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Processes for Support of Personal Development Records Online

05 Jul, 2005
Software support for ‘personalised learning’ encompasses skills recording, learner-driven skills assessment and evidence-based competency profiling. We intend these prototype instances to provide a proof of concept in relation to skills mapping in the learning domain for mature, employed part-time learners.

Institutional context

The QMUL ODL BSc degree programme is targeted at workplace based adult learners studying part-time. The degree has a flexible delivery mode, in order that students can fit study around a full time career. As a result, typically, students will not complete the degree for several years (perhaps double or more than it takes to complete an on-site full time degree). Our delivery method and the educational background of our students places a significant emphasis on the need for a range of specific support requirements for our students. It is essential that the programme is able to provide support and ongoing motivation for students to complete the degree. The programme must foster a feeling of progression, and provide its students with a clear understanding of the skills gained on a module-by-module basis, if they are to remain motivated.

Learner activity

The first point at which students will engage with ODL's PDP system will be application process. The students are encouraged, during the application period, to reflect upon what they wish to achieve by undertaking a degree. These reflections will form part of a student's planning record. This may draw upon the PDP undertaken in previous career development planning meetings.

If students are successful, they will enrol on the course. The student may draw upon the PDP data used at application time to think about what they will be need to do as a learner.

Having enrolled, the learners will be presented with the list of modules they are currently taking, and will be able to break these modules down into a list of competencies and skills. They will be able to perform a self-evaluation against individual skills, and these can become of component of the learner record if they wish. The learner will also be able to reflect upon elements of a particular course through the use of learner logs, and will be able to set goals and plan activities leading up to these goals.

Pedagogical / technical approach

Software support for 'personalised learning' encompasses skills recording, learner-driven skills assessment and evidence-based competency profiling. We intend these prototype instances to provide a proof of concept in relation to skills mapping in the learning domain for mature, employed part-time learners who form the majority of ODL students. The prototype will include processes for updating e-portfolio records / planning, relating skills to work, exporting LIP compliant records.

Intended outcome(s)

It is of clear benefit to our students (and the College) to improve the links between HE and industry. This adds a relevance to the degree, and improves the prospects for future employability. The PDP supported by our PLE focuses on supporting this relationship, and does so by encouraging a reflection on the specific skills attained through taking a particular module.

We hope that by connecting academic activity to the workplace, the learner will be able to explain and demonstrate their developing knowledge, skills and behaviours at work using work related competency/ skills frameworks.

It is important that their employer properly understands this. While learning and development specialists in HR departments and the like may have this mind-set it is even more important to convince the line manager who may have no academic mindset.

We expect that our system will help clarify a student's perception of their abilities in the context of employment. We hope to show that this will encourage a dialogue between HE and employment, that outputs from these reflective processes (and outputs from the system in the form of specification-compliant records) will feed into employer processes (such as Annual Performance Reviews and Advice and Guidance sessions).


We reduced considerably our proposal to work with FE colleges - for two reasons: firstly because we believe that this would have extensive overlap with other JISC MLE for Lifelong Learning projects. Secondly, the timescales involved in the PROSPERO project are such that FE entrants to ODL programmes would not have progressed far enough through their studies for significant PDP related activities to be completed to the point where appropriate test data could be obtained.

The PROSPERO project became focused upon two major areas:

In particular the use of the RDCEO specification, and how it relates to the LIP/e-portfolio specification; what a sensible process for learners discovering, reflecting upon and recording skills, competencies and capabilities should look like - for a variety of study, work and personal development purposes.
PLE Development
This will encompass the skills recording work, and will provide a proof of concept in relation to skills mapping in the learning domain for the majority of ODL students. It includes processes for updating e-portfolio records / planning, relating skills to work, importing/exporting specification compliant data.

Established practice

Currently, the ODL programme has a paper based PDP system in place. It is not comprehensive, and does not feed into a more detailed, structured learning plan that can be continually modified and updated.

The e-learning advantage

Improved links between the ODL degree and employers. We hope to demonstrate the benefits of our practices so that they become the template for a University -wide application
Much improved tools for managing a degree, under often complicated work/learning balance, together with better demonstration to employer of the benefits of the learning and their application in the workplace.

A learner record - a comprehensive electronic record that contains much richer information on the work undertaken as part of a degree, as well as reflections upon an array of entities (modules / skills / interests). This provides a much clearer picture of what it is that a learner has gained from a degree (or even, specific piece of work).

Key points for effective practice

This project was originally scoped with a range of stakeholders including the students, employers, FE colleges, employer organisations and consortia who were generating Skills/ Competency Frameworks.

It became apparent that they each had their own needs and agenda. It was also apparent that each was moving at a different pace.

The learning for the project team has been to be less ambitious and to work with people and situations that are more under our control.

Delays in the national run out of Foundation Degrees and different approaches in FE Colleges have meant that we have not got a significant experimental group of FdSc students involved in the project.

Changes of very significant proportion amongst potential employer partners can happen very quickly and have prevented our original intention to share information between our systems and theirs.

We have demonstrated that it is possible to live with change. We take the view that had we gone into the project with a better understanding of the agendas of all the stakeholders and of the sometimes dramatic about turns that can happen in the commercial and politico-educational world then we might have been a little bit more cautious in our approach. The watch word should be to take account of the "art of the possible…"

Conclusions and recommendations

This will, in part, be influenced by the Evaluation, which, because of unforeseen delays in the project, will take place beyond the project's formal end date.

It is apparent though that the mid-project review and the changes in personnel working on the project have enabled us to re-scope our intentions and do so in such a way as to now be on schedule to produce a smaller but still significant piece of work.

Tom Lodge and Ian Smith
26 April 2005


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