The Learning Portfolio


What is a Learning Portfolio?

A learning portfolio is a purposeful collection of student work that exhibits a student’s effort, progress, achievements and competencies gained during a course or time in university.

How will students use it?

Every McMaster student will have access to online space and tools to record, store and structure a collection of evidence to demonstrate their learning achievements and abilities. This may include a reflective account of a practice placement, presentation, learning experience or group experience. The student will be able to:

  • Accumulate and store evidence (in one central online area) of the many transferable skills students develop while studying at McMaster University.
  • Self assess and monitor their own learning development.
  • Develop and present a portfolio of work or reflective account on an aspect of students’ learning as part of course assessment.
  • Build a resume for employment applications and as evidence of learning achievements for a professional body.
  • Apply for jobs by showing evidence of relevant work experience and suitable 21st century skills.
Keys to Creating a Successful Learning Portfolio*
  1. Familiarity with the portfolio approach, the process and product of creating a learning portfolio
  2. Understanding the value of reflection
  3. Having clear framework and guidelines
  4. Having a balance of structure with freedom for creativity
  5. Opportunity for feedback during the evidence collection process
  6. Understanding the value of the portfolio for future use, such as employment
  7. Motivation to learn and achieve good marks
  8. Student ownership of the learning portfolio
  9. Making connections between the portfolio content and the student’s extra-curricular and personal life
  10. Consideration of the target audience (instructor, peers, employers).
*Adapted from eCDF ePortfolio Project
Philippa Butler (2006) June 2015


Recording evidence of learning is one thing. Bringing it together in a beautiful, shareable format is another. PebblePad makes the whole process easy by giving you your own Personal Learning Space to record and reflect on your learning experiences. Here’s what you can do:

  • develop online portfolios (webfolios)
  • write blogs (online learning journals)
  • create and monitor action plans
  • record experiences and achievements

You can also share elements of your Learning Portfolio with your peers and your instructors. You decide whether they can make comments or edits.  The Learning Portfolio is your own private space. No one can access it unless you choose to share it.

The Learning Journey
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Learning Portfolio Fellows

Six instructors representing all Faculties have been selected as McMaster’s 2015/2016 Learning Portfolio Fellows to research and support the implementation and impact of the Learning Portfolio.

The fellows have each developed research proposals that study the utility and effectiveness of the Portfolio. They will also serve as advocates for sharing best practices to support the use of the portfolio within the Faculties and will participate as members of the Learning Portfolio Advisory Group, working in partnership with MIIETL and other Learning Portfolio champions at the University.

Fellows were each awarded $7,500 to support research and advocacy activities during the one-year tenure of the fellowship, and an additional $2,000 to support travel to a Learning Portfolio related conference or course.

Support has been provided to fund one fellow from each Faculty per year for the next two years.

Catherine Anderson, Assistant Professor, Department of Linguistics and Languages

Proposal—The Faculty of Humanities is creating a pair of foundational, three-unit courses that will eventually be required for all Level 1 Humanities students. The LP Fellow will develop exercises and reflections using the Learning Portfolio to support the goals of these two courses, and will evaluate how the LP supports students in achieving those goals.

Robert Fleisig, Assistant Professor, W Booth School of Engineering Practice

Proposal—In ENG 1P03, students use the LP to reflect on project learning experiences and how they have changed their perception of the role of the profession, the role of stakeholder, clients, users, and others in the design process as well as their understanding of the problem-solution paradigm. With a goal to gain knowledge of how students make connections, the research question asks how do students relate to their understanding of engineering to the outside world and how has this learning experience changed it?


Sheila Sammon, Professor, School of Social Work

Proposal—To create processes and opportunities for all undergraduate social work students to better plan, integrate and articulate their learning over their entire four years in the social work program. Students, working with Sheila and MIIETL staff, will devise ways to use the LP in relation to their desired employment to set learning goals, and to reflect on learning experiences. We intend for the LP to support students’ preparation for desired careers, and to enhance their capacities to recognize and articulate the preparation they have.

