as programmers
people with a Physics rather than a Computing degree, because they used
programming methods pragmatically not dogmatically.)
- The ultimate unmeasured value of HE.
I have the impression (I have not yet done this systematically) that if you
ask people what were the most valuable things they got from their university
education, most do not mention anything on the curriculum. There is a wide
perception of value, but it is not any of these listed things. This is argued
Brown, John Seely & Duguid, Paul (2000)
The social life of information
(Harvard Business School Press, Boston Mass.) especially ch.8 "Re-education";
and was also the essential view of Cardinal Newman in his
The idea of a university.
Listing "graduate attributes" has a specious air of reason, yet probably still
misses the main value of a higher education.
Public vs. private
Many of the contrasts and problems around this topic are about the two faces
of PDP: public and private.
Conflicting aspects of PDP?
| Self-revealing experience, reflection
|For employability, skills useful to others
| For improving one's education, changes to one's mind valued by yourself
|A repository to help the university
| To serve one's own needs
|Learning to say things to impress employers
| Analysing what you really need to improve yourself.
|Not mentioning anything bad
| Identifying what you need to improve
|Learning to articulate real strengths
| Looking forward
|Writing "reflection" that staff want to see
| Reflective writing that is about what you really think regardless of whether it looks good or relevant to others
Technology / e-portfolios
Obviously the technical support of e-portfolios actually addresses only a
small part of the above at best.
E-portfolios are really, technologically, just repositories (i.e. databases
capable of storing objects in many media) plus services.
Which services are desirable depends on the purposes. These are
Educational purposes: (progress files, PDPlans, records of achievement,
showcasing, shared workspaces.)
- To accumulate, develop, then showcase attributes and evidence of them.
Ideally then this should include private areas, and public subsets.
Certificates (in digital form) as well as self-created stuff.
- Self regulation of learning objectives and activities. Planning future
learning a) for course requirements, but perhaps scheduled and managed
personally; b) for own needs, not part of degree progamme e.g. web authoring,
- Summative assessment. I.e. holder for required products to be marked.
There is a triangle of:
There is a 2D space of:
- Overall educational purpose (see above for alternatives)
- Functions the software can or does provide:
things a user wants to do like searching.
- Control/Privacy: does the teacher or the learner control / own this stuff?
- Does the HEI or an external provider host the software and data?
Personal learning environments, ...
PDP as personal development planning portfolios has a
number of different ideas are heaped together here:
- Simply a repository for course work that will then be marked by staff.
- Collecting evidence (e.g. in a digital repository) e.g. examples
of a student's work, with a view to having them re-use them in job
- Having students reflect on what they are learning in relation to what
they think they need for future careers; then go and learn what is missing.
This could be
- Choosing courses
- Getting skill training e.g. spreadsheets, database retrieval
- Getting work, voluntary work, or
placements that will satisfy requirements for sleection in later
(postgraduate) courses; or simply give the student experience to help them
make an informed choice of whether they would want to work in that profession.
Standing critique 1
The Dearing report recommended that HEIs do something about it, and there is a
persistent push from funding councils on this. The unfortunate aspect of this
is that it is couched as something HEIs must do to students, without any
consideration of how learners currently deal with this. This is analogous to
the worst practice in organisations where managers send employees on courses
without any measure of whether they learn anything on the course, nor if they
do of whether that learning then makes any difference to their practice on the
job, nor if it does, whether the actual change in practice addresses the
original need. It is box ticking: being seen to "do" something without regard
to need or effectiveness.
Thus this area is a bad case of deciding to do something to students because
teachers have decided it's good for them, without the slightest attempt to
study what students already do in this area, and to connect to that.
In fact students I've interviewed already do considerable reflection on their
study skills (although they don't call it that). Most PDP won't help or
relate to the way students consider each year how they personally might modify
their study approaches. Hence in practice, the portfolios are designed to
allow teachers to reflect on their students' practices, not to augment the
already impressive private practices of students.
A quite different approach would be to study how these functions are
successfully addressed at present without overt support called "PDP" from the
institution, and how that success could be built on. For instance, interviews
with graduating students indicate massive changes over the four years in how
they study, with a variety of "significant incidents" but most commonly the
experience of earlier diets of exams leads to private decisions on how to
reorganise revision practices. Again, many staff believe that schools used to
prepare students for university e.g. by teaching them note-taking methods,
weekly essays based on library readings, etc. If it is true that this no
longer is provided, then how best to provide that in first year. Again, some
students seek part time and/or vacation work (whether voluntary or paid) in
the professions they are considering, and use that to decide whether they
really want to work in them (quite often, not) and if so, have established
both a record of experience and personal contacts. This is self-organised
work experience focussed on their personal plans.
