Friday, 26 June 2009

Ready or not, the Personal Learning Environment is coming with the ePortfolio Process as the Keystone.

Although there are many ‘Drivers’ for personalised learning, the term itself does mean different things to different people. Having been ‘thrown in’ to educational agendas and discussions, a lot of people are talking about ‘personalised learning’. Frequently they are talking about different things. This has created a situation where schools and teachers are generally quite confused about what it is that they are being told that they need to implement, introduce or support.

Assessment for learning and curriculum choice feature as key components in most definitions of personalised learning, with the need for a shift from teaching to learning being identified in all discussions on personalised learning. Assessment for learning has been a priority for a number of years, if it is ‘happening’ in schools, it would follow that personalised learning, to a greater or lesser degree would also be happening. If we add in the ‘curriculum choice’ ingredient we would move a little closer to ‘personalised learning’. Learners would be following the assessment for learning ‘process’; making choices about their own curriculum; with their teachers advising, guiding and supporting.

The much heralded shift from teaching to learning is happening, albeit quite slowly.

Yesterday’s learners followed their Destiny; their teachers planned their learning; they followed the pre-planned journey, often reluctantly, often influenced by distractions provided by the technology and media rich environment that they increasingly had to operate in. The experiences and expectations of today’s learners are different from that of previous generations. The opportunities and stimuli offered by the planned learning journey have to compete with those available from other sources. Learners have learning choices to make even if their school is still emphasising the teaching and have not prepared their learners to manage their own learning.

Whether planned or otherwise today’s learners find themselves having to take decisions about their learning. Many will not have had the opportunities to develop the skills that they need to manage their own learning and to survive and thrive in this personal learning environment. They will be disadvantaged.

At the core of current national initiatives is an ambition to improve children and young people’s lives by providing them with a curriculum that would enable them to become: successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens. This national curriculum, defines what learners are expected to experience and be able to do at all stages. While schools are being encouraged to personalise learning; to give learners choice, voice and control over their own learning, they also have to ensure that all learners follow the prescribed curriculum.

In addition to being able to select from the curriculum opportunities offered by their school they will also be able to benefit from those available from a wide range of other sources. They will decide what is appropriate to their learning needs or plans. They will follow a personalised learning journey, sharing their thinking and reflections with their teachers, peers and others. Schools and providers will need to investigate how they can make sure that their curriculum ‘offer’ is visible and accessible to learners.

While a lot of the debate and confusion about personalised learning centres on who personalises the learning; the teacher for the learner, or the learner for themselves, there would appear to some agreement about what a learner will do when they operate in their personal learning environment. They will need to be self motivated and self regulated, making decisions about what they need to learn, how and when they learn; they will have a ‘say’, a voice in the design of their learning experiences. They will be ‘active’ learners who value their own ideas and respect those of others; they will the confidence an ability to put their ideas forward; they will reflect on their learning, identifying how they can improve and exercising choice as they develop as independent, lifelong learners.

Every thing that will be discussed and explored at this conference will rely on the ePortfolio process; a process that is consistent with the assessment for learning principles and that is capable of supporting personalised learning, whatever definition is adopted.

Shift happens slowly; but without the shift towards personalised learning, the ePortfolio process has little to offer the learner. As a product the ePortfolio can record evidence of achievement, experience or competence that the learner could use to support their transition to employment, training or Higher Education. Simply as a product, without the active reflection component, it will not contribute to the learning process.

Without the commitment, time and space that would allow the ePortfolio process to be embedded into everyday practice, discussions on tools, technology and supporting processes will be of little value.


I am a different learner now; I lurk around many online communities, I increasingly contribute and participate. I decided that I would try to involve as many people as I could as I developed my presentation for this conference. For two months I posted my thinking to as many groups and communities that I could in an attempt to validate my thinking. What follows is the result and I acknowledge the contribution of the members of the ePortfolio and PLTs group, the MirandaNet and Becta Research Lists, the LinkedIn community, the TES Community Forum and Twitter.

I have been an advocate for learner ePortfolios for many years and have experience of working with, and supporting, learners of all abilities in an 11 to 19 school environment. I have, at all stages of my ePortfolio exploration and experimentation, shared my thinking and findings with the community. My journey is well documented and forms part of my digital footprint.

Not rocket science, but from my experience and thinking, I had concluded that unless ‘something’ is integrated into the curriculum, it is very unlikely that the ‘something’ will happen. The integration must not only be into the curriculum as the plan for what learning experiences will be presented to the learner, but into the processes that are in place to support the learner as they learn.

The ‘something’ in this case is the ePortfolio process. A process that requires learners to take increasing responsibility for their own learning and encourages them to record, share and reflect on their plans, aspirations, progress and development. It is a process that needs to be integrated into the curriculum; a process that supports learning. That it is a ‘process’, presents the real challenge. It requires much more than simply integrating activities or opportunities into the curriculum to satisfy a requirement for the learner to ‘know’ or be able to ‘do’ something.

As a process, it is a much more complex ‘thing’ to integrate. The process requires the learner to learn, develop and apply a set of skills before they can use the process. It is the opportunities for learners to learn and develop these skills that must be integrated first; then it is the requirement or expectation for them to apply the skills as part of the ePortfolio process that must be integrated.

To integrate the skills development without having integrated the opportunities, requirements or expectations for learners to apply them will not move us forward, nor would building in opportunities, expectations or requirements for learners to apply or use the skills, if the skills development stage had not already been addressed. Skills development and opportunities to practise and apply must both be planned and integrated before the process can really begin to work for, and support the learner.

This ‘paper’ explores the relationship between the personalisation agenda and the ePorfolio process, and the potential of web-based curriculum mapping to support personalised learning. I will provide links to a commentary that describes the approaches used to engage communities in the discussion via my ‘web-source’ at .

Presentation Deque at

Paper at