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ePortfolios: The Revival of a Powerful Tool for Lifelong Learning

Co-Written with Christine Walti | Adjunct Instructor, University of Maryland University College

ePortfolios: The Revival of a Powerful Tool for Lifelong Learning
Creating a web space to fully track one’s academic progress from cradle to grave is unrealistic, but tracking major learning accomplishments throughout a higher education and career is highly feasible.

Lorenzo and Ittelson define ePortfolios as “a digitized collection of artifacts, including demonstrations resources, and accomplishments that represent an individual, group, community, organization, or institution. This collection can be comprised of text-based, graphic, or multimedia elements archived on a Web site or on other electronic media such as CD-ROM or DVD.”[1]

ePortfolios serve the purpose of assessment of competencies, skills and knowledge; showcase and evidence abilities and achievements in specific areas; and promote reflection of one’s development and learning. [2], [3]

The growing interest in ePortfolios is “fuelled by three broad factors: the dynamics of functioning in a knowledge economy, the changing nature of learning, and the changing needs of the learner.”[4] In the knowledge economy, knowledge is of primary value and represents “opportunities for employment and access to education.” [5] The change in learning approaches is also a current trend. Learning is no longer restricted to formal education, but is seen as a process that endures throughout life. ePortfolios are tools that support the concept of lifelong learning and learner-centered approaches to education. Since learners have become more technically proficient, IT plays a social role. Thus, the use of ePortfolios is supported by the widespread use of Internet-based tools in everyday life.

The diversity of systems and technologies at both infrastructure and functionality levels characterizes the field of ePortfolio development today. With the growth of web applications that support users in content creation, the landscape of technologies is changing quickly. Moreover, not-for-profit organizations, educational institutions and corporations have stepped into this market with different goals, but also shared interests. In many cases, such projects have crossed the borders: off-the-shelf tools have been incorporated into fully-fledged systems, generic software applications have been backed up by consortia creating customizable features, and diverse groups have joined forces towards the definition of standards and common functionalities, which are still one of the main challenges to adopting ePortfolios.

Web 2.0 tools have changed the way we interact with the web and thus it is natural to see a corresponding change in the use and perspectives on ePortfolios. According to Barrett, ‘ePortfolio 2.0’ is networked, emergent, learner-driven, focuses on individuality, is composed of small pieces loosely joined, uses blogs and/wikis as its architectural base, tends to follow open standards and is stored in a distributable fashion across the network.[6] The critique in the use of such tools could also flourish from those with a strict focus on full-blown systems and universally accepted standards. However, social technologies have proven standards are not necessary for full interoperability.

Batson (in Shaffhauser, 2009) believes a key component holding back the broader adoption of ePortfolios beyond academic requirement is the lack of standards for the data being maintained in the ePortfolio repository. There is a clear and sharp push for the evolution of ePortfolios through the doors of ‘standardization’: the holy grail of achieving an electronic portfolio that can be managed as a lifelong work in progress is found through “a universally agreed-upon set of definitions and adoption of policies that will help guide both behavior and expectations when it comes to copyright law and easy access to digital information.”[7] However, “heavily regulated efforts may stifle creativity and innovation.”[8] Longer-term views of ePortfolios bring an enormous set of challenges with respect to its implementation — namely, institutional support, technological change, interoperability and ownership.

Against most of the trends in ePortfolio systems, Ravet concludes it is not realistic to have a single provider for the hosting of an ePortfolio as “it goes against the nature of the World Wide Web.” [9] On the other hand, it seems feasible and desirable to provide a single point of control from which multiple services of managing one’s identity through the ePortfolio are available. Ravet’s discussion is extremely timely given the spread of our identity imprint through blogs, social networks, wikis, etc.

There are yet many questions unanswered when it comes to fulfilling the real mandate of lifelong learning of ePortfolios. [10] The ultimate idea of a meaningful web space from cradle to grave is obviously still utopist. However, the principles that support ePortfolios matter when considering their effective use and understanding the diverse approaches to them. With the advent of Massive Open Online Courses, competency-based learning and flexible paths for learning that require certification and demonstration of mastery of knowledge and skills, ePortfolios surge as powerful means for creating a foolproof passport of learning.

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[1]  Lorenzo, G., & Ittelson, J. (2005). An overview of e-Portfolios. Educause Connect. Retrieved January 28, 2008, from

[2] Stefani, L., Mason, R., & Pegler, C. (2007). The educational potential of e-portfolios. Oxon, UK: Routledge.

[3] Walti, C. (2006). Net-based portfolios and learning journals: The journey of learning. Tutorial for the MDE e-portfolio. Retrieved on January 25th, 2008 from

[4] Siemens, G. (2004, December 16). ePortfolios. elearnspace. Retrieved December 10, 2009, from

[5] Ibid

[6] Barrett, H. (2006). Authentic assessment with electronic portfolios using common software and web 2.0 tools. Retrieved January 25, 2008, from

[7] Suter, V. (2003). The digital me – Standards, interoperability, and common vocabulary spell progress for e-portfolios. NLII 2002-2003 Annual Review, July 2003. Retrieved April 5, 2008, from

[8] Siemens, G. (2004)

[9] Ravet, S. (2007). For an eportfolio enabled architecture: eportfolios, eportfolio management systems and organisers. ePortfolio Conference 2007. Retrieved January 25, 2008, from

[10] Porto, S. & Walti, C (2010). “Lifelong Learning Links in the ePortfolio”. Book Chapter in Knowledge Management and E-Learning, Taylor & Francis

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