Enhancing Learner Development by Influencing PDP policy and Changing PDP Practice
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Worcester
Unit of AssessmentEducation
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education
Summary of the impact
The research described below has impacted on policy and practice relating to Personal
Development Planning (PDP) - the structured and supported process by which learners reflect
upon their own development and plan their future development. The impact has primarily been on
the UK Higher Education (HE) sector, but has also extended beyond the UK and into other types of
organisation (e.g. graduate recruitment networks). More specifically, the research has: shaped the
guidance offered to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA)
on implementing and developing PDP policies and processes for students; enhanced the practice
of PDP practitioners; stimulated debate among these practitioners; and informed the development
of resources for these practitioners. This has had an overarching positive effect on learner
development in educational settings and beyond.
Dr John Peters (employed at Worcester, 1993-present) has undertaken research into the
effectiveness of Personal Development Planning (PDP), with a particular interest in the value of e-
portfolios in this process, over a 15-year period. During this time, his role has shifted from lecturing
in modern history (1993-1998) to working in the University's Educational Development Unit (1999-
His initial research argued that modular degree programmes, specifically in History, had led to the
fragmenting of traditional systems of progression and demonstrated the value of formative student
profiles in addressing this `problem' (Reference 1). Peters was subsequently part of the advisory
group that informed the EPPI-Centre systematic review of PDP.i The review highlighted some
critical limitations in the research to-date. These included: the greater focus on descriptive
developmental research than on experimental testing of the effects of such new developments;
serious methodological limitations in evaluations of effect; and limited focus on certain key areas,
Peters' subsequent work can be seen at some level as a response to this review. In 2005, he was
part of a team that undertook an evaluation of the University of Wolverhampton's e-portfolio system
for PDP, highlighting the value of the system being used while emphasising some practical issues
to be addressed in rolling out it more widely, not least making the tool available to the student
beyond the lifetime of the degree programme (Reference 2).
In 2007, Peters developed a project funded through HEFCE's National Teaching Fellowship (NTF)
Project Scheme, one of just 8 funded through the scheme (Grant a). The project was collaborative,
co-led by Sue Burkinshaw, University of Bolton and involved 16 HEIs. It sought to establish a
community of PDP practitioner-researchers — referred to as the NARN (National Action Research
Network) - to research and evaluate their own PDP and e-portfolio practice and to inform the more
effective implementation of PDP for students. The project outcomes (published as a special edition
of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education) were a series of situated studies on
PDP and e-portfolio practice and an overarching evaluation of the effectiveness of the NARN as a
whole both in creating a community of practitioner-researchers and in capacity-building for
researching PDP practice (Reference 3).
Alongside this project, Peters was successful in bidding for a University of Worcester funded
studentship match-funded through the NTF project (Grant b) to examine the impact and
experiences of PDP implementation in the HE sector. This research has shown that PDP
processes remain poorly defined, under-researched and increasingly driven towards particular
political expectations and that attempts to establish personal, student-centred learning practices
have been subsumed within outcome expectations demanded by various stakeholder groups
(Reference 4). As such, this study places more emphasis on the continued need for research into
PDP practice and the student experience of it.
References to the research
1. Peters, J., Peterkin, C. & Williams, C. (2001) 'Progression within Modular History Degrees:
Profiling for a Student Centred Approach' in Booth, A. & Hyland, P. (eds.), The Practice of
University History Teaching, Manchester University Press: 137-53.
2. Halstead, A., Mcguirk, M., Peters, J., & Watkins, D. (2005) `Implementation and Evaluation of
an ePortfolio across a UK Higher Education Institution', Proceedings of the International
EPortfolio 2005 Conference: Transforming Individual and organisational learning: 308-19.
3. Peters, J. (2010) `Building research capacity in a practitioner community: framing and
evaluating the `National Action Research Network on Researching and Evaluating Personal
Development Planning and e-Portfolio Practice' Journal of Learning Development in Higher
Education, Special Edition: Researching PDP Practice: 1-17. [Returned to UoA25 in REF
4. Tymms, M., Peters, J., & Scott, I. (2013) `Personal Development Planning: Pedagogy and the
Politicisation of the Personal', Research in Post Compulsory Education, 18(3). [Returned to
UoA25 in REF 2014].
a. Dr John Peters (Principal investigator), National Action Research Network on Researching and
Evaluating Personal Development Planning and e-Portfolio, 08/2007-07/2010, HEFCE's
National Teaching Fellowship Project Scheme (NTFS), £199,968.
b. Dr John Peters (Lead Supervisor), An exploration of the impacts and experiences of PDP at a
UK university, 10/2008-10/2011, University of Worcester Research Studentship Scheme,
The University is confident the underpinning research meets the excellence threshold. References
3 and 4 are returned to UoA25 in REF 2014 with Output ID "Peters2" and "Peters4" respectively.
Both result from funded research which the University believes is indicative of its excellent quality.
Reference 1 has become a key reference for pedagogic research in history (cited 22 times in
Details of the impact
In 2008, Dr Peters was invited to be part of the QAA's Personal Development Planning Advisory
Group, a small body of experts established to develop sector guidance on implementing PDP. The
growing body of evidence from both practice and research (not least Peters' own work)
necessitated an update of the QAA's Guidelines for HE Progress Files published in 2001. The
product of this Group, Personal Development Planning: guidance for institutional policy and
practice in higher education, was published in 2009 (Source A). Peters contributed to the
publication as a whole but in particular authored the section on "Key actions for the effective
implementation of personal development planning" which is confirmed in a letter of support from Dr
Jayne Mitchell, Director for Research, Development and Partnerships at the QAA (Source B). This
section highlights three areas for action: institutional strategy and policy, presence within
programmes and engagement with learners. It therefore sets out to shape both policy and practice
Peters' research has enhanced the practice of PDP practitioners through: the NTSF Project; and
his work with the Centre for Recording Achievement (CRA). PDP practitioners can be defined
narrowly as those working within the HE sector (but also in other contexts such as graduate
employment organisations) who have direct responsibility for developing and supporting PDP
processes. It can be more broadly defined, however, to include academic staff for who PDP is part
of their learning and teaching, their role as a personal tutor, etc.
