Personal Development Planning: A Summary of Research and Evaluation

Though a variety of terms have been used to describe strategies to encourage students to reflect upon and evaluate their own learning experiences and plan for their own development, the use of the term Personal Development Planning (PDP), and its introduction as an applied educational policy, is directly located within recommendations made by the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education, or the Dearing Report as it is better known (NCIHE 1997).   Importantly, while the term originated here, the practice(s) themselves did not; evidence suggests that much practice pre-dated Dearing and was essentially local and ‘bottom-up’ in origin (see for example Ward, 2001).


The report was dominated by issues of funding and economic sustainability (Grace and Shepherd, 2007; Barnes, 2010) and it was through these issues that the role of Higher Education was to become more clearly defined both in terms of personal learning and as a provider of knowledge and skills for the knowledge economy. Lord Dearing’s report visualised Higher Education as a key socio-economic driver within a learning society, a society in which personal and social wellbeing become inextricably combined in a lifelong relationship. Through the adoption of such an interpretation personal learning carries with it a social and economic responsibility in which the acquisition of knowledge and skills must at least in part be responsive to our increasingly fluid socio-economic situation. As the economic and political awareness of globalisation grew so did the vision of a ‘learning society’ as a response to it (Simons & Masschelein 2008). In addition, by relocating Higher Education within a dialogue of social accountability, the ability of the sector to evidence its responsiveness to that learning society has become important in maintaining its worth. If education is to retain its social position then it must be able to account to a wider range of socio-economic stakeholders in a far more explicit and responsive way (Jackson & Ward 2004).


With reference to the introduction of Personal Development Planning, Dearing identified the need for students to “monitor, build and reflect upon their personal development” (Recommendation 20, NICHE, 1997). A consultation process led by the QAA, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals (CVCP) and the Standing Conference of Principals (SCOP) was subsequently established to shape that recommendation into a policy supported by the QAA.


Given this framework, this paper will:


  1. Identify key challenges associated with research and evaluation practice in this area:
  2. Report upon a range of research and evaluation activities, including signposting to where key resources can be accessed.
  3. Summarise the current ‘state of play’, and identify what might need to happen next in order to advance both conceptual understanding and practical application.
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