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Over the last few years the prominence of, and interest in, e-portfolios in all sectors of education has grown, driven in part by national policy and lifelong and personalised learning initiatives. The picture has often been a complex one, with confusion over what an 'e-portfolio' is. More recently consensus is gathering, and clarity is being brought to the discussions, as our experience with using e-portfolio tools grows.

e-Portfolios: An Overview

Over the last few years the prominence of, and interest in, e-portfolios in all sectors of education has grown, driven in part by national policy and lifelong and personalised learning initiatives. The picture has often been a complex one, with confusion over what an 'e-portfolio' is. More recently consensus is gathering, and clarity is being brought to the discussions, as our experience with using e-portfolio tools grows.

Fundamentally an 'e-portfolio' is the product created by learners, a collection of digital artefacts articulating experiences, achievements and learning The term 'e-Portfolio' often means different things to different people. Fundamentally an 'e-portfolio' is the product created by learners, a collection of digital artefacts articulating experiences, achievements and learning:

'An e-portfolio is a purposeful aggregation of digital items - ideas, evidence, reflections, feedback etc. which 'presents' a selected audience with evidence of a person's learning and/or ability' [1]

Learners create 'presentational' e-portfolios through the use of e-portfolio tools or systems, and in the process (depending on the tools or systems used) can be inherently supported to develop one or more key skills such as collecting, selecting, reflecting, sharing, sharing, collaborating, annotating and presenting (e-portfolio related processes). Descriptions of e-portfolio processes also tend to include the concepts of learners drawing from both informal and and formal learning activities to create their e-portfolios, which are personally managed and owned by the learner, and where items can be selectively shared with other parties such as peers, teachers, assessors or employers [2].

Policy context

e-Portfolios and personal development planning have been prominent concepts in a number of national policy initiatives:  

  • DfES e-Strategy  (2005) proposes a personal online learning space for every learner, which will contribute to an electronic portfolio, building a record of achievement for lifelong learning
  • HEFCE strategy for e-learning  (2005) includes an objective to encourage electronic support for describing learning achievement and personal development planning (PDP)
  • DfES review of fair admissions to HE  (2004) includes a definition of 'fair admissions' drawing on e-portfolios for richer applicant information
  • Burgess scoping report (2004) envisages all HE students using an e-portfolio in the medium term, with students themselves as the translators and conveyors of information about their learning and achievement
  • Burgess final report (2007) recommends the development of a Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR) as the main vehicle for recording student achievement, which is based on the current academic transcript, and incorporates the European Diploma Supplement.
  • QCA blueprint for e-Assessment (2004) proposes by 2009 all awarding bodies should be set up to accept and assess e-portfolios
  • Leitch review of skills  (2006) discusses the need for higher level skills for all, and the provision of a free 'skills health check'
  • Guidelines for HE Progress Files  (2001) prepared by Universities UK, Universities Scotland, the Standing Conference of Principals, the Learning and Teaching Support Network and the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. They propose the PDP element should be operational across the whole HE system and for all HE awards by 2005/6

Lifelong and personalised learning policy drivers propose that all learners should be able to (electronically) develop, record, repurpose and transfer a wide range of information about themselves as they progress through different levels and episoldes of learning, training and employment.

JISC's work in the area

Our aim in this area is to explore and develop effective practice in the use of e-portfolio systems and tools through the co-development of standards and piloting of e-portfolio related technologies and standards. We are working in partnership with other sectors and partners to develop the effective use of e-portfolios to support lifelong and lifewide learning. We also aim to provide guidance for institutions on effective practice in the area where our programmes are learning lessons of use to the wider community, in collaboration with the Higher Education Academy, Becta, JISC Services and other partners as appropriate.

The following resources are available providing an overview of our work in this area (although see link below for a full project listing):

  • Effective Practice with e-Portfolios is the latest in the established series of JISC Effective Practice guides. It focuses especially on the role e-portfolios play in the formative processes of learning – for example, by supporting dialogue with peers and tutors, evaluating and celebrating personal achievements and skills development, and, in the process, engaging learners – and professionals – in more profound reflection on their personal development planning (PDP) and continuing professional development (CPD). The guide investigates the concept of ‘e-portfolio-based learning’ from different perspectives – those of the learner, the practitioner, the institution, a professional body and a potential audience, summarising key points of guidance in each case. Request a copy of the publication
  • e-Portfolios infoKit is a further source of e-portfolio guidance from JISC for the post-16 and higher education sector from JISC infoNet, which has been developed in tandem to the publication. This online resource covers the main drivers, purposes, processes, perspectives and issues around e-portfolio use and gives a valuable synopsis of JISC-funded projects on e-portfolios.
  • Overview paper produced in September 2007 providing an overview of all of the JISC e-portfolio related project activities.
  • Presentation delivered at the Telling Stories e-portfolio conference in 2007, providing an overview of the JISC work around e-portfolios.
  • Briefing paper produced in 2006 summarising the lessons from the MLEs for Lifelong Learning programme
  • CETIS Portfolio Special Interest Group is open to the community with an interest or experience in this area, with a particular focus on supporting an open standards-based approach to e-portfolio tools and systems. They hold regular meetings, have a wiki for resource sharing, and promote community discussion on their mailing list.

JISC-funded projects

JISC funded projects have been investigating a number of issues around the use of e-portfolio tools and systems, and technology supported personal development planning (PDP) in a range of contexts for a range of purposes, including:

  • Supporting application Providing a selection of material for application for admission to study or job
  • Supporting transition Through presenting a richer picture of learners' achievements on application, and in better preparing for the transition to a new environment
  • Supporting learning, teaching and assessment Supporting the assessment of learning, evidencing competencies or standards for summative assessment. Supporting assessment for learning, encouraging learners to present their experiences, achievements and reflections, share with peers, tutors and employers and incorporate feedback into their learning
  • Supporting personal development planning and continuing professional development (CPD) Providing scaffolding to support lifelong learners reflect on their current and completed learning, achievements and experiences, on goals and opportunities, to help guide learning (informal and formal) and professional development over time

These areas of e-portfolio usage are not exhaustive and will inevitably overlap, and are at different stages of maturity.

Further expansion of the contexts above and JISC-funded projects working in these areas

Key e-portfolio resources

 1. Sutherland, S. and Powell, A., 9 July 2007, CETIS Portfolio SIG mailing list discussions

 2. Beetham, H. (2005) 'e-portfolios in post-16 learning in the UK: developments, issues and opportunities'. JISC e-Learning Pedagogy Strand.

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