Published on 2017/01/19
The EvoLLLution | ePortfolios Based on Competency Models: Connecting Academia to the Workplace and Back
Developing ePortfolios that integrate the best aspects of the competency-based model and allow for the addition of non-academic achievements and tasks can go far in supporting working professionals’ lifelong learning.

Ivan is completing his MBA part-time after 10 years of experience in the IT industry. During this time, he has taken on different professional roles, some with managerial experience. He also completed corporate training and received a certificate in project management. Ivan is navigating the job market in search of a new opportunity where he can use his experience and academic advancements. During his MBA, which Ivan earned online, he was required to develop an ePortfolio where he displayed some of his best academic work. He was advised he could continue to develop his ePortfolio further by adding some of the digital badges he received through certifications, as well as descriptions and artifacts from practical projects at his current job. Ivan, however, is finding it hard to integrate this information, and he would like to use his ePortfolio as an all-encompassing, cohesive professional portrait. Currently, Ivan would have to engage in hard, complex work to achieve this goal since there aren’t simple mechanisms to integrate those various components, such as artifacts, personal statements, badges, collaborative work samples, recommendation letters, his CV, and detailed descriptions of skills and acquired knowledge.

It has been suggested that competencies could establish a connection between such distinct achievements. Educational institutions, industry associations, and some employers consider competencies a common language that could help describe the skills, knowledge and abilities of individuals, and therefore help learners navigate the world of jobs, training, and learning in a seamless fashion. To this point, competencies could be a way to fully describe Ivan’s potential as a professional. Further, competency models that provide a structured collection of competencies that together define the full set of requirements to perform successfully in a particular work setting are the next piece in supporting Ivan in this task. Thus, using competencies as the language, and the competency model as a pre-determined framework, would allow Ivan’s ePortfolio to become a cohesive platform to showcase his achievements and skills and professionally brand himself to a variety of relevant audiences.

There are a number of approaches to connect credentials and competencies, such as the Pipeline Data Project, the Connecting Credentials initiative, and others (Meyer & Bacon 2016); but no standardized approach has been put forth that would provide a common platform for such competencies to be recorded and displayed. Furthermore, traditional resumes and CVs are no longer capable of displaying the competencies employers are looking for (Morel, 2016)– whether these competencies are mastered in HE, at work, in the community, or some combination of settings. E-portfolios have been commonly used in academia as a tool to display achievements and evidence of mastery, and thus they are a natural candidate to become the platform through which one displays and ensures one’s competencies and can serve the purpose to set forth academic plans as well as career paths.

In this approach, competency models are the key structural element used to explicitly guide the development of the ePortfolio. We specifically recommend the competency models available in the Competency Model Clearinghouse from the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training. Such an ePortfolio will therefore serve as a bridge to connect individuals (learners/employees), academia and employers. This bridge deploys competencies as a common language, and the competency model as a structured set of elements from such language, facilitating the deployment of ePortfolios to be used as a key tool for lifelong learning by way of supporting effective job search strategies, work opportunities and continuous targeted professional development. This ePortfolio is built over time, and may serve different purposes depending on stakeholders’ perspectives as it evolves.

Using the Building Blocks Competency Model as a key example, the figure below also shows how from each competency tier, one could link to different parts of the ePortfolio, where competencies are then demonstrated through a variety of credentials and artifacts that serve as evidence.

Building Blocks Competency Model

Such an approach presents both benefits and challenges to the three main stakeholders. Academia could benefit from gaining a new channel to expand its brand, further engaging with alumni, aligning curricula with competencies that establish real connections to the job market, and broadening its target audience. On the other hand, this may require significant investment in technology, training of personnel, and support for students to develop their skills. Employers could gain improved evidence of achievement and performance during recruiting processes, better human resource development and targeted training, modernizing of talent management, and a flourishing foundation for a learning organization. However, as challenges, employers might perceive change management, time spent, and risk of turnover as significant concerns to consider. Individuals (students and/or employees) could gain ownership and empowerment through a personalized tool/space where they can showcase and demonstrate abilities and knowledge and offer evidence of competencies to employers. In a growing freelance economy, this type of ePortfolio could serve as a powerful personal branding tool for those working as contractors. Individuals may need to invest significant time and effort into such an endeavor, although this could be lessened with the use of automated systems (similar to efolioMinnesota), as well as support from both academic institutions and employers.

In order to implement such an idea, a few critical aspects need consideration. One is student ownership, since ePortfolios must be under individuals’ control at all times. Each individual should have full control of the information and artifacts presented, eliminating potential misuse by other stakeholders and providing the opportunity for individuals to take the ePortfolio with them as they navigate different institutions and jobs. At the heart of student ownership is interoperability. One approach to addressing interoperability would be to adopt common standards and to develop an automated system to aid in the ePortfolio design. Such a system could take in relevant data and help guide individuals to develop their ePortfolios, while at the same time support hiring personnel in extracting critical pieces of data for analysis. In addition, the use of existing technology to automate processes may help adoption by hiring units.

Stepping into the future, as Ivan completes his MBA, his alma mater supported him in building an ePortfolio based on a well established competency model, which reflects his key skills and knowledge valued by professionals in his industry. As he applies to attractive job positions, he knows that such achievements and demonstrated competencies can be explicitly viewed and verified by potential employers. This same ePortfolio will continue to evolve in his new workplace through added training events and acquired experience. Other degrees or educational endeavors will also become part of his ePortfolio. Given the current developments in competency-based education, technology and flexible credentialing, there is a convincing opportunity for institutions that already work closely with government and industry and who are open to innovative approaches to pilot such an ePortfolio.

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