ePortfolios for apprentices: What are the challenges?

and how others have found a way.

Another reminder, that the purpose of this series of articles is to provide information to those in the sector that are yet to embrace appropriate technology to deliver competency based qualifications.

I hope to achieve this by cutting through unnecessary ‘jargon’, putting into perspective the preponderance of so called barriers and filtering out systems that are likely to make a very difficult task more challenging than necessary. As in ‘I wouldn’t start from here’.

This article is to highlight examples of the challenges to consider, it is not meant to inform a strategic plan, a whole different piece of work and would be bespoke to any organisation. This is to point out that there is more to implementing an Assessment ePortfolio than simply purchasing one for a given number of users and hoping for the best, very little of which is considered in other ‘so called’ guides, or the comments reported in recent surveys. The process of identifying an assessment ePortfolio which meets an organisations objective would usually begin with a corporate vision for ‘change’ across its work based learning sector to meet learner, employer and organisational needs. The vision will be supported by a strategy invariably produced by a dedicated ‘champion’, with up to date information and according to learning providers that have shared their experiences, the common element to successfully implementing technological change on this scale, is the total commitment by senior management.


The challenges will include making a business case to warrant what has to follow, such as the likely return on investment (ROI) and impact on staff time for which there is seemingly none spare and what there is, will have a cost and other implications but must be feasible.

The project will require senior management to assign roles to individuals, usually knowledgeable managers to be responsible for the change but given the authority to carry out the agreed plan. Which in turn will impact on those individual’s normal duties over a significant period. The time line for the change is also a key component. They will need to plan for downtime or difficulties in completing regular work tasks during the transition period and possibly beyond.

Another ‘must have’, according to research and shared best practice is to achieve ‘staff buy in’ (see barriers). Learning providers have found their own ways to achieve this, such as with workshops to overcome the genuine concerns of key stakeholders but also to include them in the early stages of the decision making such as ‘which assessment portfolio’ whilst sharing the ambitions and aims of the organisation and how it will affect them.

Staff Development

An essential part of the ‘buy in’ may be achieved through high quality staff development, probably one of the more demanding challenges and I cannot stress enough the obvious need to be more innovative than the ‘regular’ number of days spread out over a year, which not all stakeholders attend and fewer will remember.

With this in mind, best practice includes a skills audit and training plan for every employee, face to face tutorials on system software, communication, mobile devices, etc. backed up by 24/7 access to practical online tutorials, plus support for individuals that would have, as we know, forgotten classroom training a few hours after the event and needs reminding when it occurs, such as in the workplace. Once again this relates to the all important choice of system provider, how much training is included, face to face, on line or as telephone support.

There are many examples of how such a demand on staff time may be achieved, including one learning provider that altered the course timetables to free up six weeks of intensive staff development. Which even to me appeared to be extreme, but in the context of the overall strategy it made perfect sense with the outcome fully justifying the action, as significant staff resistance was converted to support and enthusiasm whilst learning new skills. The key management on that particular project, clocked up an additional 600 hours over the duration of the project. No mean feat and not to be taken lightly.

This example was one of complete digital change across the organisation, it is more common to dedicate resources to a department or cohort of learners initially and build from that. Unfortunately, all too many organisations don’t begin with a wider vision and leave it as a one-off gaining little from the experience.

In addition to staff development there is of course learner induction and training, but as a busy assessor/verifier pointed out to me recently, the average learner, understands the course, expectations and methods of communication far more readily using an advanced eAssessment portfolio with 24/7 access, than they ever did wading through a paper portfolio on the occasions that they saw it. None the less, this is another level of course creation and training, made more effective when digitally accessible online and on mobile devices.

Challenges to implementing an assessment ePortfolio

Several months ago, I was asked to contribute to an FE Newsweek supplement titled ‘Learning Technology: A shared future’, in which I was asked my opinion on a number of questions including:

Q: What do you see as the greatest threats and opportunities, tech-wise, for the sector?

A: Threats continue to be the unnecessary barriers created by some people.

  • Senior management who, through lack of reliable information see no benefits for change assuming it comes with a high price, however calculated.
  • Middle management that are no longer practitioners, working within limitations of reduced staff and budgets, justifying reasons not to change – no time to learn, too expensive, the staff won’t like it. None of which really stack up against the evidence but quite understandably will be a challenge too far.
  • Practitioners who see no reason to mend something that to them, isn’t broken.

Colin Gallacher jiscA: As to the opportunities, quite frankly they are limitless

Fortunately, there are literally hundreds of colleges and independent learning providers that have embraced learning technology, not only to meet the needs of its learners, employers and requirements of funding agencies or inspectors but also for the growth and stability of its own organisation, who are willing to share their experiences.

There really are some exceptional examples of the best use of learning technology, already setting the benchmark high and doubtless reaping the rewards.

The challenge to organisations yet to make that commitment, would be to talk to those learning providers, albeit through an impartial but knowledgeable agency such as ours and discover what buying into learning technology really entails.

To those organisations that have yet to embed appropriate technology in its provision and would like to discuss the subject with impartial Learning Technology specialists please use our contact page to arrange an exploratory discussion.

If it’s all a foreign language to you, we speak it and it costs nothing to talk.

All the “ePortfolios for apprentices” series of articles:

ePortfolios for apprentices: A guide for providers and employers
What is an eAssessment Portfolio? – The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
What are the barriers and how to ‘get over it’? Part one
What are the barriers and how to ‘get over it’? Part two
What are the benefits and who wouldn’t want them anyway?
What are the challenges and how others have found a way
Making a business case – to get it past finance
What next? – will depend on the Q & A

Colin Gallacher
Learning Technology Consultant


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