Working with ePortfolios – the Tool for Self-directed Learning

It is generally agreed that changes to systems of education at all levels are inevitable. Teaching and learning need to be adapted to conditions of the new globalised world. Without any doubt, education has reached a transformational phase. One of its primary aims has always been training for certain jobs, but this is no longer sufficient for the conditions we are living in. Our society has gone through an evolutionary process taking us from the industrial age to the knowledge era affecting also the educational process itself. Nowadays, a paradigm shift can be observed in education: the focus is being gradually shifted from the teacher to the learner, from lecturing to guidance, from instruction to coaching, from teaching to learning along with the omnipresent and rapidly progressing technology having impact on human behaviour.

An illustration of the contemporary era is the report by Dell Technologies on research led by the Institute for the Future, according to which “85% of the jobs that today’s learners will be doing in 2030 haven’t been invented yet”. Consequently, lifelong learning, training and skill retraining will be required from all labour market subjects. How can education respond to this trend? One of the possible ways could be shifting the emphasis from the content to the exploration of how to learn efficiently and constantly. Obviously, there are countless ways to do this. The facilitator of this workshop would like to present one that seems to have yielded positive outcomes for her in her own educational context. Namely, she would like to share her experience with the use of ePortfolio as an electronic tool that creates potential for the internalization of the concept of life-long learning for her learners and represents a less traditional approach to teaching, learning and assessment in a traditional and sometimes conservative higher-education setting.

Higher education institutions bear a big portion of responsibility for the preparation of future professionals who will be ready to adopt leadership roles on the rapidly changing globalised stage. College and university graduates are expected to possess not only the knowledge in their area of expertise, but also key competences for the 21st century such as creativity, motivation, digital literacy and self-reflection, among others. Moreover, future leaders should also know how to use their own potential and how to work on personal qualities that will help them succeed in their professional as well as personal lives. They can hardly achieve this without being confident and autonomous personalities. Learner autonomy has been one of the key concepts accentuated in learning for the past few decades. Having been initially trained as language teachers, the abstract authors turned first to experts working in the area of language learner autonomy for theoretical support. It was only later that they found out that it hardly takes much effort to see parallels between the key concepts in learner autonomy as defined by Henri Holec or David Little and principles of coaching laid by Timothy Galway and John Whitmore (see references). Let the following quotes serve as illustrations of such parallels:

“To take charge of one’s learning is to have, and to hold, the responsibility for all the decisions concerning all aspects of this learning.” (Holec 1981, p. 3).

“Holec´s definition entails that autonomous learners can freely apply their knowledge and skills outside the immediate context of learning….One of the functions of (adult) education is to equip learners to play an active role in participatory democracy.” (Little, n.d., online).

“Coaching is unlocking people´s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” (Whitmore 2009, p. 10).

These parallels have inspired the workshop facilitator to carry out a study into the use of elements of coaching in the educational process. The results of her study have provided some empirical evidence justifying the transfer of principles and tools from the coaching world to the area of language learning (Hlouskova 2018). Her approach and research included ePortfolio as a tool supporting autonomous learning and authentic assessment. The abstract co-author had then been working with ePortfolio for some time, using it in compliance with its definition describing it as “a collection of self-selected student work and self-reflection organized around specified learning goals.” (Diller & Phelps, 2008). As part of a study, she designed a Learning Cycle consisting of the following stages (Pospisilova 2017):

  • ePlacement
  • Goal-Setting based on Self-Assessment
  • Mock Test
  • Goal-Resetting
  • ePortfolio
  • Final Exam as Integrative Assessment

The two colleagues have now been collaborating, finding inspiration in one-another’s approaches to the use of ePortfolio in their educational practice. In their opinion, one of the biggest assets of ePortfolio is its potential as a tool of formative assessment as learning when compared to formative assessment for learning (Clark 2012).  “Assessment as learning focuses on evidence of learning and its individual and collaborative reflection. It involves goal-setting and subsequent evaluation of goal fulfilment. Teachers and learners collaborate on constructing the goals, setting the criteria; they monitor and reflect on the learning process together.  As a result, students’ ownership of learning can be increased hence enhancing active learning and student engagement.” (Pospisilova 2017, p. 440). 

Based on the authors’ beliefs summarized above, the workshop is aimed at presenting the Mahara ePortfolio system and providing the participants with some practical tips how to use it in an educational process.

Written by Jitka Hlouskova and Linda Pospisilova, University of Pardubice, Czech Republic. Published in the Book of Abstracts for OEB Global 2019, ISBN 978-3-94-1055-51-3. Order the print version here.


Clark, I. (2012). Formative assessment: Assessment is for self-regulated learning. Education Psychology Review, 24, pp. 205-249.

Diller, K., Phelps, S. (2008). Learning outcomes, portfolios, and rubrics, oh my! Authentic assessment of an information literacy program. Libraries & the Academy 8 (1), p. 75.

Hlouskova, J. (2018). Supporting Learner Autonomy in Higher Education. In Carmo, M. (Ed.) Education and New Developments 2018 (pp. 294–297). Lisbon: inScience Press.

Holec, H. (1981). Autonomy in Foreign Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon.

Little, D. Last (n.d.). Drawing together the threads of self-assessment, goal-setting and reflection. Retrieved 30 May, 2017, from 06/06%20Supplementary%20text.pdf.

Pospisilova, L. (2017). Through Assessment and ePortfolio Towards Self-Directed Learning. In Proceedings of the 16th European Conference on eLearning ECEL 2017 (pp. 439-445). Reading: ACPI Academic Publishing.

The Next Era of Human-Machine Partnerships (2017). Retrieved 23 August, 2019, from

Whitmore, J. (2009). Coaching for Performance. GROWing human potential and purpose. The principles and practice of coaching and leadership. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

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