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A Place to Call Our Own
Personal, online learning spaces through eportfolios

By Allison Miller / February 2012

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Learning has been flipped on its head, with second-hand learning experiences now being converted to first-hand discovery experiences through experiential and problem-based learning [1]. It is commonly recognized that learning no longer occurs only in classrooms; approximately 70 percent of learning occurs in the workplace and in the community as informal learning [2].

These flipped and informal learning experiences require self-directed learners. However self-directed learning is not synonymous with self-managed learning. This means we will always need the guidance and facilitation of learning curators—educators, mentors, and workplace learning and development managers [3, 4].

This also means as we experience this ongoing development we will need somewhere to house the evidence of our lifelong learning—a place we can call our own, which is not necessarily attached to any formal learning organization or workplace. And unlike Facebook or LinkedIn, this place needs to be where we can store personal and private information, as well as stuff we want to share with the world without having to be whim of changing privacy setting or a "bare all of nothing" scenario. This place is known as a personal, online learning space or an electronic portfolio (eportfolio).

Eportfolios allow individuals to store digital evidence—text, screen capture, photos, video and/or audio—of their lifelong, learning journey in a format that can be reused for a variety of purposes. The idea is to capture content through the use of the personal device they carry with them e.g., a mobile phone or tablet or similar technology[5].

Eportfolios are beginning to be used to help individuals gain employment, entry into a course, or earn a promotion. Collecting digital evidence of existing skills through an eportfolio is helping people gain credit toward a qualification or fast track training to get their qualification quicker. Eportfolios are also being used to demonstrate continuous professional development for professional accreditation or occupational licensing requirements, support performance management and personal learning plans, and/or record an individual's learning journey.

Demonstrating Evidence of Workplace Skills

Running a business is an expensive venture, having valuable staff involved in off-the-job training can reduce productivity. Traineeships and apprenticeships can be offered a lot of on-the-job learning where the learning experience can be captured on the go using point-of-view devices and mobile phones, enabling employees to record and demonstrate their newly acquired skills. These recordings are then uploaded to the individual's eportfolio for their supervisor to validate and their teacher to assess in a timely and convenient manner. This allows the employee to remain on the job, the supervisor not to be disrupted during peak periods, and the assessor to reduce their travel time.

Individuals looking to gain credit toward a qualification by applying for recognition of prior learning (RPL) or skills recognition of existing skills and knowledge can benefit from the eportfolio model. In some cases this means that an individual can gain a whole qualification without ever having to attend a class or step foot on a campus. This method however still requires the rigorous assessment of evidence.

Eportfolios are being used to provide examples and templates of the types of evidence an RPL candidate presents to demonstrate skill and experience. The RPL candidate, either through documents or digital recordings, gathers this evidence to then upload into their eportfolio for their supervisor to validate and for the assessor to determine whether the RPL candidate has the required skills and knowledge and/or provide feedback along the way. Facilitated conversations, an important part of the RPL process, can also be recorded via Skype or synchronous virtual meeting space and uploaded to the eportfolio. This is a far cry from the days where boxes and boxes of paperwork had to be taken to a campus to demonstrate your prior experience.

Accreditation/Continuing Professional Development Skills

More and more professions are requiring individuals to demonstrate continuous or continuing professional development (CPD). CPD is the ongoing maintenance and broadening of an individual's knowledge, skills, and experiences for validation by a third party—either an employer, a professional association, or occupational licensing body. Eportfolios are being used to support the CPD process as well as streamline the evidencing process through the development of online "CPD Action Plans." As an individual undertakes any professional development, they upload the details and evidences into their CPD Action Plan. The eportfolio then keeps track of the individual's CPD "points" and reminds the individual of any outstanding requirements, which they have set up in their CPD Action Plan.

Supporting Performance Management, Career Pathways and Promotions

Ongoing professional and personal development is not only important for an individual but it is also important for their organization, their industry, and the economy. Organizational HR strategies such as performance management processes and promotional career pathways are used to encourage the ongoing development (and retention) of staff for better individual and business outcomes. Eportfolios are being used to support these strategies through individual performance management plans—in which individuals demonstrate their improved skills and abilities as part of their performance management process—at the same time individuals have the opportunity to use this collected evidence via their eportfolio to demonstrate they have the essential requirements for moving up the career progression ladder. This way, the eportfolio provides an incentive to collect evidence for performance management beyond just a business requirement.

Supporting Personal Learning Plans

Although it is recognized that lifelong learning is an important process, for most individuals this needs to be a carefully planned, managed, and supported process. In recognition of this learners are being supported to develop and achieve individual or personal learning plans (PLPs). PLPs are just that, plans which are developed by individuals, with the support of an experienced learning curator (e.g. educator, student support, supervisor, mentors etc.), to help them achieve their personal and/or career goals.

Eportfolios are being used to facilitate this process so individuals, and their learning support network, can monitor the progress of the PLP. Aspects of an individual's PLP can then be used to demonstrate skills and abilities for obtaining a job and/or entry into a course. Workers can continue to develop their self-esteem; their accumulated achievements and their progress of learning becomes a reality through self-reflective, lifelong learning.

Eportfolios, as personal, online learning spaces, offer people many ways to manage their learning. They encourage and help people develop the skills required to be self-directed learners who can interact with their personal learning networks through shared and collaborative learning experiences. This collection of everyday learning experiences captured through digital recorded evidence and uploaded into an eportfolio is enabling the recognition and reward of all our lifelong learning, as well as providing a platform for supporting the ongoing development of individuals.

About the Author

Allison Miller has been involved in education and training for nearly 20 years as an educator, professional development, and eLearning leader. She is the director and principal consultant of Vanguard Visions Consulting, which specializes in cutting edge eLearning and e-assessment solutions and research services to help businesses improve their performance by developing a culture of ongoing development. Miller also manages national eLearning projects for the National VET E-learning Strategy and is also the convenor of the national ePortfolios Australia Conference. To learn more about eportfolios and supporting the ongoing development of individuals follow the Vanguard Visions Consulting "Looking to the Future" blog, written by Miller.


1. McCain, T, Jukes, I, and Crockett, L,. Education and the role of the educator in the future. Education Technology Solutions 44 (2011), 38-46.

2. Center for Workforce Development. The Teaching Firm: Where Productive Work and Learning Converge. Newton, MA, 1998.

3. Goleman, D., Boyatzis R, and McKee, A,. Primal leadership: Learning to lead with emotional intelligence. Harvard Business School Publishing. Boston, MA, 2002.

4. Malamed, C. Learning technology trends to watch in 2012. January 3, 2012. Retrieved from the eLearning Coach

5. Miller, A. ONeill, O,. Supporting successful learning pathways using e-portfolios and mobile devices. Paper presented at the AVETRA 2011, Melbourne.

© 2012 ACM 1535-394X/12/02 $10.00

DOI: 10.1145/2129230.2141511


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