Organisational ePortfolios

I received an email from my colleague Eva Heinrich, from Massey University that EIfEL had the chance to welcome during a sabbatical year in France. Her email was about a research student who is looking for “requirements, proposal of new features of eP tools to support organisational learning.”

EIfEL has invited contributions on organisational ePortfolios for some time now. In the 2004 ePortfolio conference’s call for contribution we wrote:

“While paper-based portfolios have already been used by millions of people across the world, the ePortfolio provides an opportunity to explore new territories that go far beyond ‘paperless’ portfolio. The ePortfolio has been described as the toolbox for the knowledge worker, the foundations of organisational learning, the interface to communities of practice. New concepts emerge such as the ePortfolio of a course (e.g. linking alumni and teachers ePortfolio) the organisational ePortfolio as well as regions and cities ePortfolios.”

Since, very little has been published on organisational ePortfolios (22 entries on Google) and we had two case studies submitted at the last international ePortfolio conference (Maastricht 2007).

Why should we be interested in organisational ePortfolios and why such an apparent lack of interest?

If ePortfolios are a support for and an expression of reflective learning, then, if we agree with the idea that organisations learn, we should be able to elicit practices and tools that, one way or another could be connected to ePortfolios, even if they exist today under another name. What technologies for (reflective) learning organisations.

Reciprocally, if learning organisations have developed their own practices and technologies, what can we learn from them to imagine ePortfolios that are not mere paperless portfolios? For example, the ability to exploit tacit knowledge and informal learning processes.

The main problem with the development of organisational learning is the general lack of competence of many human resource managers and directors who, when planning the use of technology for learning, eLearning, are entirely focused on individual formal training, implementing (costly and overrated) learning management systems (LMS) to deliver pre-digested contents and collect responses to multiple choice questions as evidence of learning. For the vast majority of HR managers, learning is an individual formal process and only a handful have seized the opportunity of digital technology to design integrated eStrategies for individual and organisational learning.

Nevertheless, despite not yet competent HR managers and primitive usage of technologies, organisations learn — just like people learn without (and ofter, despite) computers and training managers. Some organisations might not be as effective learners as others, but the fact is that they do learn and many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) would have probably not survived if they had not done so. In a sense, a learning organisation is a redundant expression, just as a learning individual is. It is only once we are dead, that we stop learning and eventually rest in peace — unless our digital identity decides to have a life of its own…

So, where do we have a chance to find organisational learning technology? Based on what precedes, it must be a place with a lot of technology and innovation, while being free of HR professionals! As David Gurteen, quoted by Rob Lewis, explains: “HR professionals don’t seem to get involved in KM, and I don’t quite understand that, because HR is now probably one of the most obvious places for people in an organisation to drive it” I would assume that it is where we should be looking for.

Conversely, if KM is the place we should be looking for organisational learning technology and ePortfolio, this makes perfectly sense with one of the original ideas that an ePortfolio is some kind of personal KM system.

Individual learning, organisational learning, Individual KM, organisational KM, individual eP, organisational eP are certainly spaces worth exploring. If you would like to contribute to this reflection, please send us your views, articles and contributions to create a feed on this subject.

EIfEL launch the first Event Portfolio with Montreal conference

All participants of the Montreal Conference will be able to test a new ePortfolio event approach using a dedicated social network.

The underlying keyword in this social network is FEDERATION !

In this network they will be able to see the event portfolio based on all blogs entries federated using Technorati services (if you want to be part of it just add the keyword epMontreal08 in your blog entry tags).

The registrated users will be able to move to other SN using this systems (like the EIfEL members social network or the Elliot Masie LearningTown, or the next eP event organised by EIfEL) without recreating his credentials.

The public homepage is visible at:

Want to be part of it, Don’t forget to register to the event to be part of it

The ePortfolio is dead? Long life to Digital Identity! (2)

In a previous post (The ePortfolio is dead? Long life to Digital Identity! (1)) I expressed the idea that a fully developed ePortfolio is in fact a digital identity and that most of the so called ePortfolios are little more than paperless portfolios. What I would like to do in this post is reflect on (some of) the consequences in terms of technologies and solutions and respond the the questions: do we still need ePortfolio Management Systems (ePMS)? Or, formulated differently, do we need to replace ePMS with DIMS (Digital Identity Management Systems)?

