Are Portfolios on the rise?


Near the end of an article on MOOCs in the business section of the Sunday, October 6 Boston Globe was this extraordinary observation, “While MOOCs seem like they can only enhance a job candidate’s appeal, many people I talked to noted an important shift in the world of hiring. Credentials, whether a MOOC certificate or an MBA degree, are declining in importance, while portfolios are on the rise.”

MOOCs, are Massive Open Online Courses. Those offered by Coursera, EdX and other major university collaborations offer top quality online course materials, including videos, for free. They tend to offer certificates for those who complete them satisfactorily. In some cases, usually based on successful performance on an exam, university credit can also be purchased.

Portfolios, at least in the high tech employment world, are “Some sort of evidence of your experience and abilities online…”  (Globe article) ‘”Education is becoming less than 10 percent of a candidate’s total score when we hire…’ Portfolios and work samples have the highest weight in my hiring…(Apollo Sinkevicius, managing Director at One Mighty Roar, a Boston design and innovation firm, quoted in the article.)

Granted, the high tech employment world may be very different from the employment worlds of adult learners, but I wonder if portfolios are gaining ground here, too.

From your experience, are employers asking your students to show them what they can do, or only or primarily for what credentials (HSE, certificates, college courses or certificates or degrees?

Are they/you using online portfolios to help students shine in their employment applications or interviews?

David J. Rosen


This is an interesting subject, David.  It's easier for me to see how an online portfolio could be a demonstration for someone whose high tech experience is key to their employment than it is to see what kind of "general" portfolio of experiences and competencies could be created to be helpful.  I'm thinking someone in a career pathways program might be able to look ahead to see what skills might be necessary for their career and start a portfolio of possibly useful items.  But until someone has a good idea of their trajectory toward a specific career, it seems like it would be hard to assemble a meaningful portfolio.  David's questions are good ones!

Donna and others,

Here's another thought about the use of portfolios for work-related basic skills once one is on the job. The OECD PIAAC international report on 23 (24 once the U.S. report is released) countries' adults basic skills, released today (October 8), has many tantalizing findings. The full report and interactive tools are available at Among thefindings are these:

  • Unused skills can become obsolete or atrophy
  • Using information-processing skills at work is closely linked to labour productivity

The report also offers, among others, these "Key points for policy":

                  Develop links between the world of learning and the world of work. Skills development can be more relevant and effective if the world of learning and the world of work are linked. Learning in the workplace allows young people to develop “hard” skills on modern equipment, and “soft” skills, such as teamwork, communication and negotiation, through real-world experience. Hands-on workplace training can also help to motivate disengaged youth to stay in or re-engage with the education system and makes the transition from education into the labour market smoother.

                  Provide training for workers. Employers have an important role in training their own staff; but some, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, might need public assistance to provide such training.

                  Ensure that the training is relevant. Employers and trade unions can also play an important role in shaping education and training, to make it relevant to the current needs of the labour market but also to ensure that workers’ broader employability is enhanced.

                  Allow workers to adapt their learning to their lives. Programmes to enhance adult information-processing skills need to be relevant to users and flexible enough, both in content and in how they are delivered (part-time, flexible hours, convenient location) to adapt to adults’ needs. Distance learning and the open educational resources approach have also allowed users to adapt their learning to their lives.

                  Identify those most at risk of poor skills proficiency. The most disadvantaged adults need to be not only offered, but also encouraged, to improve their proficiency. This means identifying low-skilled adults who require support, particularly foreign-language immigrants, older adults and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and providing them with learning opportunities tailored to their needs. This is likely to require innovative approaches and significant community engagement.

                  Show how adults can benefit from better skills. More adults will be tempted to invest in education and training if the benefits of improving their skills are made apparent to them. For example, governments can provide better information about the economic benefits, including wages net of taxes, employment and productivity, and non-economic benefits, including self-esteem and increased social interaction, of adult learning.

