Compiling a “Personal Learning Portfolio”

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Anyone intending to take the BOHS Certificate oral examination to achieve the Certificate of Operational Competence in Occupational Hygiene who has taken one or more of the International Modules is now required to submit a “personal learning portfolio” (PLP). This is meant to be a reflective record of continuing learning through:

  • Relevant practical experience in the workplace
  • Continuing enhancement of knowledge through reading of relevant books and articles, attendance of meetings, conferences etc.

Students can register for their PLP at any point from when they have achieved their first Module, and then submit their PLP within three years of completion of all six Modules. Candidates can’t take the oral examination unless their PLP has passed muster.

PLPs also have to be submitted by candidates who are exempt from the Faculty’s written exams for the Certificate and the Diploma because they have an accredited degree.

I attended the BOHS Associates day a few weeks ago and there were a couple of presentations about the PLP by Terry MacDonald, who, until recently, was the BOHS Chief Examiner and the main driving force behind the introduction of the PLP. Copies of the slides he used are up on the BOHS website here

I’ve had a number of queries about the PLP from people who have gone through our courses. And from reading the guidance, listening to the presentation at the Associates day and discussions I’ve had with some candidates who have been successful in having their PLPs accepted, I’m now beginning to understand what’s required.

Candidates who have completed 6 International Modules need to submit three example reports and a number of sheets recording their additional learning and application of knowledge. In other cases the PLP only needs to cover the International (W) Modules taken and not any of the now defunct “M” Modules.

There are two types of sheet:

  • Experience Record Sheets should contain brief details of surveys or other activities where the knowledge from the Modules is applied and where lessons are learned in the field. Essentially, following on from an appropriate survey, students should provide brief details of what the work involved and then list the key things they’ve learned both from things they feel they’d done well but also the things they hadn’t done so well and would do differently next time – i.e. showing how they had learned from their mistakes as well as their successes.
  • Additional Learning Sheets which record what has been learned by reading relevant books and articles, or by attending meetings, conferences etc. Again  students must reflect on what they have learned and provide a brief summary.

But how many sheets need to be included? It is difficult to say but  the PLP should cover at least 6 months after the module course. I would suggest that  1 or 2 sheets per month  would be needed to demonstrate learning over that period so 6 to 12 sheets per module is probably be enough – but quality is more important than quantity and at the Associates day the impression I got was that and average of 6 per module (so about 36 in all) would be enough.

The sheets don’t necessarily have to be evenly balanced across all the modules. The 4 core subjects are more important so fewer will be needed for the optional modules (i.e. thermals and ergonomics).  And a single sheet can cover more than one module – e.g a particular job may count towards effects, measurement and control.

With topics like the thermal environment, many candidates may only have limited experience of direct application of the principles. However, they can get round the problem by reflecting on the issue even if they don’t have the opportunity to undertake a survey. For example, I was discussing the PLP with someone recently who was using a dust survey in a quarry as the basis for one of his experience sheets. I suggested he could reflect on the thermal environment aspects of working in a quarry and jot down something about this. That should count as it would still be application of learning even if no measurements were involved.

Compiling a PLP can be a chore if it’s left until the end of the period of study just before taking the oral examination. The best approach is to work on it regularly. For example at the end of each month, or even each week, stopping and thinking about anything new that has been done, any relevant books, documents  or articles read, or any meetings attended, and deciding whether there is anything that could be written up and included on one of the sheets. In that way the PLP can help with personal and professional development as well as increasing the chance of passing the oral examination.

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