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How e-portfolios and VLEs differ

Page history last edited by Gordon 9 years, 11 months ago


Why is e-portfolio implementation likely to be any more complex than the introduction of a VLE? Key reasons are because e-portfolios are student-centred, potentionally transformative and disruptive and also can be used for very different purposes within the same institution. It is important to note that e-portfolio introduction usually requires some changes to approaches to teaching and learning and that the major benefits are for the learners who may be resistant to their use initially as this student-centred approach to learning can be seen as more effortful for them.


  • e-Portfolios are student-centred: 

One way of thinking about this is to consider why institutions have considered e-portfolios central to supporting Personal Development Planning, for example the University of Wolverhampton, and to support employability as part of the development of graduate attributes, for example the University of Edinburgh and Southampton Solent University. Would they consider the VLE in this way? This highlights the fact that e-portfolios contain an inbuilt student-centred pedagogy. A VLE can have student-centred learning activities designed within it, but learning activities that involve e-portfolios must be student-centred as they are owned by the student.  (If you are  interested in developing a deeper understanding of what is meant by student-centredness and the relationship between teaching and learning and technologies see Mary Thorpe's paper.)


  • e-Portfolios are transformative and hence potentially disruptive: 

That e-portfolios are student-centred means they are transformative from a pedagogic perspective and potentially disruptive, especially wherever teaching and learning in Higher Education has remained lecturer-centred. Equally what has tended to be valued, and therefore assessed, has traditionally been learning defined within the confines of the face to face and/or online classroom. e-Portfolios open up scope both for new ways of assessing learning and for new contexts in which more diverse forms of learning take place, supported not just by tutors, but also by peers and by mentors in work placements - see the Purposes for e-portfolios section and the Exemplars taster for a discussion of  the range of the contexts and purposes. This means the tool an institution adopts needs to allow learners to have both 'private' views and views that they proactively share with others, be it within the institution or the workplace. In addition, learners will want to capture information from a variety of sources and in a variety of contexts.  


Not only is the multi-locational functionality of the e-portfolio difficult to achieve within an institutional VLE but learners are not going to 'own' their e-portfolios if their personal learning space can also be 'owned' by their lecturer or institution, nor will they 'own' it if it is wiped at the end of the module or course, as is often the case with the VLE.  In addition, the fact that e-portfolios can be used in non-institutional settings to support work-based learning, field work, volunteering etc, adds to their value, but not without technical, pedagogic and support issues to resolve. A good discussion of some of these issues in relation to FE colleges is provided by Geoff Rebbeck, as presented within the Thanet College case study and in the Thanet College video case study.


Implications for professional development 

It cannot be assumed that practitioners will understand the implications of the above. Those new to e-portfolios have been found to hold a range of presuppositions about e-portfolio use which represent barriers to implementation (Joyes, Hartnell-Young & Gray, 2010).  Practitioners must consider carefully the ways they integrate an e-portfolio tool into their courses if it is to have educational value. The nature of the professional development offered needs to be sensitive to this, recognising that this will be need to be more than an offer of technical support. That there are many different purposes and processes that can be potentially involved means that a simple one-size-fits-all solution is not possible. However, it appears that there are five key principles that need to be considered for successful implementation by practitioners. These are:


  • Purpose needs to be aligned to context to maximise benefits: Some contexts suit some purposes more than others and this needs to be determined by an analysis of the benefits (and costs) of the purpose in that particular context
  • Learning activity/ies need to be designed to suit the purpose: There must be a conscious design and support of a learning activity/activities suited to the purpose and the context
  • Processes need to be supported technologically and pedagogically: The processes involved in the creation of an e-portfolio in the particular context must be understood by both learners and practitioners, and both technical and pedagogic support needs to be provided
  • Ownership needs to be student centred: The e-portfolio processes and outcomes need to be owned by the learner
  • Transformation (disruption) needs to be planned for: e-portfolios are potentially transformative and as a result can be disruptive from a pedagogic, technological and an institutional perspective because they tend not to fit exactly within existing systems


It appears that an experiential implementation journey is a necessary prerequisite for developing a contextualised understanding and achieving successful e-portfolio adoption. For a summary of the most common presuppositions about e-portfolios and the ways in which the threshold concepts can illuminate reasons for problems in implementing e-portfolios see threshold concepts.


The five principles (or threshold concepts) form the basis of the implementation model that can be found within the guidance section of the toolkit.



Joyes, G., Gray, L. & Hartnell-Young,E. (2010). Effective Practice with e-Portfolios: how can the UK experience inform implementation? Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 26(1) 15-27. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet26/joyes.html [Accessed 7 March 2012]. 

Thorpe, M. (2010). Philosophies and theories at the basis of student-centered educational models. In: XV Congress on Technology and Distance Education: Challenges and Innovations of Higher Education Faced with 21st Century Students, 3-5 Nov 2010, Universidad Estatal Distancia, San Jose, Costa Rica.


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