A UK PSF compatible framework for professional reflection

One ongoing challenge I have is around how to increase the depth of reflection on teaching practice (or indeed other professional practices) within the context of formal development programmes. Sometimes we use models of reflection to assist, including Gibbs, Johns and Greenaway’s models. However existing models, and even free flow writing, have not always yielded in-depth reflections. Based on my own experience of supporting reflection across different professional groups I have summarised three limitations of existing models of reflection.

1) A tendency to focus on iterative improvement with less emphasis on validation of practice

Models tend to steer the reflector to assess any issues that require a change in approach (plan-do-review and variations thereof); change is king. Based on experience, sometimes colleagues find that they don’t need to change but instead they can take value from affirming their practice and recognising what they do as effective or good. Affirmation and confidence in practice are as important as identifying points for change and development.

2) A limited engagement with the idea of governing variables

Reflection models can tend to encourage single loop learning as critical incidents are located and considered. I always encourage anyone reflecting to consider what is within their remit and control, and to focus their attention accordingly rather than locating issues within the practice of others, particularly when this leads to a sense of blame or the shifting of responsibility for personal practice. Nevertheless, it can be very useful for some attention to be given to the constructive consideration of challenging the status quo and the operational norm. New(-ish) practitioners can often assess the context in perceptive ways as they have not necessarily been acculturated and institutionalised. To encourage a focus on the constraints and context of practice is very different than shifting the focus of a micro reflection to others because it may be easier than examining one’s own practice. It means standing back and asking what are the things around me that I need to challenge? (challenge is key here, and the answers may not be to hand, challenge – not change). Possible areas to challenge include policy and established ways of working. Whilst senior staff may be able to act on these realisations, new lecturers (or practitioners in other fields) may be less empowered or confident to take action. However, if institutional staff development is joined up, then the issues raised through these reflections can filter through course leaders and assessors for discussion elsewhere.

3) A tendency to focus on incidents rather than wider periods of personal transformation and growth.

A third issue with existing models of reflection is that they tend to focus on an incident by incident basis i.e. take a critical incident and consider it in depth, resulting in a learning or a change. This approach can be simplistic and fail to make connections between a range of events and practice. The resulting reflection therefore tends to be overly descriptive and sometimes forced. Instead I am now encouraging a ‘compound reflection’ – to look back over a series of events or a time period and consider the resultant personal and professional growth. This is especially powerful for identifying personal learning about practice, and the recognition of evolving beliefs and values. It should also provide a chance to review meta-learning, asking what happened across this period to assist my learning? I am not convinced that this depth occurs on an incident by incident basis.

I am proposing an alternative reflection model to capture some of the points above. Essentially this encourages the focus on either an event/incident or a period of time identified by the reflector (e.g. across one term, or after a CPD programme). In the model focus is drawn to three areas, which align to the UK Professional Standards Framework Dimensions of Practice. Individuals should separately  attend to their activities/practice, knowledge and values/beliefs. The actual dimensions of practice can be used to further frame thinking. For EACH of those three areas stimulating questions can be asked to encourage external or internal conversation. Affirmation, challenge and meta-reflection are all evident.

reflection model

Of course this is an early attempt at shaping up a framework to assist reflection, so any thoughts by reply are very welcome.


Download the model reflection modelhere.

Learning transitions and playing with concept map

In an attempt to unscramble my own thoughts and make them remain in my head longer than the time it takes to type and send I have embarked upon a concept mapping exercise. So taking a reply I made earlier to a forum question, and concept mapping it, it was useful but remarkably difficult. Its tricky to build links and annotate without over-crowding. A fine art and more practice needed. Tips welcome!

So, the question – how do transitions affect new comers to higher education And what might be done to help … ?

Secondary school students have often been engaged in surface learning which has been cultivated by a climate of testing and a grade facing culture (Hussey and Smith 2010). The learning habits and cultures of a secondary school are very different than most HEIs where large class sizes exist (Cook and Leckey 1999) and there is an expectation of autonomy (Hussey and Smith 2010) – a transition is needed to thrive in this new environment (a transition of self and in learning approach). In terms of self-concept students may go from being confident amongst a small group to feeling disorientated by their new place in the bigger order. At the same time as needing to undertake transitions in their approach to learning they may be undergoing great shifts in their personal life from being dependent to being independent as they move locations and away from family. Transitions are essential to learning and may occur on a number of fronts – in knowledge, in learning orientation, in social dimensions (Hussey and Smith 2010) and in epistemologies (Chan, Ho et al. 2011). First year attrition of students is high (Beaty, Gibbs et al. 1997; Cook and Leckey 1999; Hussey and Smith 2010). It seems little wonder given the multi-faceted transitions. Such transitions are more complex for first generation learners who face added challenges.

