How to Create a Personal Learning Portfolio: Students and Professionals

6884659480_ba4592d655_cThis post explores Personal Learning Portfolios [PLPs], an extension of a Personal Learning Environment. I review briefly PLPs for professionals, but focus on the potential and promise that PLPs hold for our students.

I wrote recently about Personal Learning Environments [PLE], Personal Learning Networks [PLN] and the need for educators to develop both as a means to support their professional and personal growth and learning. A PLE can be viewed as a system that is built on the concept of creating a personalized framework for learning, tailored to one’s goals and interests.

Personal Learning Portfolios for Professionals
Both posts generated meaningful discussion— with many comments coming from participants in the Education Technology & Media course (#ETMOOC). The topic of the course last week was ‘connected learning’, and discourse focused on PLEs and PLNs. Several themes emerged, yet one was consistent—the idea of a place within one’s Personal Learning Environment to document and record ‘open’ learning courses and content created, learning plans, Badges earned, and/or work completed; the concept of Personal Learning Portfolio was mentioned several times. In one post, How to make Learning Visible, Helen Blunden, a workplace training consultant, wrote about portfolios for professionals and shared her learning from a recent online workshop, Professional Learning Portfolios Workshop. Helen explored how the digital portfolio can be used as a record of formal and informal learning in the workplace as part of one’s PLE, and even presented the idea to one of her clients [her post is useful for those wanting to develop their own PLP].

Yet, it is the following comment made during an asynchronous discussion between myself and two other educators that sparked the idea of introducing the concept of a PLP to students:

“….my “hub” all of my digital work [this educator uses her blog as her ‘hub’, a platform for her portfolio]. It’s my portfolio, digital me, digital footprint etc. I felt scattered about, I no longer feel that way. Many people prefer to have a digital portfolio separate to their blog, in other places, like Mahara, I prefer autonomy of, and take responsibility for, my online life. If I had my time again as a classroom teacher, I would like to start this process from day 1.” [Comment from educator Penny Bentley on this post]

Personal Learning Portfolios: An Essential for Students
The comment above, feeling ‘scattered about’ is not uncommon. Yet, can we help students now, by showing them how to manage their digital lives and learning effectively by providing them with the [digital] literacy skills needed. This is where I see a Personal Learning Portfolio as an essential tool for students, both high school and college age individuals. As education becomes unbundled, fragmented, similar to a ‘jigsaw’ as described by author and professor, Richard DeMillo, a learning portfolio that is owned and controlled by the student, that establishes a student’s digital identify is almost obligatory. I suggest that a PLP could be used as a starting point for students to begin developing their own Personal Learning Environment, establishing a pathway and identity as a lifelong learner.

“It is now economically feasible for a student anywhere in the world to piece together, jigsaw like, a curriculum that matches his or her needs and to have both the curriculum and the student’s performance certified in a way that is accepted by academic institutions and employers alike. The focus on higher education has irrevocably shifted from institutions to students”. Richard Demillo, (2013)

We already are moving in the direction of ‘pieced together’ learning experience—with the prevalence of open and online courses, some which will be for credit, and some not. How will students record and potentially share their learning? What about media projects, or papers written? Or a learning plan and goals? This is where the portfolio comes in. The diagram below illustrates how the concepts work together. This diagram is adapted from Steve Wheeler’s blog post, Anatomy of a PLE.

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A visual representation of a Personal Learning Environment system; the personal network and portfolio are dimensions of the PLE, developed using digital tools and platforms to create a virtual space for creating, sharing, archiving, and collaborating on the Web. Adapted from Steve Wheeler’s blog post.

Definition of Personal Learning Portfolio
Following is my proposed definition and vision of a Personal Learning Portfolio for students, which is not the same as an e-portfolio or electronic portfolio that was prevalent and much discussed in higher education and K-12 sometime between 2004 and 2005. The e-portfolio of the past was used primarily for the institution’s purposes, as an assessment tool for instructors to evaluate student learning, and for assessment of program and school quality, used often for an institution’s accreditation process. The tool was institution and not student-centric. After reading An Overview of e-Portfolios, from the EDUCAUSE library, it is obvious who was driving the program and for what purpose, and it wasn’t for the student (Lorenzo & Ittelson, 2005).

