Learning Contract and Portfolios

What is a portfolio?

According to Harris et al (2001) an educational portfolio is ‘a collection of, record or set of material or evidence that gives a picture of an individual’s experience in an educational or developmental situation’. Using a portfolio correctly can reveal the depth and breadth of a range of skills and understandings on the part of the learner; support learning outcomes; reflect change and growth over a period of time; encourage reflection; and provide for continuity in learning.

A portfolio can be defined as “. . . a systematic and organized collection of evidence used by the teacher and student to monitor growth of the student’s knowledge, skills, and attitudes in a specific subject area. It must include student participation in selecting contents, the criteria for selection, the criteria for judging merit, and evidence of student self-reflection . . . (therefore, it is) a purposeful, collaborative, self-reflective collection of student work generated during the process of instruction” (San Diego County Office of Education 1997).

A portfolio can be described as a systematic and organized collection of evidence to monitor growth of the student’s knowledge, skills, and attitudes in a relation to specific learning outcomes. Student generally participates in selecting the content, the criteria for selection and for judging merit, as well as evidence of reflection related to learning. Therefore, it is a purposeful, collaborative, self-reflective collection of student’s work generated during the process of instruction and can be presented for assessment.

What should be in the portfolio?

The portfolio can be used for formal learning or informal learning. In both cases it would be good to start with a learning contract. Learning contracts are formal agreements between the learner and the teacher or supervisor relating to what the learner is going to learn; how the learner will go about learning; what checks will be made to monitor progress and how the learner will provide evidence that learning has taken place. Learning contracts have become popular both as a learning and assessment tool over the years. It allows for individualised approach to learning activities.

What is the individual going to achieve will depend on specific learning outcomes as suggested within a course or something an individual wants to achieve as part of informal learning in the work place.

Next part of the contract is how this learning is going to be achieved? This can include the reading of varied literature, observing other people’s practice, discussing the topic with experts, attending teaching sessions and so forth.

Learner will then provide evidence of that learning through a wide variety of materials such as classroom notes, student self-reflections, learning logs, sample journal pages or literature reviews, written summaries, audiotapes, videotapes of group projects, reflective diary, evidence of work carried out, witness testimonies and so forth. However, a portfolio is not just random collection of information or learner products; but is systematic in that information included relates to the learning outcomes. For example, reflective diary kept by learners over a period of time can serve as a reflection of the degree to which they are building positive professional attitudes, knowledge and skills, one of the crucial benefits of using a portfolio according to Harris et al (2001).

A part of the contract is also identifying times when checks can be carried out on the progress through discussion with the teacher or supervisor. These discussions can be summarised and provided as evidence of progress within the portfolio.

Importance of  Learning Portfolio

Portfolios are multifaceted and begin to reflect the complex nature of professional practice especially in health care. Since the portfolio is developed over time, it serves as a record of growth and progress as commented by some of the students and the supervisors within the study. By asking learners to construct meaning from literature and their own practice, their level of development can be assessed against set standards.

While there are various methods of portfolio development, majority of research and literature on portfolios stress that a portfolio needs to clearly reflect learning outcomes identified in the curriculum that learners are expected to study. It must focus upon performance-based learning experiences as well as the acquisition of key knowledge, skills, and attitudes. It should contain samples of work from the entire time of study, rather than single points in time. It is a composite of a variety of different assessment tools with inclusions and evaluations of that work by the learner, peers, mentors and teachers.”