Introduction to the Portfolio Process

PLA image

The assessment of prior learning is an experience unique to each person who undertakes the challenge. In the process of developing your own personalized portfolio you will be involved in a demanding and intense experience designed to renew your appreciation of who you are and where you are going.

During this interesting and challenging activity, you will work toward accomplishing the following goals:

1. Identify your learning from experience

2. Match your learning to specific courses/competencies

3. Identify your education/career goals

4. Develop an education/career plan

5. Identify your best prior learning assessment options

6. Develop your portfolio of prior learning

Initially, you will be helped you identify your learning from a variety of different experiences which may include work, seminars, workshops, self-study, continuing education and volunteer activities.

We will also help you match your learning to specific courses and/or competencies. It is important to keep in mind that while all experiences are a source of learning, not all learning is able to be credited. We will help you identify your learning related to education and career goals and help you demonstrate how it compares your educational, career or vocational objectives.

You will be assisted to identify the best educational and/or career direction for you to follow in light of your prior experiences and your future goals, academically and/or professionally.

You will be helped to design an education and career plan to guide you as you pursue your learning goals.

We will help you to identify the best method or methods for you to use to match your learning against specific outcomes or competencies depending upon whether you are seeking post-secondary credits or workplace-based recognition.

There are several possible methods from which to choose. They are as follows: Standardized Tests, Review of Transcripts; Licenses and Certificates; Challenge Exams; Portfolio Review; Oral Exam/Discussion; Performance Observation; Skills Demonstration/ Product Assessment and Program Review.

Portfolio Development is the most comprehensive method for organizing one’s learning. As you know a portfolio is a written document used to describe learning acquired through life experience and to enable that learning to be evaluated for college course equivalency or recognition of workplace-based competencies.

A main goal of this manual is to help you develop your own portfolio of prior learning.

In essence, most PLA processes involve matching one’s previously required learning to some pre- determined standards. This means that, with the assistance of your PLA facilitator, you will identify specific competencies/courses for which you wish to request credit evaluation. For example, as a computer programmer, you may want to request evaluation for credit for Introduction to Computers. If you have given many presentations, you may want to request evaluation for credit for Effective Speaking I. In relation to occupational competencies, for example, you may wish to demonstrate the skills needed to qualify for a specific licence or certificate. e.g. cook or electrician.

It is very important to understand that you do NOT receive credit for experience, but you DO receive credit for LEARNING that has occurred from prior experience. This learning can be defined as learning that 1) is measurable; 2) demonstrates a level of achievement defined by faculty or subject matter experts; 3) has a knowledge base; 4) is conceptual as well as practical; and 5) has a relationship to education/career goals.

NOTE: Clear, concise writing is essential to an effective presentation of your learning. Enrolment in a basic English course may be advisable if you have doubts about your writing skills. We are also prepared to work with you as part of preparing your materials for assessment using the various components, to help hone your writing skills if they are a bit “rusty”.

NOTE: Keep in mind that successful completion of the portfolio in no way should be interpreted as a guarantee that the content of your learning will automatically receive credit or recognition. Only appropriate faculty evaluators and/or subject matter experts can make that judgement.


The portfolio is the formal document which defines learning acquired through a variety of formal and informal learning experiences. It is used to request formal credit/recognition for your learning from experience.

Portfolio preparation is an exercise in self-evaluation, introspection, analysis, and synthesis. It is an educational experience in itself. It requires you to relate your past learning experiences to your education and career goals, to exhibit critical self-analysis, and to demonstrate your ability to organize documentation in a clear, concise manner.

After you have made the decision to seek formal credit/recognition through the PLA process, it is a good idea to begin to identify as clearly as possible, your academic and career goals. The portfolio process demands that you give some thought to the requirements needed to achieve these goals and how you will go about accomplishing this task. For example, if you are unable to pursue your educational goals via full time study, will enough courses be available on a part-time basis for you to accomplish your goals? One of the prime uses of the portfolio development process is to assist you to make a clearer decision about which course of action is most appropriate for you to pursue. Additional educational and career counseling may be useful in assisting you in making the best possible choices.


Although the portfolio is in many ways a highly individualized portrayal of your own unique experiences and learning, there is a certain prescribed format to be followed. The portfolio consists of:

1) a “Cover Letter”, which states your request for post-secondary credits and/or formal recognition of your skills and competencies

*2) a 4-5 page “Life History” (autobiography) which outlines the important events of your life – the events which helped shape you into who you are today

3) a “Goals Paper”, which describes your personal, career and educational goals

*4) a year-by-year “Chronological Record” of your experiences since high school (or age 18) up to the present time – usually a sentence or two for each year

5) the “Competency” (learning match), which provides concise statements of experience and of the resulting learning, as it relates to a particular course of study or workplace-based competencies

6) “Documentation” of the learning experience supporting each competency described

While you will become familiar with each page and document of your portfolio, those evaluating your portfolio do not have this advantage. Therefore, it is most important that you follow this format, developing a carefully organized and written portfolio so that a stranger would be able to follow it logically and identify supporting documentation easily.