To facilitate these transitions a number of recommendations emerge from the literature:

· Induction – induction for students should address student expectations such that learners can ‘see’ the transitions ahead (Cook and Leckey 1999)
· Monitoring – so student transitions are not hidden from staff and can be engaged with positively and appropriately. Montitoring ensures teachers are not surprised at the end of a course when transitions have not occurred as anticipated (Hussey and Smith 2010)
· Avoiding a crammed curriculum – to provide space for deep engagement such that time for deep learning is made (Cousin 2006; Hussey and Smith 2010)
· Formative assessment – to enable students to develop an understanding of the expectations and allow them to adapt on their journey ahead of high stakes assessment (Hussey and Smith 2010)
· Progression flexibility – more radically, student programmes could be undertaken over a longer period of time where an individual’s transition path requires, when they are not ready to move on at the speed of the academic calendar (Hussey and Smith 2010)
· Promote study skills for higher education (ideally before arrival) such that students have to tools to adapt (Cook and Leckey 1999)
· A culture of support where disorientation or turmoil is OK (Cousin 2006)
· Ensure student’s make good course choices which hold their engagement (Jansen and Suhre 2010).

While study skills are suggested as being important, their role may be less significant than the process of aligning courses to student requirements (Jansen and Suhre 2010). In ensuring good choices of programme are made, students may develop higher levels of buy-in and therefore be more prepared to undertake active involvement in learning (which, in turn, is particularly helpful to the surface – deep learning transition (Atherton 2011)).

For first generation students there may be additional or exacerbated challenges. Self-concept lies at the heart of many transitions. First generation students may have a different self concept (perhaps in confidence, beliefs and self-worth) than those who have been socialized in to HE by family. The may feel that they do not belong (Mehta, Newbold et al. 2011).

Cultural changes may be exacerbated for first generation students. HE has its own culture and even language. For students who are first generation the newness of this culture will be starker since exposure to the language and rituals of HE may have been nil. Outreach programmes (from HE to school and induction may help).

According to Mehta, Newbold et al (2011) first generation students “enter college less prepared to succeed but also have greater time demands and financial commitments”. The distractions of financial pressures, part time jobs etc may be a challenge for some first generation students especially when they are immersed in so many transitions, and forming new learning habits.

Care must be taken not to over-generalise first-gen students in to one category though, since in itself this category represents great diversity of culture, class and values. For example, first generation students from a work-based background may face different self-concept issues than school leavers (as inferred by Hussey and Smith 2010)

Broadly the notion of personalizing provision and induction to individual student need may be an approach to facilitate transition. However particular attention may need to be offered to financial support, pace (in response to financial and emotional transitions), integration (social) and the management of expectations.

Much better perhaps to see it like this

concept map screen shot (section on transitions)


I suspect work on transitions could usefully inform personal development programmes as well as induction.

Atherton, J. S. (2011). “Learning and teaching: Approaches to study: Deep and surface learning.” Retrieved 3 August 2011, from http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/deepsurf.htm.
Beaty, L., G. Gibbs, et al. (1997). Learning orientations and study contracts. The experience of learning. D. H. F. Marton, & N. Entwistle. Edinburgh, Scotland, Scottish Academic Press.
Chan, N.-M., I. T. Ho, et al. (2011). “Epistemic beliefs and critical thinking of Chinese students.” Learning and Individual Differences 21(1): 67-77.
Cook, A. and J. Leckey (1999). “Do Expectations Meet Reality? A survey of changes in first-year student opinion.” Journal of Further & Higher Education 23(2): 157.
Cousin, G. (2006). “An introduction to threshold concepts.” Planet(no. 17): 4-5.
Hussey, T. and P. Smith (2010). “Transitions in higher education.” Innovations in Education & Teaching International 47(2): 155-164.
Jansen, E. P. W. A. and C. J. M. Suhre (2010). “The effect of secondary school study skills preparation on first-year university achievement.” Educational Studies 36(5): 569-580.
Mehta, S. S., J. J. Newbold, et al. (2011). “WHY DO FIRST-GENERATION STUDENTS FAIL?” College Student Journal 45(1): 20-35.

Quiet PDP, meta-PDP.

A recent TED video (short) raised the idea to me that those who have a tendency to announce their goals to others may be more likely to be distracted from the achievement of them. The video flags research undertaken last year by Gollwitzer on external goals, summarised in Newsweek in brief also.

Whether this research  means that if anyone announces a goal they are less likely to achieve it, or whether it is more about personality types i.e. those who announce goals enjoy the premature response, and are therefore by the nature of their character less likely to  achieve, I am less clear. That aside, I thought there were implications from this, for formal PDP and particularly, goal setting.

If we set goals through the formal process of PDP and make them explicit, is there a point at which sharing becomes unproductive, even potentially damaging? Where would this point be? How does this sit with the shape of increasingly formalised PDP modules and programmes?

