Skip to main content

Personal Learning Plans


In the LINCS Youth and Adult Pathways (YAP) micro-group, Jessica Queener has called attention to this interesting development in some grades in public schools in Vermont that may be of interest to people in the Disabilities in Adult Education CoP. Jessica wrote: "The Vermont Department of Education is encouraging all students to begin thinking about career planning and development by incorporating personalized learning plans. Students can include possible college courses and internship opportunities into their plans. They have launched a website for students, teachers, and families to learn more about personalized learning plans.  To learn more about this program, please go to: They plan to roll out the program in the fall for 7th and 9th graders. Eventually, other grades will participate in this program."

From the article: "Gov. Peter Shumlin, who is dyslexic, told the assembled CVU students and staff he wished he had access to such a planning and learning program. 'The idea here is -- whether you are dyslexic like me and don’t learn traditionally or whether you excel traditionally or whether you’re somewhere in the middle -- our job is to have an educational system where everybody succeeds and everybody learns to their potential,' he said. "

I like this idea because it values goal-setting and career planning and counseling, and because it appears to be "universal design," that is, useful for people with disabilites, and for everyone.

I wonder if you think we should have personal learning/career plans in adult education, or if you have good examples of where this is happening now, and where all adult learners, including those with disabilities, are included.

David J. Rosen


RKenyon's picture

Hi David,

I enjoy reading your posts.  They always give me something to think about.

Personalized learning plans are often used with adult students who have disabilities even though there is no federal law requiring them.  In my program, they were called Adult Individualized Education Plans (AIEP).  

In K-12, they are called Individualized Education Plans (or Programs, or something similar to this terminology).  When a child receives special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is required by the federal law,  The IEP is a very important written document listing the special educational services that the child will receive.  Components include 1) present levels of performance, 2) appropriate placement/service delivery model, 3) accommodations or modifications, and others. The IEP is developed by a team that includes the child’s parents, school staff, and often the child.

According to IDEA, all children with disabilities between the ages of 3-21 are entitled to a free, appropriate public education to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.

I have worked with states where even though there was no state law requiring it, individual counties or even programs required the use of personalized learning plans for adult students with disabilities.

I am inviting members that work in such programs to tell us about their individualized plans. Please include the actual plan document under the tab "Document."

I am very much in favor of the use of these plans.  And, I have found that whatever works for students with disabilities works just as well for all students in general.  I think it would be very beneficial for use in adult education programs.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME 



jshanley's picture

HI - To reitterate what Rochelle is saying.....on the Youth and Adult Pathways Career Counseling Microgroup in January - we focused on ILPs for students as a tool for building career plans. ILPs are NOT IEPs! ILPs are not synonomous with ILPs....Students with disabilities must have an IEP under IDEA - but, also can have an ILP as a tool in supporting their career plans and goals.

Curtis Richards from the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) discussed the difference between IEPs and ILPs during a webinar he conducted for the YAP group. Really interesting discussion - and we have a recording of the webinar.

The recording of the third YAP event is now available for viewing. All materials presented and referenced during the webinar are available for download from the Documents section of the Youth and Adult Pathways microgroup on LINCS.

Link to View Webinar:

Please look at these materials, and the other tools posted to the YAP site as a way to understand the distinctions and purposes.


Judy Shanley, Ph.D.

Easter Seals

Youth and Adult Pathways, Career Counseling Microgroup



David J. Rosen's picture

Hi Rochelle and others,

Thanks, Rochelle. What interested me about the Vermont PLPs is that they seem to focus not only education- but also occupational and career knowledge and experience. I am wondering if adult educators are using PLPs (with all their students) that are focused not only on students' immediate education goals, high school equivalency, and post-secondary education, but equally so on occupational knowledge and career choices. Anyone know of some good examples?