                  Provide easy-to-find information about adult education activities. Less-educated individuals tend to be less aware of education and training opportunities, and may find the available information confusing. A combination of easily searchable, up-to-date online information and personal guidance and counselling services to help individuals define their own training needs and identify the appropriate programmes has often made a real difference

                  Recognise and certify skills proficiency. Providing recognition and certification of competencies can facilitate and encourage adult learners to undertake continued education and training. Transparent standards, embedded in a framework of national qualifications, and reliable assessment procedures are important instruments to this end. Recognising prior learning can also reduce the time needed to obtain a certain qualification and, thus, the cost in foregone earnings.

To return to the topic, if employers take these recommendations seriously, portfolios can be a great way to document work-related basic skills learning. Work tasks and projects that require critical reading, analytical writing or summarizing, or work-related numeracy/math skills could be included in online worker portfolios so that both a work task or challenge at hand could be met _and_ workers could demonstrate the writing and math skills they used to meet it. Possibly these portfolios could be used as evidence for job promotion or eligibility for employer-assested higher education.

I hope that CoP members have read the PIAAC report, we can discuss it here. It has lots of interesting workforce preparation and workplace literacy ideas and policy recommendations.

David J. Rosen



PIAAC Webinar: OECD Skills Outlook 2013 First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills

LINCS encourages all adult education professionals to join a webinar with Andreas Schleicher, Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) Deputy Director for Education and Skills, to learn about the key messages from the first edition of the OECD Skills Outlook, to be released October 8, 2013. This edition, which will present the results from the first round of the Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), will offer readers access to a rich source of data on adult proficiency in literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving in technology-rich environments - the key information-processing skills that are invaluable in 21st century economies - and in various "generic" skills, such as co-operation, communication, and organizing one's time.

Webinar: Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Time: 2:30 PM Eastern Time

To register, visit:

For assistance, please send a message to

Visit the OECD Forthcoming Events page for more information:

We are using portfolio's in the classroom at every level. Electronic portfolio is where I am headed in the process, however it involves computer literacy skills. Starting with the basic portfolio and moving towards the electronic version using Google Drive or Linkedin, there are other platforms as well seems to work well with the higher levels of adult learners. Therefore we use this as a blended and scaffolding process.

What types of online portfolio platforms are others recommending?


In my Master's programs at Grand Canyon University, a portfolio was used instead of a thesis. I really liked how I could see the improvement in my skills from my first class until the last. I am a believer in the concept of portfolios for all students. They can include a resume as well as pieces of work. This gives an observer a clearer picture of what someone can do.

There are many interesting comments and ideas here. Are employers asking interviewees the right questions? Some employers are much more interested in the employee's ability to perform the job tasks than the certificate. However, they will weed out candidates through resumes and certs before interviews. I heard that in the big crunch of the recession when the unemployment rates were so high and employers experienced a tonage of applications for each job listing, some employers resorted to screening by reading the cover letter only, never reading the resume or checking credential docs. Hummm!! A portfolio then seems to be the technological way to shine for an employment opportunity. Some people are using the social network sites and job sites as the best place to find candidates. Are they looking at what a person can do or what is on paper( on screen). I am sceptical about this approach. If employers are not asking key questions at interviews,society risks the hiring of incompetent employees who have successfully presented themselves in a perhaps better light than their skills and accomplishments have truly achieved. It is easy to learn great grammar and presentation for online, but how do we measure the real skill? Also, how does the employer know that the employee candidate actually wrote the online portfolio, or did he have a friend do that for him? Many questions arise with the concept of portfolios online, even online social network sites. I am on Linkedin and some of the embellishments on some of the pages makes me chuckle. Facebook is even worse. People like to present themselve as sometimes more accomplished than they are. That is human nature, but it seems like it is stretching it a bit too far these day. Linkedin has a tutorial on how to use the site to "build you network: for finding a job". It suggests you befriend total strangers who are connected to other HR people in companies where you want to work. You then ask the befriended to introduce you to the HR people so you can ask them for a job???HuH??? What happened to social etiquette and manners? I have met you, Dr. Rosen, many times over a span of roughly 20 years. I have sat in workshops with you, picked your wonderful brain some, heard you speak and present, but I would not "use" you to better my employment position by befriending you on Linkedin and asking you to connect me to someone else that way. I think this is rude and self centered. I might some day ask you for a reference to verify and validate the items on my resume for an employer. I think we need to think on the scenario of an online portfolio being the benchmark. A portfolio could possible be used in conjunction with other hiring indicators such as a resume, cover letter, degrees, and certifications. And here is a thought, maybe an employer would want to devise a "test" for the potential candidate to perform pertinent to the job tasks before making the final hiring decision.

