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What is the difference between an e-Portfolio and a Personal Learning Environment?

April 13th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

This is a question which has bothered me for some time as I am involved in developmental projects for both e-Portfolios and Personal Learning Environments. And it could well be that there is little difference, depending on how both applications (or better put, learnng processes) are defined. Of course, if e-Portfolios are seen primarily as a vehicle for assessment then the differences are clear. Simililarly if the e-Portfolio is owned by an institution or course. But if the e-Portfolio is seen as being owned by the learner, is intended to record all learning and is seen as a tool for formative self evaluation and for reflection then the differnces become more fuzzy.

I have had a number of interesting discussions about this issue recently – with Jenny Hughes, Cristina Costa and Mark van Harmelen. Jenny (who loves working with words) talked about the difference between presenting knowledge and representing knowledge. I think this is a valuable distinction. An e-Portfolo is a` place for reflection, for  recognising learning and presneting that learning. A PLE may be seen as a tool (or set of tools) for not only presenting learning  but for also (individually or collectively) developing a representation of wider knowledge sets (ontologies?).

Of course it could be possible to develop a tool set which supports both tasks. But there are different sets of tools involved in those different prcesses and in the interests of si8mplicity and usability it may be better to develop environments which allow flexible access to such different tools or tool sets for different purposes.

Why am i wrestling with such obscure ideas? Pontydysgu is a partner in the EU funded Mature project. Part of our tasks is to research the ‘state of the art’ on these issues and to develop and test PLEs as a process for developing and sharing knowledge. Its going to be interesting.

6 Responses to “What is the difference between an e-Portfolio and a Personal Learning Environment?”

  1. I find distinguishing the two very important. And to be honest, before you mentioned it, I had never thought about them in those terms.
    In a very broaden sense – and not necessarily connected to an institution – I see (the future of) e-portfolios as the new CV – the passport for the new job market…which not only requires a certificate, but some proof of one’s abilities/skills/competences/evidence of know-how and capacity to reflect upon.
    I see e-portfolios as a living and reflective record of one’s (life long) learning. An organized log of one’s learning progress and trajectories. That is why I think e-portfolios should have a blogging component, which enable others to also testify about one’s learning. After all, learning is not an isolated activity…not should the reflection of it be totally closed to those who contributed to it.

    Today it is more, or at least, as important to show that you ‘know-how’ than what you actually ‘know’. This is for me one of the most critical skills one has to have these days – to show one is able to learn and is flexible and open enough to engage with different realities / groups/ communities / resources, etc, to achieve whatever they have to achieve ….
    Could we say PLEs is the aggregation of all those places where learning spontaneously happens as part of those interactions/learning relationships …?

    I am not a PLE expert – I am not an expert on anything, period!- but the question is: Can PLEs be developed by a group of techies? If yes, will it have a definite structure? How flexible will it be?

    The way I see it, my PLE is what I want it to be – or better – the sites, the resources, the communities, the individuals, the readings, the new toys, etc, which I decide to make relevant for my growth as an individual and as a professional. My PLE might be meaningful for someone else besides me, but it might also be total irrelevant for others.
    Can we say my PLE is where my diffuse presence and self wander – it changes from time to time, according to my mood, willing, interests, needs, etc; whereas my eportfolio is my structured self… a kind of retreat, where I meditate about what I have acquired from all of those online and on-site scattered places, and what I have learned with and from all those individuals I establish learning bonds with.

    I like Jenny’s play with words about eportfolios as representation of knowledge. It is always great when you guys get us thinking. 😉

  2. Emma says:

    I’d fully agree that the two are different – regardless of whether or not one or the other or both (or, ideally, neither!) are institutionally owned!
    I’d fully agree that the portfolio is a way of presenting work; the PLE where the work is done (and neither is the sole holder!)

    I see a PLE as the extension of the piles of notes I’ve accumulated … but not the sole holder. I was doing some work at the weekend – a computer just can’t replace a wonderfully large blank sheet, a nice pencil – at just the right point between too sharp & too blunt (& rubber when required!) There are other things, though, such as organising resources, that a computer based PLE makes *much* easier.

    In the same way, when I’m ready to share my work with others, an online way of doing it is great. Sometimes, such as my main blog, it’s more or less the same as the PLE. At other times, e.g. my “other” blog, it’s a little more hidden, has things that are kept private until they’re ready to be published.

    Ideally, as I say, neither should be institutionally based, however, i can see that an ePortfolio (as long as it has export facilities) as being more appropriate for being institutionally based, as they often are assessment based (here are memories of coursework folders on my MSc, and art folders from O-level; both of which had to be made available to examiners). But, both the coursework folder & the art folder were of a format that once the examiner had done with them, I could take them home. ePortfolios have to have that portability.

  3. Kerrie says:

    I see the eportfolio as a result of a PLE, perhaps one part of it, but they really are not synonyms.
    The nature of an eportfolio is under discussion at a National Symposium to be held in Adelaide in June.
    If you would like to monitor discussion taking place in a forum that is a pre-cursor to that symposium then check
    I have linked back to this blog there.

  4. Jacquie says:

    Could a distinction be – PLE where work done and e-portfolio for presenting for a specific purpose eg assessment, application for study, employment, pdp and cpd

    Taking assessment as an example: The PLE would contain a collection of (organised) knowledge – networks, links, material gathered, personal thoughts, ideas, notes. The actual assessment, whatever form, could be ‘taken’ / produced in the PLE. The e-portfolio would consist of the product of assessment and reflection on the process, feedback from tutor/peers, personal reflection on the feedback. These aspects would feed into the planning process.

    Couldn’t the e-portfolio just be another aspect of the PLE with the learner using whatever e-portfolio tool best suits the purpose?

  5. I agree with Kerry – e-portfolios are the result of working within a PLE – whatever that environment looks like. But I also think we should distinguish between personal and personalised learning environments. I suspect the two have different affordances for the learner…

  6. Gary says:

    I think it is interesting that the distinctions we’re wrestling with focus more on the use and not the tool/application(s). I can use any number of applications in isolation or in mash to accomplish all of the functions discussed. I think the showcase, workspace, learning space distinctions subsume much of what has been shared. I can work and show but not learn. I cannot learn without work. I can show without learning or doing much work. Meanwhile, ownership of the space and its contents also now is distributed across the cloud, making the matter even more problematic.

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