Andrew McArthur, Associate Professor, Biochemistry and Biomedical Science

Proposal—To translate the information content of the LP into actionable metrics for undergraduate curriculum and program development to predict career outcomes, infer successful learning experiences, and identify influential course-work and experience. The net product will be valuable information useful to students making program decisions and informing Faculties at McMaster on the path taken by students throughout their undergraduate careers.

Margaret Secord, Assistant Clinical Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences

Proposal—The proposal involves the introduction of a learning contract as a means to ensure the engagement of a meaningful, relevant, and student-directed LP for the fourth year students enrolled in the BHSc (Honours) Program’s Child Health Specialization. We hypothesize that ongoing evaluation and refinement of a learning contract will increase the value and meaningfulness of a LP for students and their facilitators/instructors.

Rita Cossa, Assistant Professor, DeGroote School of Business

Proposal—To date, there is no formal mentorship program built around the LP. This proposal aims to investigate a number of questions including: In what course(s) where the LP is a component will mentorship be included? Who will provide this mentorship? What resources are needed to create and maintain this program? This proposal also aims to create a mentorship framework that is sustainable year after year.

Resources for Faculty

The Learning Portfolio: A Powerful Idea for Significant Learning
An overview for faculty by John Zubizaretta, IDEA Paper #44, The IDEA Center

Electronic Portfolios and Student Success: Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Learning
An overview of electronic portfolios and ways individuals and campuses can implement e-portfolios to enhance and assess student learning, recognizing that learning occurs in many places, takes many forms, and is exhibited through many modes of representation.

Teaching Through Portfolios
A short article for faculty that explores what portfolios can add to what you are already teaching your students

Using Student Learning Portfolios for Departmental Outcomes Assessment
Identifies how student learning portfolios can contribute to program outcomes assessment

Ten Ways LPs Enhance Student Learning

Tracking the Learning Journey through e-Portfolios
University Affairs, January 15, 2014

The Learning Portfolio is a versatile tool.  It’s likely you will be asked by instructors to use it in some of your courses. It can be used to help you realize all the skills you will develop during your time at McMaster and help you plan ahead for your personal and your continuing professional development as a Life Long Learner.  It is designed to help you:

  • reach your personal and professional goals
  • plan short and long-term career, personal and professional goals
  • make sense of what you are learning and how you are learning it, ultimately taking responsibility for your learning (Jackson 2001).

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Resources for Students

Vendor Help Documents for Students
Learning Portfolio Specific Help Documents for Students
Student Success Centre & CLL Handout about Reflection
Learning Journey Portfolio Starting Point
Student Guide to the Learning Portfolio
Learning Portfolio Terms of Use

  • There is a built-in help system throughout PebblePad
  • If you require assistance using PebblePad, please contact Jon Kruithof
  • An excellent Online Help Guide


Learning Portfolio Events

Helen Chen, a senior research scientist and Director of ePortfolio Initiatives at Stanford University has spent much of her career studying the effectiveness and best practises around learning portfolios. Chen shared her expertise with 100 faculty, staff and students at the Learning Portfolio Showcase, an event to highlight the development of the Learning Portfolio at McMaster University.

In her lecture “Why ePortfolios? Why now? Documenting Learning in the 21st Century,” Chen talked about the evolution of ePortfolios and their value both as a pedagogical tool and as an effective way to support student learning and development. In an interview with the Daily News, Chen expands on why she believes learning portfolios play a valuable role in helping students develop the skills they need to be successful, academically and in life.

As more research is being conducted on learning portfolios, a number of questions are arising: How can learning portfolios be used as a reflective tool inside and outside the classroom for our students? What value does the folio process bring in terms of student success?  Chen, also raises a valuable question, “how do we help [students] become the kinds of graduates we want them to become with 21st century professional and interpersonal skills so they can go on to lead successful and productive lives? I see the portfolio as one approach, not the only approach, but one approach.”

In the second video Q&A, Chen expands on why she believes learning portfolios are a valuable tool for faculty and students.