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Purposes for e-portfolios

Page history last edited by Gordon 12 years, 1 month ago


A major strength of e-portfolios is that they can be used for a range of purposes, including formative feedback and summative assessment, application for employment, professional accreditation, transition between institutions and/or employment, and for less high-stakes purposes such as supporting and recording personal growth and learning. Some examples found within the e-portfolio implementations study were: 

  • Presentational in the form of a CV for an employer
  • Presentational for assessment (both formative and summative) for an academic, a work based mentor or a peer
  • Mapping and evidencing standards and competences in the institution, the workplace etc.
  • Supporting personal development planning involving target setting and reflection on progress
  • Sharing work in progress with others
  • Used as a learning journal
  • Documenting work in progress - like a blog
  • Used to articulate a personal learning journey
  • Used alongside, even to deliver and accredit, short courses
  • Supporting the professional development of staff, eg for accreditation and appraisal


These purposes can be found within the case studies and the video case studies or through the exemplars taster. The blind men and the elephant parable provides an interesting perspective on this aspect and the potential confusion e-portfolios can have for those new to them.


It is because of this diversity of purpose that e-portfolios have enormous potential to impact across an insitution as illuminated by these institutional touchpoints (Sutherland, 2009).


However, within each purpose, there is a range of possible processes that can be involved in developing an e-portfolio, such as information retrieval and selection according to audience, planning, reflection, feedback, collaboration and presentation. It is engagement in these processes that has been found to be the most valued by users (Hartnell-Young et al, 2007). 'Behind any product, or presentation, lie rich and complex processes of planning, synthesising, sharing, discussing, reflecting, giving, receiving and responding to feedback. These processes -  referred to as 'e-portfolio-based learning' - are the focus of increasing attention since the process of learning can be as important as the end product.' JISC (2008), Effective Practice with e-Portfolios


The distinction between purpose or context of portfolio use and the processes involved in portfolio development is often confused in the literature. Figure 1 provides a means of (i) illuminating the diversity of e-portfolio contexts/purposes and processes, and (ii) distinguishing between them.  




Information retrieval













Personal Development Planning/

Continuing Professional Development







Work Based Learning/

















Figure 1: The portfolio purpose-process matrix (the purpose and process lists are not meant to be inclusive but merely indicative of their diversity)


The very flexibility of e-portfolios can cause confusion with different practitioners thinking they are discussing the same practice when in fact the puposes and the processes involved in their contexts are quite different. Interestingly the term e-portfolio may not be used by practitioners who may instead refer to  processes of collaboration, reflection, presentation and so on.  Institutions within the e-portfolio implementations study tended to use the name of the e-portfolio tool, eg PebblePad, Mahara etc. or Myportfolio, in preference to the term 'e-portfolio'.


It should also be noted that there are available a variety of e-portfolio tools, some of which support a wide range of these purposes and processes, eg PebblePad and Mahara, and others which support more specific functions, such as the competence mapping tools used in vocational courses and InFolio designed to support learners with learning difficulties. The choice of tool is discussed further in the guidance How do we decide which e-portfolio to use?


This multiplicity of purposes and processes which e-portfolios can serve not only signifies their value in supporting and evidencing learning across an institution but also provides a clue as to the complexity involved in implementation as compared to a VLE - this is discussed in the next section How e-portfolios and VLEs differ.



Hartnell-Young, E., Harrison, C., Crook, C., Joyes, G., Davies, L. & Fisher, T. (2007). The Impact of e-portfolios on Learning. Coventry, UK: British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta)

Sutherland, S. (2009).  Institutional touch points  http://bit.ly/InstitutionalTouchPoints [Accessed 7 March 2012] [Link truncated, original available via PebblePad website].


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