David J. Rosen

Dr. Robin's picture

David, Rochelle and others-- I am surprised that Laura Weisel has not yet chimed in on this discussion. Personal Learning Plans are the heart and purpose of PowerPath, the program Laura has developed for adult education learners.  Laura has deep experience with this concept and has developed extremely effective and easy-to-use plans that literally transform students' lives by giving them clarity of purpose and process and a very structured, easy to use plan that is reviewed and renewed often.  The learning plan is entirely in the hands of the learner, who is guided to using it by teachers trained to teach them.  It includes creating concrete steps for reaching immediate goals--very immediate goals, as in words learned to spell in this week--  as well as positioning immediate goals into the larger picture of long term educational OR vocational goals or both.  

I know many programs around the country use Powerpath--lots in Kentucky.  I hope someone from these programs will add to this discussion about the effectiveness of Personal Learning Plans.  Maybe Laura herself has some good data on their use, too, and can explain them in more detail.  

Robin Lovrien

Laura Weisel's picture

Hi – Robin Lovrien alluded to my work in developing the concept and purpose of student learning plans.  My colleagues and I have been experimenting with how to engage students in learning to plan for themselves (and/or with peers).  We have continually analyzed successful learners and how they do what they do to be successful.  We've identified that successful learners are not dependent on teachers to tell them what to do, how to do it, nor how to manage the PROCESS of learning.  The same is true for successful employees who are not dependent on their supervisors.

Time management isn’t great for any of us, but for the adult basic education student (like students in special education, in an at-risk programs, placed in Developmental Education and/or Transition courses, and clients in the workforce development population, i.e., TANF and unemployed) figuring out the tasks and timelines for completing tasks is pretty awful.  Not being able to manage time and tasks is a great part of what keeps these learners dependent on instructors and workplace supervisors.

Dependency and co-dependency is not good for growing successful students or successful workers as it establishes a hierarchical structure that does not foster building insight, taking ownership or being responsible, building personal pride, or developing social capital skills.  But it does foster the growth of people that do as they are told i.e., follow orders, people that are an underclass, passive aggressive behaviors, and people that will rely others to tell them what to do.  In an era of adult education focusing on college and careers – adult educators need to be thinking long and hard about how we can build better learners who are college and career ready – and it is beyond delivering the common core standards and infusing career pathways.

We know that metacognitive skills, frontal lobe functioning, is focused on:

• Planning

• Organizing

• Carrying out behaviors

• Identifying tasks

• Setting priorities

• Using judgement

• Being strategic

• Managing time and (a key piece) reflecting on what you did….

• Evaluating yourself, and then…

• Learning from one situation and applying to the next situation.

These skills develop naturally and mature at about 25 years of age.  This is the ‘normal’ age.  Metacogntive functions do not develop naturally by this age for a person who has been living in a mode of survival, with limited resources, who is frustrated, angry, not feeling empowered, has traumatic past memories of learning and school, and has personally had major health, mental health and/or substance abuse issues.

The issue of having students create their OWN learning plans is a complex task with many complex issues that need to be addressed.  In the current research there is a LOT of talk about the absolute and the vital need to grow successful learners who can become successful workers, but there is also a void in research-tested and viable options for training these skills. 

Before thinking about lesson planning (in VT, NH, and elsewhere) we need to be sure of our purpose(s).  If you don’t include as a purpose moving students from being a dependent learner to becoming an independent (or a healthy interdependent learner) as part of the purpose, if you are not purposefully and explicitly training students to collaborate and co-create a learning plan with peers (research is pretty clear that students learn more from their peers then they do from instructors), and if you are not working to build in an organized, supportive, highly repetitive and structured process for the skills needed to create learning plans, then implementing any approach to adopt learning plans will probably not hit the desired mark.

