Good opportunities for individualisation of studies in VET, room for development in including students and working life in the planning of study paths

Vocational education Johanna Kiesi

In vocational education and training (VET), study paths are mainly implemented individually. However, students are not entirely familiar with all the options available regarding the personalisation of studies. All aspects of student’s existing competence are not yet identified and taken into account sufficiently as part of the qualification. More support should also be provided to students to enable them to set objectives for their studies to support their career. In addition, it is important to ensure that both the teaching and guidance staff and the workplace instructors have enough time and competence for guiding students.

The Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC) has evaluated the implementation of individual study paths in VET. Increasing individualisation, flexibility and student orientation has been the objective of the reform of VET that entered into force in 2018. A personally planned study path enables students to reach the objectives of the qualification in a way that best suits them. When they study only topics in which they do not yet have competence, they will also complete the qualification faster.

Evaluation data was gathered by sending national surveys to VET providers and teaching and guidance staff and by conducting interviews with students and working life representatives. In addition, feedback from national student and working life surveys and the register data related to individual study paths were used.

The studies are planned individually, but too little attention is paid to the importance that the choices made by students have on their vocational path

A key tool in the planning of individual study paths is the student’s personal competence development plan. According to the evaluation results, the plans are drawn up on time and they are updated in the course of the studies. However, the personal plan is too often seen by students and the teaching and guidance staff as a technical performance at the expense of its pedagogical importance. In this case, filling in the form assumes the central role instead of reflection on the student’s goals and means of achieving them.

“Individual planning of the study path is aimed at enabling students to move towards their own vocational goals. As yet, students are not sufficiently explained how they can themselves influence the planning of the studies and how important their choices are for their career,” says Senior Evaluation Advisor Johanna Kiesi.

Sufficient attention is not always paid to students’ different guidance and support needs

Currently, the initial stage of studies is planned in largely the same way for all students. However, this does not serve the students as their backgrounds and needs are different. The workload of the teaching and guidance staff may also increase when students’ personal competence development plans require them to go through a wide range of matters.

“Students’ background and needs should be better taken into account in the content and different stages of planning the studies, and guidance should be timed more accurately. For example, students who do not have prior study or work experience should primarily focus on matters that support engagement in studies and vocational orientation at the initial stage of the studies,” explains Counsellor of Evaluation Jani Goman.

Educational institutions should also ensure that their staff have enough time and competence for individual planning of studies and for guiding and supporting the students. Furthermore, the effects of the guidance and support measures should be monitored more than currently.

The student’s prior learning is determined, but there is room for development in taking this learning into account as part of the qualification

Students’ existing competence is well mapped in the studies, and it is used to plan what kind of competence they still need. However, the different kinds of prior learning are not all fully identified and taken sufficiently into account yet as part of the qualification. For example, more ways of determining the learning acquired at work or in hobbies are required. It may also be difficult to assess whether the learning acquired by the student a long time ago is still up to date and meets the requirements for current studies.

“To be able to take into account students’ prior learning equally in different situations and educational institutions, we need clarification of instructions both at the national level and at the level of educational institutions,” says Goman.

Work-based learning increases individuality but requires closer cooperation with workplaces

It is possible to individualise studies in VET, for example, with studies from general upper secondary education or higher education. However, students are not entirely familiar with all the options, such as selecting studies from other qualifications. Communication about the opportunities for choice should therefore be increased, in addition to which scheduling and other practical matters should be organised in such a way that the choices made by students can be implemented.

Education provided at the workplace in conjunction with practical work tasks also offers opportunities to individualise the student’s study path. The planning of on-the-job learning periods as part of students’ study paths is realised fairly well. On the other hand, students’ work tasks do not always meet the objectives of the qualification and the workplace instructors have not necessarily been familiarised sufficiently with the guidance of students.

“Individual study paths also create competence required in working life. It is therefore important that educational institutions carry out close cooperation with working life so that the student’s goals and the needs of working life can be better reconciled,” says Kiesi.


Kiesi, J., Goman, J., Huhtanen, M., Helve, H., Laine, A., Piilonen, H., Raudasoja, A., Ståhl, B., Vartiainen, R. 2022. On vocational pathways – Evaluation of individual study pathways in vocational education and training. Finnish Education Evaluation Centre. Publications 26:2022.

Further information

  • Senior Evaluation Advisor Johanna Kiesi,
  • Counsellor of Evaluation Jani Goman,
  • Methodological questions: Senior Evaluation Advisor Mari Huhtanen,
  • Evaluation’s web page