My ‘working definition’ of a PLP for students:

Personal Learning Portfolio is a virtual, personal space that serves as a dynamic planning tool, archive, profile, and showcase of an individual’s lifelong learning experiences, goals and achievements.  It is created by the learner, controlled by the learner, and is on a platform of his or her choice. Though the tool is geared to be an open tool that records the digital footprint of the individual, the learner controls who has access to any section of the portfolio at any given time.

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A ‘beta’ screenshot of a student’s portfolio to display his photos and design work. By onemorechris, Flickr

Helping Students to Develop a Portfolio – How?
I suggest that the concept of the PLP be introduced to students in high school or at the college level, and be viewed as the catalyst or a gateway to students developing their own PLE and PLN. The PLP for students is the first step, with the learning environment and network evolving over time.

Components of a PLP could include: 1) personal profile—a similar experience a student would have had in creating a profile for a social networking site such as Facebook, 2) educational record of one course, where student includes his or her learning created [assignments], and reflections [blog posts] from the course. Over time other courses could be added, including badges, earned, certificates and/or degrees, thus serving as an education record or archive, 3) blog, and 4) media projects, that students may have completed as part of the course, and this might be a place to include a video introducing him or herself.

Previous Research and Models of PLP
I am not the first one to come up with this idea, scholar Wendy Drexler proposed a similar idea in her research paper, The networked student model for construction of personal learning environments: Balancing teacher control and student autonomy (2010). Drexler introduces the Networked Student Model in her paper, which builds upon the concept of the Networked Teacher Model, developed by Alec Courus (2008). What is useful in the paper for educators to consider is the research project where Drexler documents a project with a small group of high school students that completed a project to build a Personal Learning Environment using digital tools around a topic of interest. The results are worth examining for those that are considering moving forward with a PLP for high school and/or college students.

Closing Thoughts
If education is moving towards open learning, unbundling, and a student-centric model as it appears to be, we as educators will have no choice but to support the shift and get students to take charge of their own learning, be responsible and self-directed. We can support them as lifelong learners with guidance in creating a Personal Learning Portfolio that may lead to a learning environment and network of their own. My hope is that this post may prompt further discussion or consideration among educators about personal learning environments, networks and portfolios, so at the very least, readers can be a model to students of what a lifelong learner is and does.

Example of Student Learning Portfolios

  • David A. Dupell’s ePorfolio. David is a business student, a Junior at Temple University, Fox School of Business. All students have ePortfolios in this program (created and maintained by the student, though each has to be ‘approved’ before it is visible), and each student has a blog associated with his or her portfolio. The program at the school is an interesting one. The website states: “The FOX MIS community platform enables social education – a concept that integrates learning, teaching, professional development, placement, and administration and socialization by applying open source social media and Web 2.0 concepts.
  • Evelyn Thorne’s e-portfolio (2013). This site appears to be maintained [actively] by the student herself. She outlines the goals of her courses, assignments, and updates the site on what she has accomplished.  Her ‘logbook entries’ appear to begin with a question posed as it would have been for her studies, which she then reflects on and responds to.

Instructor Driven Portfolio Projects for Students

  • Personal Learning Portfolio, (2012). MAET East Lansing (Year 1). This site appears to created and maintained by the instructor for his or her class where the assignment is for students to create a portfolio. The page does provide a good example of clearly outlined expectations for students.  This appears to be a good introduction to the concept of portfolios and creating an identify on the Web.

Resources

Photo credit: Cesar Poyatos, Flickr

How to Create a Robust and Meaningful Personal Learning Network [PLN]

This post describes how educators can develop a personal learning network that supports meaningful and relevant learning. The MOOC, Education Technology & Media, etmooc, is used here as a working example of how to develop a PLN.

My Personal Learning Network is the key to keeping me up-to-date with all the changes that are happening in education and how technology can best support and engage today’s students.” Brian Metcalfe: teacher, blogger at lifelonglearners.com

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A visual image of participants in an open, online course- etmooc, which shows the potential to find and create personal connections as part of one’s PLN.  (image credit: Alec Couros)

I wrote a post recently about how to develop a personal learning environment [PLE], the need and benefits of doing so,  for educators in particular. A PLE is a self-directed learning space; a virtual  framework that consists of tools to collect, curate and construct knowledge that is customized to an individual’s learning goals and interests.