First, I would like to reassess something that I’ve been repeating for some time now and formulated in a position paper: there is a general misunderstanding on the difference between ePortfolios (which belong to individuals) and an ePortfolio management systems (which belong to organisations) — here I use ePortfolio in the restricted sense of the term, not as synonymous to digital identity. In order to create you own digital portfolio, you can do a simple bricolage using any kind of digital tool, from a simple blog to a sophisticated website publisher.

The limit of bricolage appears quickly when a certain level of management is required:

  • exchanging data with a potential employer or a job board (having a portfolio HR-XML compliant will be a necessity)
  • managing a large number of ePortfolios in an institution or in processes requiring quality control — think of the NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications in the UK) where nearly 500,000 qualifications are delivered each year on the basis of a portfolio — and a growing number of ePortfolios

If the level of management required is for a small group then a simple RSS aggregator (many tools provide RSS feeds) might be sufficient to monitor the changes in almost real time. If you need to manage multiple level of accesses (for parents, teachers and pupils in schools, for peers, colleagues and managers in a company) then a bricolage might not be effective. If you live in the UK and you have some responsibilities in the field of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs), a bricolage is definitively not an option if you care for quality control and are costs conscious.

I see a bright future for ePortfolio platform providers. Organisations, regional authorities will need tools to facilitate the management of large cohorts of pupils, students or employees, they will require software solutions dedicated to the management of specific documents (portfolios) and processes.

I see an even brighter future for DIMS (Digital Identity Management Systems). Just have a look at current social software (Gaia online, FaceBook or Linkedin) and you might have a hint of what I mean…

About ePortfolio standards (2) – Reflexion

I indicated in a previous post that although a number of actors are involved in the design of open standards, the mere implementation of open standards is not enough to ensure interoperability. Two systems can be based on the same ‘base specification’, yet be unable to exchange information. In order to solve the issue of information portability across systems using different specifications we designed for our members the CVT, a Web-service which makes it possible to translate one CV format into another format. Of course, in the translation, part of the information might be lost or demoted, in particular if the target format is semantically poorer than the source. The ability to translate data from one format into another leaves a lot of space for innovation in future standards.

How will specification and standards evolve?

I do not know in details where IMS intends to go with its current review of IMS ePortfolio specifications, but at this stage I believe that, at least for an employability ePortfolio, HR-XML specifications seem more mature as they profit from a much larger number of real-life implementations and existing certified HR solutions. On the other hand, HR-XML standards are just one element of a global interoperability framework. And such framework should take into account other standards, beyond those used in the education and academic worlds.

With emerging specifications like OpenSocial or Atom, I believe that it should be possible to design relevant interactions across heterogeneous systems. For such a framework there is a number of specifications that should be to studied:

  • Social networks and social computing — FOAF (Friend Of A Friend, XFN (the micro-format version of FOAF), OpenSocial and Liberty Alliance People Service. ePortfolios are a the result of a social construction.


  • Data representation — such as social graphs, mindmapping, heuristic chart and concept mapping can be extremely useful to provide meaningful eportfolio user interfaces. We need to better exploit the potential of RDF, OWL, TopicMaps, DotML, etc. as well as meta-data ( DublinCore) data aggregation (RSS and Atom) and people representation (HR-XML, IMS and hResume).


We should also take into account the issue of trust and privacy, i.e. secured access to personal data. For example, while the IMS ePortfolio framework allows the exchange of zipped packages of personal data, mainly for backup and import of whole ePortfolios into ePortfolio Management Systems, there is no real provision for sharing dynamically ePortfolio parts nor for protecting data privacy. This should be changed if we want ePortfolio take-up.

