Reflections on the concept of Individualised Pathways in Education
Aune Valk and Pat Davies

EQUIPE – European Quality in Indvidualised learning Pathways in Education - is a project put together by EUCEN in response to a call from the European Commission for proposals under the Grundtvig programme in 2002/3. The phrase - individualised learning pathways - came from the call document but was not defined clearly. Our proposal for a Grundtvig 4 network focussing on quality in university lifelong learning (ULLL), argued that adults in LLL programmes in universities tend to have different needs, motivations and expectations from young people in the mainstream of university provision but also that, even in the same course or programme they would also be more heterogenous than the young people who enter university from secondary education. Their heterogenity and the flexible responses that university develop to meet their needs mean that there are implications for quality assurance which do not necessarily apply to the mainstream provision.

In order to clarify these issues we set out below some refelctions on the concept of an individualised learning pathway and their implications for qualtiy assurance.

* Indvidual differences of learners

In some sense every pathway in education is individualised. People come to the learning process with their individual motives, intentions, expectations, previous knowledge, experiences from previous learning processes etc and they interact with the teaching process in different ways. Thus, whichever way the education process is organised (big groups in class-room or self-study at home), the way through it, is a unique experience. Taking into account the variety of previous experiences of adult learners compared to recent secondary school leavers, learning pathways of adults are expected to more individualised compared to ordinary students because they bring to it a wider range of life and work experience. If we take into account the validation of non-formal and informal learning as a substitute for the traditional entry qualifications then the difference in expereince that learners bring to their study is even greater.

The main question for quality assurance is how much teachers, curriculum, study methods and so on are able to exploit these individual differences and use them as a means of enhancing learning for both the indivual and the group, turning them into a plus rather than a minus (which is also a possibility). It is also a question how conscious learners are of their learning motives and already existing knowledge – how reflective they are as learners.

* Individualised curriculum

There can be an individualised curriculum that allows to be flexibly modified according to learners previous knowledge, intentions etc. This flexibility can take many forms. At one end of the spectrum is a completely individualised project which is supervised on a one ot one basis by a teacher or trainer, where the student structures his/her own curriculum of study and practice within a general framework defined by the university. At the other end is a standard programme with one or two options. In between these two is a range of possibilities. Overlaid on this flexibility of curriculum is the additional complexity of validation of non-formal and informal learning which may exempt individuals from part or in some cases all of the study programme but lead to the same diploma as others who have studied in the traditional way.

The main question for quality assurance is how systematic these individual choices are and what are the limits of flexibility. For example, at what point does an indivudal curriculum becoem a diffetrnet diploma and what qualification should be given when finishing the studies. Quality in the curriculum for adults impliers flexiblity of provision but it also involves a high level of academic counselling, advice and guidance and in addition and a system of monitoring progress that is different from that for traditional students.

* Individual learning process

In distance and open universities, learning was, especially before the internet era but still is to a large extent, very much an individual process. People study at home on their own with study materials that are developed bearing in mind an individual learner. Study process might include time to time meetings in study groups or just academic councelling but in any event the process of learning is very different from fave to facwe learning in a classroom, where regular meetings with peers and teachers help to keep motivation, construct knowledge and build structured process that promote self-discipline. The problems for quality arise from the a loss or lack of motivation and self-discipline that frequently produce high drop-out rates in distance education. Many people see learning as a social process, therefore self study is in its essence problematic.

Key questions for quality are: the quality of the learning materials, the use of technical (or other) opportunities for bringing individual learners together via e.g. on-line discussions, audio/videoconferences etc, and the selection or pre-training of learners.


All these dimensions of individual learning pathways require new roles and skills for teachers and the inclusion of new professionals in the teaching and learning process. The issues for quality are therefore the provision of training and support for teachers, the provision of new resources and equipment, and the addition of other experts – technicians, designers, advisors, - to the teaching team.

We welcome any comments and arguments about this papaer – it is designed to launch a discussion not to be a definitive defintion. So please send comments or arguments to the Equipe address:
We will post any comments on the website.