E-Portfolios in Support of Informal Learning

E-Portfolios in Support of Informal Learning

Francis Brouns (Open Universiteit, Welten Institute, Heerlen, The Netherlands), Hubert Vogten (Open Universiteit, Welten Institute, Heerlen, The Netherlands), José Janssen (Open Universiteit, Welten Institute, Heerlen, The Netherlands) and Anton Finders (Open Universiteit, Welten Institute, Heerlen, The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/ijhcitp.2014070102
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Nowadays, informal learning is very much part of everyone's life, even when individuals are not aware that they engage in informal learning. Therefore it is vital that individuals and organisations become aware of the value of informal learning. Not only that, but individuals need to take control of their informal learning and make it known to others. This article illustrates how e-portfolios, as a store of learning activities and resulting products, can support reflection on the learning process by allowing learners to monitor their learning behaviour. Findings indicate that ease of use is crucial. User interface design should accommodate the needs of the learner to promote uptake of the tool. The e-portfolio has to be an integral part of the learner's working and learning processes, and assist the learner by tracking and presenting his learning activities for easy inclusion into the e-portfolio.
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It is virtually impossible not to continuously learn in the current society. Even when individuals are not aware of this, they update and acquire new knowledge and competences throughout life. Current society is knowledge-intensive: new knowledge emerges rapidly, existing knowledge becomes outdated quickly, thus requiring its citizens to become lifelong learners. Moreover, the manner in which knowledge is constructed and businesses operate are very much process oriented, collaborative and distributed. Consequently, it becomes imperative to continuously update one’s knowledge, skills and competences to keep up with new developments. It demands that individuals become responsible for their own competence development because that no longer is limited to one’s ‘school’ phase, but continues throughout life in various situational settings. Instead of being educated, people need to take control and become self-directed lifelong learners. The changes often are too many and too rapid even to be managed through curriculum-based formal education. In addition, working professionals need to combine their professional development with daily life, family and social activities. So, they need to fit professional development into their activities and require not only flexibility in content but also in the delivery mode. Because changes are rapid, people often only need particular knowledge and competences just in time for a specific type of task. As they need to fit it into their daily practice, they need to take control and decide not only about what they need to learn but also when, how and at what pace. This flexibility cannot be gained from formal curriculum-based education and individuals need to look for different approaches that suit them.

It requires a different approach, moving from traditional curriculum-based educational settings towards forms of lifelong learning in which learners take control and become self-directed learners, organising their own competence development. This often takes the form of informal learning. The importance of lifelong learning and in particular informal learning is widely recognised, as shown by the EU Memorandum on Lifelong Learning (European Commission, 2000) and the EU Council decision (European Union, 2012) that all EU countries need to have arrangements for validation of informal learning in place by 2018 not only to validate knowledge, skills and competences, but also to enable individuals to obtain full qualifications.

Informal learning is very important in the current knowledge society. Moreover, it is the main way in which professionals learn on the job. Actually, informal learning can be seen as an integral aspect of everyone’s daily life. One cannot help but learn, although many people fail to recognize that they do. Furthermore, the rapid changes in society not only require individuals to keep up with job-related knowledge, but also to acquire key competences (European Commission, 2006) directed at becoming a proficient self-directed lifelong-learner to adapt to the rapidly changing and highly interconnected world, in which business processes are becoming more collaborative and distributed. This global trend is also mentioned in the Horizon 2011 report (Johnson, Smith, Willis, Levine, & Haywood, 2011). The Expert group on New Skills for New Jobs recommends actions in education and training to develop the right mix of skills in enabling key competences. Further, individuals need to actively engage in the learning process. Motivation is a major driver in this, next to other conditions. It starts with people wanting to learn.

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