Collecting evidence of learning culled from your ordinary working life, putting it in a portfolio and submitting that to an assessor so that you can gain a degree sounds wonderful. No classes. No exams. Just you, your life and a pile of evidence.
Let me make it crystal clear: I think the portfolio route to a degree is wonderful but I do not think it is a case of handing in your business card and some work documents and getting a degree by return. Nor do I think it should be. In a recent talk for high-level business people in Chennai and again in a paper for the British Institute of Learning and Development, I listed some of the key items that employers should look for when staff want to take the portfolio route. The first three of those items are restated here:
- Simple introductions to the pedagogical model(s) being used (Bloom, Vygotsky, Lewin/Kolb etc) so learners know it is OK – even normal – to go through stages in learning. Part of higher education is having the confidence to let those stages show and learning from the journey.
- A statement of the differences between surface and deep learning
- Examples of clear analytical work so that the learner/employee/student knows what kind of document they are supposed to be providing.
From this, it is clear that a portfolio for a degree assessment must be more than a ‘collection of stuff’. It is a selection of items chosen to demonstrate/evidence knowledge and skills (including mental skills). In the writing, people need to demonstrate that they can reflect on what they have done and learn from it. For some people, that is a wonderful opportunity and a relatively straightforward task. It is not a small task but it can be a lot quicker than waiting to sit in a series of classrooms each year.