Standing critique 2
Are these things good for everyone, or is PDP only worthwhile for some
students? Many writings in the area take it for granted that PDP and planning
is a universal good.
In favour is to avoid dumping out students at the end of a degree with no
preparation for job seeking and getting.
Against the more naive pro-PDP attitudes is that:
- We do many things in life without planning, by responding to our context.
This is true not only of when we breathe, what we eat, etc., but also in our
culture of marriage. (Or perhaps PDP proponents think we should have only
- The world changes, so detailed planning is invalidated before long. The
issue, as they say now, is lifelong learning: the training we get in HE cannot
be the knowledge that will be the basis of our work in 20 years time.
- Information on jobs is largely concealed even from an intelligent
searcher. An employer will not tell you that there is a glass ceiling for
women, that staff leave in droves from the bullying in dept. X, etc.
So most planning for jobs is well founded only after your personal contacts
have given you the inside information: it is not something a careers talk or
PDP session can give.
Also, the feedback on current schemes at this university seems to be that the
few students who voluntarily attend them say they are very valuable.
So it may be that, like most drug and alcohol rehab, it benefits only those
who have already made an internal commitment. So making it compulsory would
not work; and any further roll-out would need to be about changing hearts and
minds i.e. selling its benefits to students.
Many PDP schemes are only about career preparation or study skills; but the
first and more important aspect is about life goals. And it is this aspect
that is likely to be strongly linked to student dropout. So this is the
important part of PDP to address.
I haven't come across any practical actions in this area with direct objective
evidence of effectiveness. However here are some practical actions that each
department could take that seem worthwhile to me.
Simon Bates' survey of recent graduates to discover what they
found useful and lacking in their degree programme when starting their first
jobs. I think this is something every department could and should do.
A question they did ask in the interviews (but missed on the questionnaire)
was "What was lacking in their degree programme that they now wish they'd been
They "recruited" their respondents by composing an email which their Alumni
office was willing to forward to their list of graduates from the department.
(A longer report on this may be done over the summer.)
- Bushnell, Ian W. R. (2007)
Life after university : a personal development programme
(Pearson Custom Publishing)
Ian Bushnell's new textbook may make it significantly easier for other
departments to create a course on PDP that suits their students.
His book was based on the professional skills course he runs for psychology
level 3 students, but is written for graduates in any discipline.
Far from assuming a knowledge of psychology, it offers a quick briefing for
any student on what they can expect from employers' selection methods
(interviews, personality tests, ...) where appropriate. However it is mainly
a mix of how to prepare for jobs and job applications with how a student
can select job types that will suit them personally. That is, it is
basically a course for students on PDP: how to construct a conscious
understanding of what you want from the world of work, what you have (as
skills, as abilities), and how to communicate the latter (with evidence) to
employers you think might be good for you.
- There is simple software called
from Sheffield Hallam University, published by Gower, which we use to give
students an experience of being interviewed. No academic staff time required,
just a technician to make it happen. They do it in groups (giving each other
comments on their performance). Almost all students give positive feedback on
this, even though it is elementary practice for those who have never yet
really had a job interview.
- Each department could create and maintain a document of the kinds of
(graduate) skills its graduates could boast about and support with evidence.
An example applying to our graduates in the year 2008 is
HE academy page
on PDP resources etc.
Support for Learning through ePortfolios (ISLE) project
JISC page on it
software for PDP that comes well recommended by students and staff who have
used it. See also its
Andrew Litchfield's Framework for graduate attribute training exercises:
draft page on relating PDP, employability, graduate attributes.
It includes a citation and quick description of Ian Bushnell's
textbook for students on PDP.
Bushnell, Ian W. R. (2007)
Life after university : a personal development programme
(Pearson Custom Publishing)
More notes on it here.
a subversive advice on career planning. (A good place to buy it is
www.play.com, seems both cheaper and faster.)
PDP 18-page literature review
Sue Clegg and Serena Bufton (2008)
"Student support through personal development planning: retrospection and time"
Research Papers in Education vol.23 No.4 pp.435-450
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