A major outcome of the Portfolio Development process is the identification, articulation and documentation of competency statements. Preparing a portfolio is an unfamiliar, laborious, yet rewarding task. It should have special relevance for you as you begin to examine your life, seeing it as a series of interwoven learning experiences, a sequence of milestones along the path of your development. Accordingly, the outcome of the Portfolio Development process is much more than the completion of a portfolio for formal evaluation and potential credit for prior learning. It is hoped this process will also allow you to enhance your self-esteem and your self-concept as a learner and your ability to clarify and reach important life/work goals. In addition, the portfolio itself is an excellent record of your effectiveness in a variety of life/work situations, suitable for presentation to prospective employers and others interested in your skills and competencies.

*These two components are optional. Some adults may decide that they do not have the time necessary to complete these elements of the portfolio development process.

As a result of participating in the PLA process, you should be able to:

– describe the conditions needed for participating in the portfolio development process, the basic elements of the portfolio development/evaluation process, and the role of the mentor/resource person

– clarify the importance and purpose of the portfolio in relation to the identification, articulation, documentation and evaluation of your learning against college and/or workplace competencies

– recognize the value and legitimacy of learning from experience

– appreciate that learning is indeed a lifelong process

*- write a 4-5 page Life History about yourself

*- prepare a 1-2 page Chronological Record

– set life/career goals and priorities

– write a 2-page Goals Paper

– differentiate between “theoretical” learning and “practical” learning, to understand the expectations of faculty evaluators and/or subject matter experts in the workplace

– assess your own skills and knowledge competence

– prepare competency statements for courses/competencies you wish to submit for evaluation

– demonstrate understanding of the principles of documentation of your own prior learning and provide at least 3 documentation alternatives for each learning description you record in your portfolio

– describe and document competence developed through experience

– assemble your own portfolio of life and career accomplishments for submission to faculty evaluators, prospective employers or others interested in appraising your competence

– develop an educational plan for achieving your education/career goals

* These two components are optional.


With the help of your portfolio course instructor and staff members you will work through the following steps in the portfolio development process:

1) You will reflect on your prior experiences and examine what you have learned.

2) You will clarify your educational, career, and personal objectives in the light of past growth/experiences, and develop an education/career plan.

3) With the assistance of the portfolio resource person you will identify and record learning you have acquired from a variety of sources, and relate it to specific post-secondary and/or workplace courses and competencies to demonstrate equivalency.

4) You will document the learning for which you are seeking credit and/or recognition.

5) You will complete the portfolio, which includes a statement of educational, career and personal objectives, *a chronological record, *a life history paper, a clarification of experiences and related learning, and supportive documentation. The portfolio will demonstrate how the learning is related to particular courses and/or competencies. Your specific request for credit/recognition related to your identified learning is also included.

6) The portfolio will be reviewed by the portfolio resource person and returned to you with specific comments, for revisions or corrections as warranted.

7) You may be required to pay for the individual evaluation of each competency you have developed, especially if you are seeking post-secondary credits.

8) The portfolio will be evaluated by faculty and/or subject matter experts based on the type of credit/recognition requested.

9) If post-secondary credit is awarded, it will be recorded on your college transcript in the manner in which the grades are recorded in that institution (e.g. letter or number). The grade achieved will be included as part of your grade point average.

* These two items are optional.


The main function of the portfolio resource person is to advise you about the basic principles and steps of the portfolio development process and to assist you in the preparation of materials for assessment.

The portfolio resource person will provide you with technical assistance, support, and direction in the development of the portfolio. Your portfolio should ultimately be approved by this person after sufficient review/discussion of your work and prior to the finished product being passed along for formal assessment.


It is important to remember that you do not receive formal credit/recognition for experience. Instead, credit and recognition is granted for verifiable learning growing out of experience. In other words, credit will be granted for the learning, either knowledge or skills, acquired from a variety of experiences, not for the experiences themselves. For example, Bill has had ten years’ experience as a sales manager. He will not be awarded credit for his ten years of selling experience, but rather on the basis of his ability to demonstrate what he has learned about salesmanship that relates to college- level learning courses or specific workplace-based competencies. The reason for this is that Bill may have learned very little after the first year that can be equated to college or workplace competencies. Remember, it is your responsibility to identify the learning outcomes resulting from the experience. The portfolio resource person and others, including colleagues can often assist you with this task.

When you have identified your learning from experience, you then match it to specific outcomes of post-secondary courses or workplace competencies. The next step in the process is to prepare a narrative, describing how you learned (prior experience), and what you have learned in relation to specific outcomes and competencies of courses or occupations. This narrative, along with your documentation, well be sent to the appropriate evaluator who will decide whether or not to award credit for your competencies. Please note that the evaluator, after reading your portfolio, may request additional work from you in order to demonstrate (or increase) your competence in the specific area being evaluated. To that end you may be requested to enter into a learning contract which outlines the specific competencies needed before credit/recognition can be granted.




Be the first to comment.

Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>