PDP is a process – it is very much more than the product of the ‘personal development plan’ which is so often deemed the end game of formal programmes. With an increased and increasing emphasis on PDP in HE, we need to be careful not to over-emphasise goal setting but rather facilitate learners, in whatever ways they wish, to make conscious, informed, empowered and inspiring choices for themselves. This may mean that we raise awareness of approaches and strategies to take control of one’s own development, and develop skills for professional engagement, but ultimately never set eyes on the plan itself.

Instead we might look at engaging with learners at a meta-level – especially for the purposes of assessment. Under a meta-PDP approach, engagement is around the value of learning, the implications of choices, the challenges of planning, learning about ourselves through reflections on development and developing an appreciation of personal development.  The ‘doing’ level still exists, but remains the domain of the learner. The object of learning in the public or group domain can, without imposition, be the meta-learning aspects.

I am reminded of the need for change amongst HE institutions and practitioners to support learners in highly personalised approaches to PDP, by a useful article from Peters & Tymms, who conclude PDP should ‘not be defined or controlled by the educational provider but remain free to be defined by the learner. To do this will inevitably demand change, not from the student, but from Higher Education providers and practitioners. Ultimately, the key for PDP’s success may yet lie in the term itself – it’s personal’.

Validated: Professional Studies Framework featuring an online cohort of individuals

Last week Harper Adams University College validated ‘The Professional Studies Framework’. The framework will facilitate the negotiation of employer sponsored cohorts of work based learners from levels 4-7 and enable individual’s to study online towards an MSc in Professional Studies.

The framework

Harper Adams is currently engaged with employers through the REEDNet project. The decision to develop a credit framework was made to support developments in employer responsive provision. The framework seeks to offer awards in the range of a Foundation Certificate through to MSc in Professional Studies. The achievement of awards within this range would be formed through different module combinations. This is made possible by broadly designed award outcomes that emphasize learning processes and learning levels, rather than subject content or specific contexts. The framework seeks to offer awards which meet the needs of employers and which support learners to develop and demonstrate knowledge and understanding, skills and also other attributes which are beneficial to an individual’s employing organisation and to the individual’s personal and professional development.  

The framework has been designed for cohorts who either:

  • Already have credit from different sources and who wish to bring that credit together, along with some new Harper Adams credit, to form a named Harper Adams award.
  • Seek an award through unique combinations of modules. 
  • Have existing training already occurring in-house which may be recognised through flexible modules from The framework’s own suite of modules.

 How does it work?

The framework is underpinned by four key mechanisms:

1. Modules (reusable curriculum).

A number of modules have been formed which can be contextualised in a range of workplace settings. Modules can be seen as wrappers or shells. Titles include Analysing the work setting, Leadership and organisational improvement, Advancing professional skills, Learning through work, Action research and professional development. The modules can be used and adapted to fit with the needs of different employers. 

Wrapper modules accredit existing training whilst extending the learning from that training through a range of processes that include systematic reflection, connecting the development of competencies in practice to bodies of literature and to analysing the impact of knew knowledge.  A number of wrapper modules were successfully validated in March 2010 at Harper Adams. 

Shell modules are modules that require application in a specific context; they may be contextualised by either individual learners or by employer cohorts so as to address particularly relevant themes. Typically, although not exclusively, shell modules are inquiry-based. 

2. Parameters

A number of parameters have been set for the operation of the framework. All credit must be work related and the volume of credit brought from other sources must comply with existing regulations.

3. Processes 

The framework is underpinned by a number of processes to provide scrutiny of new modules combinations and devise definitive documentation. Harper Adams (specifically through Aspire and REEDNet) has an established employer engagement validation committee that meets almost monthly. The experience of this group, coupled with the regularity of meetings makes it well placed to provide scrutiny (e.g. ensuring modules are combined appropriately). 

The framework is also underpinned by the processes of working with employers; REEDNet has a team comprising of developers, business development managers and academics who together with departmental staff can act as translators – turning the framework in to a tangible employer engagement arrangement, with all that entails.

4. Conventions (naming awards). 

The framework contains mechanisms to add award suffixes so as to enable context and/or content reflective of the modules undertaken to achieve the award.  

The framework offers the opportunity for truly responsive provision, whether this through bespoke combinations, or through the application of shell or wrapper modules. Undoubtedly the success for the framework will depend upon the skill of the team who need operationalise it. 

The cohort of individuals  

 The Framework is firmly aimed at facilitating employer engagement for groups of learners. However there are learners located in rural sector organisations, which do not engage with higher education directly, for a whole host of reasons (size being a significant reason).  To open up work-based learning to such individuals, an individual route through the framework at level 7 was simultaneously validated.    