This is a highly sophisticated process and adult educators have rarely been trained in these techniques.  Having students create their own learning plans often flies in the face of traditional ‘teacher made lesson plans’ and it often threatens teachers for fear they are loosing power and control.  It takes time to learn to train these key skills that transform a dependent learning situation into an independent (or healthy interdependent) learning situation.  This process calls for a lot of rethinking HOW curriculum is transferred from a set of skills and knowledge that are ‘teacher taught/teacher-led’ to HOSTING learning by creating the most conducive learning environment for the individuals we serve….and supporting each student to become a successful learner who can plan their own learning.

My colleagues and I have created a metacogntive training process and ‘write your own lesson plans’ that models cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In other words, we are consciously helping students build the neuro pathways that can shift ‘conscious steps for planning and organizing’ into rote knowing how to learn and manage learning anything.  In addition, we focus on shifting mindsets from ‘fixed’ to ‘growth’.  We call this process SMARTER.  Everyone wants to be SMARTER and so the training literally trains – and frames all of the curriculum – in the steps that align with the acronym.  It has taken 23 years to get to the point that I is research-supported and working.

In programs that we partner with, we establish a new front end – a StartSMART Course (previously referred to as a Success Course).  In this course, students are not ‘oriented’ but instead are engaged in learning about themselves as learners, making friends, and practicing the knowledge and skills that will help them become a successful learner.  So, students learn, practice, model, and are modeled SMARTER Planning.  THEN – and only after completing the pre-course – are students assigned to classes or class times in which they will be integrated into classes where instructors and students are already doing SMARTER Planning.

In our YouTube video called, PowerPath to Education and Employment’,, students from Santa Fe Community College's ABE program talk about the value of their Personal Learning Plans on their learning and life (now called SMARTER Plans).

Any further questions about SMARTER Planning, of if you’d like to chat with instructors using SMARTER Planning, please contact me at

Laura Weisel, Ph.D., Research and Innovation

The TLP Group, PO Box 21510, Columbus, OH  43221  •  614.850.8677



Robin's picture

David, your suggestion is right on. In K-12 systems, PLP’s, Portfolios etc… exist for students with disabilities.  In some school systems, the introduction of CTE into k-12 instruction has caused consideration of producing a serious career testing track in an attempt to “make sure” the expensive CTE instruction is really what the student wants and can develop the skills for success in.

If applied in Adult Ed, I think the benefit would be significant. I have instituted small versions of case management, career exploration and tutoring in adult vocational ed for students with disabilities and the students without disabilities started to show up in counselors offices wanting to participate.  ( some even complained that it was discriminatory practice to not allow “non-disabled” students access to the services) As most of us know, the elements of a PLP can be instituted in adult ed with little or no expense. Just policy change.  If you are going to “contextualize” adult ed instruction, you need to have a platform or direction from which to build the instruction.  A PLP can easily be that platform.  Without a systematic, consistent process designed to inform students and instructional design, we may be limiting the effectiveness of any contextualization of adult ed curriculum.  In Florida, the Florida Literacy Collation developed a tutoring course that they will implement in adult ed programs if requested. The content was designed on data developed by the State on building success in adult ed. Not surprising, significant time and effort in the tutoring program is built on career exploration and relating it to adult education curriculum and success in employment. 

RKenyon's picture

Hi Robin,

In your response above, you used the word "portfolio."  The topic of portolio assessment is an interesting one that no one has discussed as yet.  I will carry this new topic over into its own discussion strand so I invite you to respond to this topic from the Discussions page.

I appreciate your thought-provoking contributions, Robin.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME



Michelle Carson's picture

David and others,

I just posted this to another thread and thought I would share about this resource here in this discussion as well.  

"I wanted to highlight a resource developed as part of the Designing Instruction for Career Pathways project for OCTAE that is available through the LINCS course portal.  The Integrating Career Counseling and Planning in Adult Education course is available for free and teaches you how to implement an individual career development plan...the majority of adult education students entering a program are either employed and wanting to keep their job or improve it or are unemployed and looking for a career.  I think contextualizing academic planning within career planning is critical for the total future success of our students."

Check out the course on the LINCS site!