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Reflection on a personal development skills module

Case study by Sheila Ryan and Sue Williams (University of Gloucestershire) illustrating the use of personal development planning (PDP) to encourage students to reflect on their work.

As part of the one year module in personal development skills on the postgraduate Certificate in Management Studies students are expected to develop skills in communication and literacy, independent learning and working, working with others, and what are termed ‘vocational skills’ such as stress management, goal setting and supporting the development of others. The module operates on a series of tutor-led sessions and individual tutorials and includes activities such as completing a learning style inventory, role play, presentations, group work and feedback.


To help students identify and build on a range of management skills for personal and career development.


By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • identify and evaluate their own preferences for learning and self development
  • work collaboratively with others to undertake development of a range of management skills
  • understand how to communicate and manage their own communication effectively
  • identify and develop the competences required to manage effectively in their organisation


A personal development journal (PDJ) of 3,000 words, demonstrating the development of management skills in the areas specified for the module learning outcomes and skills. The PDJ should have a structured format and layout, but individual choice is also allowed for. The PDJ is initially assessed by members of the learning sets (peers on the module), and then by the tutor. Peers must allocate a grade using grading criteria (supplied to them), recording the grade on a signed and dated record sheet. The module tutor then confirms or adjusts the grade according to the same criteria. The PDJ is the only form of assessment on the module, and is worth 100%.

The PDJ must contain several sections, including:

  • an initial entry section containing a brief statement of the individual’s skills in each area at the start of the module
  • an action plan for management skills development which:
    • contains a brief description and an analysis of the individual’s development needs in each skill area
    • contains clearly stated aims and development goals for each skill area
    • shows how both the initial assessments and an understanding of relevant theory have been used to set goals and select activities for skill development in each of the areas
  • a final summary of progress at the end of the module which also indicates future development needs
  • evidence of skill development, linked to the development goals in the action plan, must be provided for each area, showing how the student has developed their skills. This evidence should include examples from relevant coursework activities and/or organisations. Different forms of additional evidence are accepted, for example audio/video tapes.

Reflections and observations

  1. Time – the fact that the module lasts the full academic year means that students have time to develop and to get used to writing reflectively, and to learn how to provide evidence of experience. Reflection time is also built into the class, which means students have time to modify learning strategies and see the positive effects of those changes.
  2. Structure – the action-learning sets mean that students support each other. They can share journals and have opportunity to discuss and ask questions of each other.
  3. Tutor support – staff are assisted in matching evidence to competence frameworks. Tutors also meet together to discuss sessions and identify how to best support reflection so that you make a difference.

Last Modified: 4 June 2010