When is an ePortfolio, not an ePortfolio?

Probably when it’s not fit for what you had in mind.

Whilst an ‘appropriate’ ePortfolio is undeniably an important part of the modern WBL process, it is not, as some providers believe, the panacea of all WBL ills, especially as is so often the case there is not a  strategy worthy of the description, to accompany the purchase. But it’s as good a place as any to start, so for example:

What is an ePortfolio?

That depends on the purpose you have in mind, or put another way, what’s the objective?

There are three main types

  • PDP (Personal Development & Planning)
  • RaRPA (Recording and Reporting Progress and Achievement)
  • eAssessment, for all criteria based qualifications – QCF, NVQ, BTEC

So which type is fit for your purpose?

First of all, not even the creators of these quite different systems claim them to be suitable for each of the other purpose and the most commonly used but barely mentioned outside of the sector is the eAssessment Portfolio, which, with my passion for the FE & Skills, dare I say Work Based Learning sector, is where, for obvious reasons, I will focus these articles.

Recommendation:  Check out the articles on eAssessment Portfolio, go to the supplier websites and check what they claim is the purpose of their product and what type of institution is using it.

Read my article “What is an ePortfolio”, with links to supplier websites.     

An eAssessement Portfolio

What are the advantages over a traditional paper based system?

The proven benefits are just too long to post here and there will be more information provided in subsequent articles, case studies and supplier websites of course.  Suffice to say that there is a significant increase in efficiency and a marked reduction in workload. It enables the learner to take ownership of their own work and the key stakeholders to track and manage progression and achievement 24 hours per day, 7 days per week using laptops or mobile devices. As well as the savings on time and resources, most learning providers have shown unexpected benefits such as improvements in retention, achievement and success rates.

The ePortfolio (data) may be available on or off-line to all key stakeholders. Not ‘hidden’ in a paper portfolio, stored who knows where, accessed for periodic reviews or verification, at a cost that few organisations consider other than it’s an essential part of the process. Well it isn’t!   A more interesting question might be ‘what are the advantages of a traditional paper based method of managing learner progress over a proven digital system.

Resistance to change

There is obviously more to implementing an ePortfolio than choosing and buying one. In particular, there are challenges from senior management and the staff that will have to do their job differently. The barriers are many and various but none that I am aware of stand up to the facts, not least, the question of cost. It may be true, as someone said to me the other day ‘we haven’t got any money’. But that has more to do with budget and planning than comparing costs.  For example, the average cost of a paper based portfolio is about twice *that of an effective ePortfolio and that’s just on consumables.  When you deduct the savings on travel, time taken to travel and duplicating information etc. it really is a ‘no brainer.’  Likewise an ePortfolio that is so difficult to navigate that staff can’t get their heads around it, is probably not as effective as the paper version it’s replacing as learners won’t bother with that version either and unfortunately there are many examples of a poorly designed ePortfolio. So an organisation may well have ‘no money’ in the budget this year, but there is money to cover paper consumables, mileage and staff hours.  Case studies show that recovering from the initial cost outlay can be achieved within two years, the benefits are almost immediate.

Also high on the list of common objections, is “the staff don’t like it (IT).”

Bury_your_head_in_the_sandI am sure that some staff may dislike many things, including the manager that they keep in the dark, but is that a realistic reason not to implement change?  Add to that my favourite  and much stated “The older staff especially are a bit stuck in the past.” Really?   Not like the management who are happy to use a paper based system introduced in the 80’s, which could have been replaced a decade ago. Not that sort of past then? And has anyone asked the ‘old staff’ or the young for that matter or checked out what technology they do like, perhaps they call it something else. The transition from paper based to an on-line Learner Management System may be using technology, but it may be ‘everyday technology, it certainly isn’t rocket science!

Not surprising then that a crucial part of implementing ePortfolio is staff development and no I don’t mean ‘ticking a box’ four times per year, on whatever hot-topic is concerning the SMT.  The more advanced (user friendly) eAssessment Portfolios are no more complex than navigating a Smart TV, on-line banking, shopping, arranging travel, downloading music, reading eBooks, streaming videos or communicating with ‘friends’ through social media.  All of which are very common skills to the vast majority of the population, including ‘older’ generation and one would have thought,  a large percentage of learning provider staff.


Run a cost analysis of your present system, initially on consumables per learner for the duration of a course, examples are available on this site. But ultimately you will want to know the real cost in time, travel and duplication of admin. In making a business case for change, it would be sensible to put down a marker of what the paper process costs currently, to set against anticipated and actual savings or benefit.

Identify the skill set needed to manage the chosen ePortfolio for assessor, learner, verifier and administrator.  Consider a CPD programme which includes a staff skills audit to measure  what IT skills individuals already have to set against what is actually required and concentrate CPD on the findings.  Additional training on the software is usually provided by the supplier, but it should also be available in short on-line tutorials, accessible whenever needed.

Choosing an eAssessment Portfolio

Essential to implementing an appropriate ePortfolio is choosing the right one in the first place and for some time I have made presentation with my referring to the choice of so called eAssessment Portfolios as between  ‘the Good, the Bad or the Ugly’. By that I mean that of the dozen or more ‘brands’ on the market, the good are really Good and have the track record to prove it. What I describe as the Bad are those that have few of the features readily available in ‘the Good’ and often an expensive but cumbersome ‘add-on’ to an existing MIS, sold on the notion that it’s much better to have ‘one system’. Perhaps in an ideal world, but the rarely support the well intentioned theory. Then there are the ‘Ugly’ which is my way of describing those that resemble an Excel spreadsheet on a bad day, which immediately put off users, especially the learner or staff which will  for obvious reasons, stop the implementation in its tracks. So why not choose a ‘good’ one in the first place?   How?

Fairly easy really, once you have recognised that a ‘reflective’ ePortfolio is unlikely to do the job of one designed specifically for criteria based qualifications, training and assessment, then you are at least in the right ball park.

When I need a plumber, builder or mechanic, I like most people would ask around, look for referrals, direct or through the supplier, preferably both.  Even if picked with a pin, I would want to know the names and contact details of other learning providers that are using their product and actually contact them. With the exception of bitter rivals, learn from their experience.


With a short list of 3 suppliers I suggest arranging demonstrations, ideally to include the key stakeholder staff that will be expected to ‘buy in’ such as assessors, verifiers, administrators, as well as the appropriate management. In this way, not only will they have had a say in the choice, they will put questions that you may not have thought of (unless you are an assessor/verifier).

Further reading: Smart Assessor – self costing calculator or OneFile – ROI  tool

Read my article “What is an ePortfolio”, with links to supplier websites.

Colin Gallacher
eLearning Adviser


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