This is precisely what we are trying to address with the CV Universel (Universal CV) where the framework to exchange of ePortfolio parts is based on a HR-XML description of personal data transported on a Liberty Alliance Layer. In a next future, should also explore the opportunity to use OpenID 2 specifications.

About ePortfolio standards (1) – a rapid state of art

I would like to take the opportunity of a colleague’s request about ePortfolio standards and interoperability, to present EIfEL views on this issue.

Today, even if few ePortfolio suppliers are engaged in the implementation of existing specifications, those doing it generally do so within the context of a specific community, using what is called application profiles, i.e. an adaptation of a base specification to the particular requirements of this community. This adaptation adds a level of complexity to the issue of interoperability, as different application profiles of the same base specification do not necessarily interoperate…

The following list presents a series of application profiles that have been tested during previous ePortfolio plugfests organised by EIfEL:

  1. Employability ePortfolio (NL) is based on IMS ePortfolio (which includes IMS Learner Information Profile — IMS LIP). There is a discussion whether in the future the profile should rather be based on the next HR-XML V3 specifications which should cover ePortfolios.
    Compliant Solutions: eXact Folio (Giunti), Winvision.
  • UK Leap (UK) is based on IMS LIP (which is more restrictive than IMS ePortfolio). Even if this profile has been formerly standardised by the British Standards Institute (BSI) it does not benefit, yet, from an extensive implementation. A reflexion is engaged for a UK Leap Version 2 but it is not clear whether it will still be based on IMS LIP.
    Compliant Solutions: PebblePad, ePet (University of Newcastle).
  • HR-XML application profiles — there are a number of HR-XML application profiles dedicated to specific communities:
    • iProfile (HR-XML CV profile), is implemented by SkillsMarket in UK, which hosts more than 2 millions CVs for recruiting agencies.
    • GermanCV (HR-XML CV profile) is used by job boards in Germany.


  • HR-XML Europass CV (EU) is a binding of Europass (a European CV format) using HR-XML specifications as well as external competencies definition based on IEEE RDC. Support of the European Language Portfolio is also under discussion. The work done by EIfEL in this area has contributed to address the needs specific to ePortfolio not yet covered by existing HR-XML specifications to elicit new requirements for the next HR-XML V3 specifications.
    Compliant Solutions : ePet (University of Newcastle),, Kite, CVUniversel / Universal CV (the implementation has just started, and a presentation will be made during the next ePortfolio & Digital Identity conference in Montréal)
  • hresume microformat — It is used for LinkedIn public profiles (several million users). Microformats are a bottom-up alternative to XML standards (microformats can be defined and implemented by end users without the burden of standardisation bodies.

So far, I’ve just described data formats, but if you believe, like EIfEL, that ePortfolios are more than data and that they contribute to one’s digital identity, then it should be necessary to take into account what is happening in the field of social networks and social computing, Web 2.0, the emergence of new types of job boards, etc. Moreover, if you take into account the difference between individual ePortfolios (that could be developed with any kind of tools) and ePortfolio Management Systems (ePMS) that institutions need to manage a number of ePortfolios for specific processes, then a number of additional emerging standards should be taken into account.

  1. Identity Management such as Liberty Alliance federation of identities and services, OpenID or CardSpace will play a central role in the seamless exchange of information across services used by ePortfolios.
  • Interoperability frameworks such OpenSocial (used by Google, Plaxo, etc.) and are emerging and open a new kind of door to the exploitation and sharing of personal in a professional perspective.

This is just a rapid overview of ePortfolio-related standards. In the next posts, we will go into more details to open the discussion on the future requirements for ePortfolio standards and interoperability. The conversation will also take place during the next Montréal conference.

NB: for all those who would like to know more about the subject of interoperability while being refrained by its technical nature, I would like to encourage you to go beyond your inital reticence. The lack of interoperability is generally more the result of misunderstanding or lack of human will rather than the lack of understanding of technical details or technical issues. We need You!