  What is a PLN?
Another dimension of the PLE is the personal learning network [PLN]. Though the two are often used interchangeably there is a difference. A PLN is an aspect of PLEs, where the individual has a group of people within his or her virtual professional network, and the relationship with each is based upon a common interest, collaborative project or research. Communication and connections are made via social platforms or other Web applications, with the primary intent of sharing or gathering information. Both the PLE and PLN are based on the theory of connectivism, a learning theory conceptualized by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. The premise of connectivism is that the learner connects with nodes [connection points that deliver content or facilitate interaction] within a network, and subsequently develops knowledge through this series of connections.

Twitter 6x6

Twitter 6×6 (Photo credit: Steve Woolf)

PLN versus PLE
The personal learning network can be a rich source of learning that fosters connections that become part of our professional development as the quotation at the beginning of the post from Metcalfe describes. Yet building a PLN takes time, energy and purposeful actions, which is why I find it helpful to delineate the two concepts. A PLE can be created independently, building and collecting content sources from the Web, including creating content through blogs, podcasts, Slideshares, etc. A natural extension of one’s PLE is the development of relationships with individuals that emerge from the process of building the PLE, which is how the PLN develops. When connections from a PLN are engaged, knowledge creation becomes interdependent.

Example of a PLN
I will use my own PLE building experience to illustrate the process of developing a PLN, which I have developed  through a variety of vehicles: this blog, Twitter, Pearltrees, Goodreads, and by participating in various MOOCs. This process has allowed me to establish personal connections with numerous knowledgeable and interesting individuals. I developed the majority of these friends through comments on blogs [mine and theirs], Twitter and email. That is the beauty of a PLN, it is dynamic—expanding and contracting as time and energy allows.

Logo for etmooc from etmooc.org

Logo for etmooc from etmooc.org

How to use a cMOOC develop your PLN
The nature of cMOOC is to learn, to connect, to share and create knowledge, which makes MOOCs an ideal venue to build a PLN. Though the level of participation and involvement is up to the learner, if one does not want to, or is unable to build personal connections due to time constraints, that is acceptable and appropriate, there are no rules to cMOOCs. However if building a PLN is a goal, the onus is on the individual to reach out to make connections and develop learning relationships.

In the etmooc we are primarily using Google+ Community , Blackboard Collaborate and Twitter to interact. Blogs are the primary tools that make learning visible, where participants write about and share their experiences about what they are learning.  I’ve listed several strategies that might be helpful to readers who want to develop their own PLN within a cMOOC:

  • Participate in the introductions by creating a personal introduction and by reading others. In a large MOOC it’s impossible, and unnecessary to read all.
  • Engage with participants through introductions by commenting on fellow participant introductions, two or three is ideal.
  • [Try to] Participate in at least one of the events planned for a given week, i.e. webinar, Twitter chat, or Blackboard session. It is through these interactions that you are likely to find someone with a common interest. All the MOOCs I’ve been part of, have a community of organizers that provide support and resources in all aspects of participation, for example how to participate in a Twitter chat, how to use Twitter or set-up a blog etc. etmooc is a good example of such support.
  • Participate daily (if possible), by reading blog posts, daily updates, following/participating in Twitter conversations.
  • Contribute and share by commenting on others’ posts and engaging in conversation. I have found it is through conversation within a blog’s comment functions that I first established my PLN connections. I aim to be supportive of readers that do take the time to comment by responding to their comments and reading their personal blogs.
  • Look for opportunities to join and participate in sub-groups that often form within a MOOC. As we see from the web diagram of the etmooc, there are hundreds of participants—it is through the more intimate groups that spontaneously develop where  more meaningful and deep connections are made.

Closing Thoughts
Developing a PLN does require a commitment of time and energy, but the rewards are abundant. Not only does interacting within a virtual space satisfy the need for social interaction and connection, it also can be the method of professional development, personal satisfaction, relevance, adaptability, and most importantly—may allow us the opportunity to make a difference.

Resources