Individual study pathways in vocational education and training
Vocational education and training (VET) in Finland aims at increasing a student-centred approach, individual studies, and flexibility. Emphasising identification and recognition of prior learning has allowed shifting the focus of the education and training on acquiring the missing competence.
In 2021–2022, the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre carried out an evaluation of how individual study pathways were realised in vocational education and training. The evaluation produced information on the functionality of the practices related to personalisation, guidance and identification and recognition of prior learning, and on the implementation of opportunities for choice for students.
The evaluation data consisted of the following: surveys to the management and the teaching and guidance staff of education providers, interviews with students and working life representatives, the national student feedback and working life feedback in VET, and register data on individual study pathways.
Key results and conclusions
Education providers have comprehensively outlined policies for matters related to personalisation. However, personalisation is too often visible to students and teaching and guidance staff as a technical performance with an emphasis on drawing up the personal competence development plan and the entries made into it. The importance of personalisation as part of continuous professional development should be strengthened and career planning should be linked even more closely to the different stages of the studies. To achieve this, the planning of the timeline and structure of personalisation on the basis of students’ different life situations and guidance and support needs should also be developed. There is also room for development in the forms used for personal competence development plans, in the recording practices and in the transfer of information from providers’ information systems to the national information systems.
The identification and recognition of existing competence is an essential part of personalisation. The recognition of prior learning is best realised when the prior learning has been acquired in accordance with existing qualification requirements. The recognition of prior learning works best with vocational qualifications, further and specialist vocational qualifications and studies from general upper secondary education. The recognition of prior higher education studies was considered to work less well. The identification of prior learning acquired at work or in hobbies is not realised very well and there are challenges in assessing the comparability and up-to-dateness of competence produced by studies completed in accordance with qualification requirements that have already expired. The practices related to identification and recognition also vary between education providers and within providers, for example, by field of education and training or by location. The concepts, instructions and policies for the identification of prior learning should be clarified.
There are development needs in the participation of working life representatives in personalisation. The planning of work-based learning as part of the student’s study path and individual planning of the demonstrations of knowledge and skills are realised fairly well. However, development is required in planning students’ work tasks and forms of support and guidance with the workplace.
Students can have a say in which ways of acquiring competence are suitable for them. The opportunity to choose optional vocational units and parts of common units independently from one’s qualification is mainly realised well. However, it may not be possible to choose the timetable of the studies independently. The possibility to choose the educational institution or a workplace as one’s learning environment is realised well according to providers and staff. Work-based learning was considered to provide opportunities for individualising the student’s path. Students’ opportunities to choose online studies, on the other hand, were poorer than choosing other learning environments. Established ways to individualise studies include the qualification units offered by one’s own education provider, studies in general upper secondary education and studies at universities of applied sciences, whereas it is less common to complete units from other education providers.
The majority of education providers have defined the staff’s responsibilities with regard to personalisation. However, approximately one fifth of the teaching and guidance staff find that their role in personalisation is not clear. There is also room for development in the distribution of work related to personalisation and in the flow of information and cooperation between staff. The competence of teaching and guidance staff in matters related to personalisation is at a fairly good level, but there is also variation in it. Compared to the providers’ view, teaching and guidance staff considered the realisation of induction and competence development to be clearly weaker. In the view of providers, the staff resources for personalisation are fairly good, but the staff find them only reasonable. The time used for personalisation should therefore be made more visible and recorded in the staff’s work plans, and it should be ensured that there are enough resources for high-quality implementation of personalisation.
- The importance of personalisation as part of career planning and continuous professional development should be reinforced and students’ active role in personalisation should be strengthened.
- Paying attention to students’ different guidance and support needs and the availability of guidance should be developed as part of personalisation – the participation of guardians should also be strengthened.
- The planning of the structure and timeline of the personalisation process and the content of the personal competence development plan should be developed.
- The functionality of personalisation and the effectiveness of guidance and support measures should be monitored, evaluated and developed in a more systematic way.
- The participation of working life representatives in personalisation should be strengthened.
- The concepts, instructions and policies for the identification and recognition of prior learning should be clarified and the identification of non-formal learning should be enhanced.
- To support students’ individual career plans and implement their choices, the provision of information, advice and guidance to students and the cooperation between education providers should be strengthened.
- Staff should be familiarised sufficiently with personalisation and their competence related to personalisation should be ensured.
- The distribution of work, roles and responsibilities related to personalisation should be clarified and cooperation between staff should be promoted.
- Sufficient resources for personalisation should be ensured.
Publication and press release
- Publication: On vocational pathways – Evaluation of individual study pathways in vocational education and training (in Finnish, summary in English)
- Press release: Good opportunities for individualisation of studies in VET, room for development in including students and working life in the planning of study paths
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The provision of special support in vocational education and training
The provision of special support in vocational education and training was assessed in 2020–2021. Read more about the results of the evaluation here.