Hello Michelle, and others,

Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Michelle. There is lots there to think about, but for now I'll try to respond to just one of your concerns: "...How does the employer know that the employee candidate actually wrote the online portfolio, or did he have a friend do that for him?"

That's a reasonable concern with all kinds of evidence of learning, whether presented online or in person. In person, sometimes applicants present forged certificates, or photographic evidence of work that they say was theirs, when it was not. This is possibly a reason some employers may be skeptical of portfolios of all kinds.

The way I recommend that job seekers use portfolios, whether online, on an electronic storage device such as a jump drive, or in hard copy is to bring the portfolio to the job interview, not send it (and tobe prepared, if it is a hard copy or on a storage drive, to leave it to be returned to them later.) In the initial interview, if the employer asks if they have any other questions -- and if they think the interview has gone well -- they can mention that they have a portfolio with evidence of what they can do, briefly explain what's in it, and ask the interviewer if s/he wants to see it. The portfolio, like a good cover letter, or good answers to questions in an interview, can make an impression, can set one apart from the other qualified candidates, that is, if the portfolio is done well, and is designed for presentation to a prospective employer.

In adult literacy education many people have used writing porfolios as a formative assessment strategy. It's excellent for that purpose but an assessment writing portfolio is a terrible strategy for getting a job. That kind of portfolio is not the same as an employment interview presentation portfolio. In the presentation portfolio, the work -- writing, building rehabilitation skills, computer skills, math problem solving skills, or other skills demonstrated should be examples of one's best work, and should be polished and presented attractively. Ideally, the applicant presents the portfolio in person to the prospective employer, where the employer can ask questions about what they are looking at -- sometimes questions designed to see if the applicant was the person who actually did the work, to see if this is representative of the applicant's  skills.

Whether or not a presentation portfolio will help and what the portfolio should contain depend on what kind of job one is applying for. I have worked with programs that train young adults, some for entry level jobs in the building trades. What employers in the building trades are interested in -- in addition to good work habits, and good communication and teamwork skills -- is good basic math skills, and often evidence of good "skills with one's hands" which often means not only that the applicant can use tools well but that s/he has good work-related problem solving skills. Photographs of a project you worked on -- yourself or in a team -- that you can talk about can often be a great way to demonstrate your problem solving (and communication) skills. You can talk about the steps that led to the result, the problems encountered and how you addressed them. Through this dialogue about work photos in a portfolio employers can see that you, as the writer Mike Rose as put it in the title of a great book he wrote a few years ago, have a "mind at work."

I wonder anyone has examples of using electronic (or other) employment presentation portfolios and, if so, if you could share a description of them with us here. If students are willing to share their actual employment presentation portfolio URLs, perhaps many of us here would be interested in seeing them. 

David J. Rosen

On the subject of Portfolios, [a great source for tutorials for adult students] had a blog post on this topic: 

Job Hunting? Consider Creating a Free, Online Portfolio (July 15, 20120)

I tought at 2 for-profit schools offering Associates degrees and at both we had portfolio-development embedded into the course of studies.