For individual entrants the modules will be presented as a set sequence and credit size to enable efficiency and intra-group support to be offered. This is not the negotiation of individual routes through The Framework but rather is a cohort of individuals from differing professional backgrounds learning through a common curriculum, and benefiting from the cross-fertilization of learning from their respective inquiries.  

msc diagram
Modules serving the cohort of individuals 

The MSc will be rolled out over a staged period of development. The resourcing for the creation of the online modules and the subsequent facilitation has been compiled with a capacity building goal; that is to draw in a range of staff to encourage engagement with online learning. 

The individual route through the framework is intended to feedback into the framework infrastructure since the creation of online resources, spaces and the expansion of learning about providing online support will enhance the support available for employer engagement.    

The dual validation


Validation is seen as the first step to bring a truly flexible but robust award system to reality.   

Thank you to all external colleagues for providing support to this project at its various stages of development.   


Personalised learning : emerging issues from literature


Personalisation may be seen from multiple perspectives (including from policy, pedogogical, ideological perspectives), at the heart of personalisation is a consideration of learner need but in addition personalisation is separated from learner centredness by an emphasis on learner voice and real learner empowerment, having more control than over self but rather a control in shaping the system. From my review of personalised learning it can be seen that there is a shortage of research on this topic within higher education. Most of the work on personalisation occurs in school based contexts, only Laurillard’s research is situated within a higher education context. Clearly then research on the possibility and prospects of personalised learning in higher education is needed. In addition whilst there are conceptual models of learner empowerment (central to personalisation) these are limited as they look in at the experience and do not account for multiple realities, for example assuming that learners will use the opportunities for empowerment to similar degrees, moreover they are again school based. One way in which there was seen as great potential to assist the personalisation process was through technology. This aspect of personalisation will receive specific attention later in the review, partly because of its place importance in the research context but also because of the weight of importance attached to the idea of technology for personalisation within literature. There is a clear tendency within the literature to accept the founding principles as desirable. Taylor’s analysis adds caution to this ready acceptance, according to Taylor the personailsation movement results in a loss of subject knowledge, a degradation of teaching, the limiting of curiosity and a move to subordinate abstract knowledge in concluding Taylor remarked that learners are “waiting to be taught”. The implications of such criticality are that it must not be taken for granted in research design that personalisation is desirable by all and space for an anti voice to be heard to establish whether indeed learners are waiting must be made in new research.  

Taylor’s lone voice of criticality has been an important step in breaking the dangerously untouchable nature of personalisation … though clearly from a view of learning which high on principle and clear about the nature of knowledge … it is an important because is does not accept and can stimulate debate.

Personalisation: consumption, egoism and still many questions.

After some further reading the need for criticality remains. Reading Newell, R (2003) Passion for learning it outlines approaches to personalised learning not too far away from the Ultraversity approach to learning. Two key differences Newell is talking about school aged learners and though technology is mentioned it is not a hi-tech approach to learner-centredness.

Newell’s learner centred approach promotes inquiry, personal planning and negotiation of topics. Two key reasons are offered for why learner-centredness should be employed … 
• Rekindles the intrinsic motivation of the learner
• Keeps alive the passion for learning
These would seem reasonable but it is undoubtedly not the only way in addition it raises the question does seeking to jazz-up and excite knowledge make it a consumer product, does it attempt to add value to something which has inherent value and in-doing so erode the true inner value. 

A further running theme of the literature is on meeting learner needs, on processes for defining learner choices and decision making. Futurelab talk of the learner knowing themselves and their needs to inform choice … “for learners to gain control over their own personalised learning, they have to truly understand their own needs, interests and aptitudes – otherwise their learning will have to be ‘personalised’ for them, perhaps by others who may not know them well enough to do this.” The article suggests “[a]chieving the self-knowledge needed for authentic personalisation can sound frighteningly introspective” and adds that “it need not be so “. However the futures exploration does little bar tinkering at the edges to suggest anything other than egoism. 

Is the centrality of the learner in this brand of learning another mark of consumerism, individualism, egoism and a rehection of wider community perhaps? Is it wise to look at personal needs as the centre of learning, does personal need always serve groups and societies? Should they? Pragmatically, does the learner really know what they want – does this erode a spirit of adventure in knowledge and an opportunity cost. 

So many of the visions of education of old are routed in a vision of society (Dewey with democrosisation for example places the individual at the centre, but returns also to the wider context, with a relationship with others: 

“I believe that the individual who is to be educated is a social individual and that society is an organic union of individuals. If we eliminate the social factor from the child we are left only with an abstraction; if we eliminate the individual factor from society, we are left only with an inert and lifeless mass. Education, therefore, must begin with a psychological insight into the child’s capacities, interests, and habits. … They must be translated into terms of their social equivalents–into terms of what they are capable of in the way of social service“.

What vision of society does personalisation give us and do we want it?