Serena Bufton

  • Student support through Personal Development Planning

    Serena Bufton, Sheffield Hallam University, UK

    Sue Clegg, Sheffield Hallam University, UK

    Steve Spencer, Sheffield Hallam University, UK

    Session 1f, Monday 15.45

    Research paper

    Theme addressed:

    • Supporting learners

    There is an extensive theoretical literature pointing to the difficulties of reflection and meta-cognitive capacity. We have reflected on these problems particularly in relationship to the now mandatory adoption of Personal Development Planning (PDP) across the whole of the higher education curriculum in England (Clegg, 2004; Clegg & Bradley, 2005). In addition, in an unpublished study, we have explored how students understand their own engagement with the PDP curriculum. In this study an independent researcher re-analysed anonymised student assignments from a first year PDP programme for social scientists. Our analysis showed that students rarely reflected on their own meta-cognitive processes and instead were preoccupied with practical study skill matters, particularly time management issues. However, this study shared the problem of most evaluations and assessments of student learning in that it took place immediately after completion of the module. We were interested, therefore, in looking at whether students from the same cohort in their third year had developed the ability to reflect on the skills they needed for learning, and on their views about which aspects of their learning experiences overall they felt supported them in these developments. We undertook 20 interviews with third years which explored with them their own understanding of how they approached learning and the supports they had found useful as well as probing specifically about the PDP elements of the course. Our analysis reveals the complexity of students’ understandings of their own first year experiences in which they reflected on how they now wished they had understood why they needed the skills the course offered, with some of them describing their own lack of engagement – ‘faking’ reflection and planning by completing ‘plans’ retrospectively. The rationale for much of this behaviour they attributed to the nature of their experiences in the first year, their perception of a lack of need to do more than pass, their concerns to enjoy ‘being’ a student including a hectic social life, and in general a mis-recognition of the demands of the course overall. Many of them described the shock they experienced in their second year as they began to appreciate the real demands of university study. Some appeared to be struggling to catch up and felt pressurised now that they had turned their attention to their impending degree classification. The paper will explore the pedagogic implications of the study by considering how students describe the ways in which staff interest and openness appeared to be a crucial element for students in developing an awareness of their own learning and in getting help at the point that they realised they needed it. This need was described as being met in either face-to-face or virtual encounters, and from both staff and peers, but timeliness and timing appear to be essential as do elements of personalisation understood not as choice but in terms of students’ shifting personal epistemologies.


    • Clegg S and Bradley S (2006) Models of Personal Development: Practices and Processes,British Educational Research Journal 32,1 pp57-76.
    • Clegg S (2004) Critical Readings: Progress Files and the production of the autonomous learner, Teaching in Higher Education 9,3 pp287-298.