The ePortfolio is dead? Long life to Digital Identity! (1)

It is now nearly 5 years since EIfEL, at the time of the first International ePortfolio Conference, launched the idea that “In 2010, every citizen will have an ePortfolio.” The intuition we had at the time was that the ePortfolio was much more than a mere paperless portfolio, and that its digital dimension was going to create a special object which would travel with us throughout our life, our education, our professional activities and citizenship . Then, very quickly, we noticed that discussions in the field of healthcare arond personal health records (or medical records – the less positive and more bureaucratic version) had many of the same echoes: individuals are the owners of their personal data; they are in charge of keeping their own health records; in parallel, professional practices are being transformed as is the healthcare value chain, etc. Furthermore, in the domain of citizenship , the proposal of Michel Sapin, the French Budget Minister in 2005, for a digital safe for every citizen reinforced the feeling that fields as different as education, healthcare and citizenship were exploring similar issues.

If ,then, everyone should have an ePortfolio (EIfEL), a digital safe (Michel Sapin), a universal CV (Europass) or a personal health record (Medcommons, and now Google and Microsoft), wouldn’t it make sense to try to place all these objects in one unifying concept? What would this object common to education, health and the professional or citizen life be?

Initially, there was a strong temptation to extend the ePortfolio concept: a health record may indeed be seen as the record of a learner, taking into her own hands the management of her health — before even being sick — health being yet another ‘subject’ along with mathematics or civic education. But what about the salary slip placed in my digital safe and used as document to obtain credit for a sofa — on which I will be able to write this blog in comfort? It is clear that extending the breadth of a concept risks reducing its meaning — if everything becomes an ePortfolio, then nothing is really one any more, although a portfolio remains still a well defined object.

The search for a unifying concept brings me to digital identity. And I believe now that it was the kind of thing we had in mind in 2003 when we launched the “ePortfolio for all” idea: to help every citizen to develop and exploit their digital identity. If modern education consists in developing one’s identity, then digital education must become one of the priorities of education, along with physical or moral education.

The experience gained in ePortfolio practice will certainly be useful to achieve this task, and it is probable that the portfolio will always keep a role. But the challenge to tackle from now on us is not the simple use of ePortfolio any more, but digital identity education. We now all have a digital identity, even if we are not aware of it.

This is the first in a series of reflections on the ePortfolio and digital identity to launch the Montréal pre-conference debate.

The ePortfolio and CPD for nurses

The highlight of last week for me was a trip to the wonderful city of Bologna to speak at a conference for nursing professionals on the development of competencies organised by IPASVI, the national nursing federation. It was a pleasure to meet our colleague and EIfEL member, Stuart Cable, Interim Lead for Learning Zone of the Royal College of Nursing in the UK. I gave an overview of ePortfolio activities in the healthcare sector in Europe and a brief outline of the role of the ePortfolio in the creation of digital identity. Stuart presented the impressive RCN ePortfolio and its use in professional development in the UK.

Can we have a ‘one size fits all’ approach to competency as the European Qualification Framework seems to hope? I think the answer is yes if the EQF remains a framework in which national frameworks can find their place. The Italian nursing profession is now tackling the challenge of defining competencies and designing development programmes – a process that some EU countries have already gone through and others have yet to address. Once again, context is critical. The eternal round of elections in Italy has inevitable repercussions on the availability and deployment of resources. The profession is making a concerted effort to improve its image and raise the level of qualifications. It was clear that they were in agreement with the broad view of competence as presented by the EQF that includes such ‘metacompetencies’ as learning to learn, working with others, communication and problem-solving. At the same time, there seems to be a need for consensus on basic technical competencies. We shall make slower progress to achieving the goal of professional mobility if some nurses can prescribe medication (UK) and some can’t (Italy).

The only slight downside to the event for me was trying to communicate the excitement of the subject in 7.5 minutes (15 mins with consecutive translation!). However we aim to follow up this ‘headline delivery’ with more detailed work in the ePortfolio healthcare SIG. So far there is interest in this group from Italy, France, the UK and Australia. All other expressions of interest welcome. We’ll be posting information soon and arranging a meeting before the summer in preparation for ePortfolio 2008 in Maastricht.