Scaffolding

Image courtesy of Kevin Dooley (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence)

Today I’ve been thinking about Personal Development Planning (PDP) and Personalised Learning. This is ok as I’m paid to think about these things. I’m thinking through the implications of putting PDP and personalised learning at the heart of HE for the way universities are organised.

Everything we do now is structured around the University and the staff. Courses are made up of levels and units. We decide what comes first, what builds on what and the chunks of learning with their expected learning outcomes. Students start at the beginning, proceed through this structure from unit to unit and level to level with us assessing them in predetermined ways and at predetermined points until we decide they’re fit to be unleashed on the world as graduates. This must be an over-simplification of what’s needed by individual students. Different students find different things more or less difficult – levels are somewhat arbitrary. Some themes build on an assumption of previously covered concepts but it’s not an exact science.

So, we’re now saying that students should be able to personalise their learning and that we’ll do this by putting PDP at the core of the students learning. We’ll facilitate this process through ePDP and ePortfolio. None of our existing frameworks seem to suit this particularly well. Perhaps we should make the ePDP process the scaffolding around which students can build their learning, accessing learning activities as necessary to move them on towards their final award.

To do this properly would require a ground-up re-engineering of the university and that’s not going to happen but we should look at ways of putting students identified learning needs at the heart of the process and then building the teaching around that. Learning activities could be technologically packaged up in a more fine-grained way without the arbitrary unit boundaries. Students can then share their progress through their portfolios and lecturers can give feedback, signpost the next appropriate learning activities and manage the assessment process.

Could Universities really change this much?

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