The NTFS Project set out to develop a community of PDP practitioners who were committed to
developing their capability to undertake robust research and evaluation; and to use the evidence
that emerged from this process to enhance their practice. In practice, three regional groups were
established during the project (North, South, Midlands) but further groups at institutional level and
beyond also emerged. For example the University of Bedfordshire adopted and implemented the
full NARN project model and applied this across the institution to support academics and
practitioners to develop their capacity and capability as researchers (Source C, pp.8-9)
Dr Peters has worked with and for the CRA since 2001, initially as an institutional correspondent
and subsequently as its Associate Director for Research. The CRA, directed by Rob Ward, seeks
to develop and demonstrate the value of PDP in improving learning and progression in education,
training and employment through a programme of leadership, consultancy and research. Its
members are drawn from local authorities, schools, universities, colleges and professional bodies.
In essence, its work impacts directly on "PDP practice" in its member organisations. Peters'
research has been central to this work (Source D). An excellent example of this work is the PDP
Academy 2011: a 1-year initiative set up by CRA to support individual HEIs to identify, understand
and resolve key issues affecting PDP in ways which directly enhance the quality and effectiveness
of the student learning experience. 12 HEIs where involved in the programme (Birmingham,
Bolton, Bradford, Buckinghamshire New, Central Lancashire, Essex, Kent, Oxford Brookes,
Salford, Sheffield, Ulster). Peters was central to the delivery of this programme. He co-delivered
three 1-day workshops during the programme, produced a number of "key project documents" (e.g.
The Pedagogies of PDP) and directly mentored three of the HEIs involved (Birmingham, Bucks
New and Oxford Brookes). Each HEI undertook a project in one or more of three areas: developing
and implementing a PDP resource; influencing institutional policy/strategy on PDP; designing and
implementing a PDP experience or intervention. The outcomes of each of the projects can be
found on the PDP Academy 2011 web pages a number of which explicitly highlight the impacts on
practice and by extension on the student learning experience (see, for example, the
Buckinghamshire New University project, "PDP through e-Portfolios: engaging students to enhance
their learning and employability", Source E).
Peters' research has been widely disseminated to practitioners in HE and beyond through
workshops and conference presentations. So, for example, the findings of the NTSF project have
been presented to a broadly UK HE audience at a Higher Education Academy/QAA one day
seminar, `PDP in action: student-centred approaches and evaluating effectiveness,' held at the
University of Edinburgh in April 2009; to a broader audience of UK PDP practitioners at the CRA
Annual Conference, Birmingham in November 2010; to a graduate recruitment network, the
Association for Graduate Recruiters in March 2009; to an international audience at the CRA's
Second International Residential Seminar, `Researching and Evaluating Personal Development
Planning and e-Portfolio' at the University of Nottingham in April 2010 which attracted delegates
e.g. from the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden; and at the Australian e-Portfolio Conference,
Queensland, Australia in February 2009 (Source C, Appendix 1 lists all dissemination activities
associated with the project).
Peters is the only UK member of the Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based
Learning (AAEEBL) Research Committee. AAEEBL is a US-based professional association for
those working with e-Portfolios at all levels of education and workforce development. The
Research Committee, chaired by Dr Helen Chen of Stanford University, was set up in Spring 2012
partly to undertake research in its own right but also as an international reference group for sharing
research results globally (Source F).
Peters has developed resources for practitioners which have been informed by his research.
Specifically, he co-developed a toolkit: "Personal Development Planning Evaluation Guides and
Tools". It was launched on the CRA website in September 2009 and has continued to be utilised by
practitioners over REF period: most recently a small independent charity used it to evaluate a
careers education initiative in the pre-HE sector (Source D). This toolkit was subsequently
referenced in QAA Scotland's 2011 publication, A toolkit for enhancing personal development
planning strategy, policy and practice in higher education institutions (Source G). It has also been
highlighted on the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement website as an example of
"How to do it: engagement in practice" (Source H).
In addition Peters' research has informed the development of others' PDP resources. For example,
he features in a video resource provided for HE practitioners by Learn Higher on PDP, where he
talks about research and evidence relating to PDP (Source I).
Sources to corroborate the impact
A. Personal development planning: guidance for institutional policy and practice in higher
education (2009) Quality Assurance Agency.
B. Letter of support from Dr Jayne Mitchell, Director: Research, Development and Partnerships,
C. Final Project Report of National Action Research Network on Researching and Evaluating
Personal Development planning and e-Portfolio Practice (2012):
D. Letter of support from Rob Ward, Director, The Centre for Recording Achievement
E. PDP through e-Portfolios: engaging students to enhance their learning and employability:
F. AAEBL Newsletter, June 2012:
G. A toolkit for enhancing personal development planning strategy, policy and practice in higher
education institutions (2011) QAA Scotland:
H. National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement Website:
I. Learn Higher Workshop Toolkits: http://archive.learnhigher.ac.uk/videoresources/pdp/
Gough, D.A., Kiwan, D., Sutcliffe, K., Simpson, D. & Houghton N (2003). A systematic map and
synthesis review of the effectiveness of personal development planning for improving student
learning. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit.