Introduction to the Portfolio Process



Portfolio-Assisted PLAR

The portfolio-assisted method of PLAR is particularly well-suited for many adults who are in a state of flux and who need the opportunity and support to conduct a comprehensive personal, educational or career/occupation self-assessment. This method usually has five basic elements: chronological record, life history, education and career goals, competencies and documentation. Some PLAR advisors and learners may choose to skip the first two sections and begin the process by defining their education and career goals. For those adults who choose the portfolio-assisted method it can be a powerful, stabilizing activity. It respects the innate creativity and ingenuity of all human beings and it acts as a funnel to help adults direct their gifts, talents and abilities not only to earn formal credit/recognition but to also affirm their worth and enhance their self-esteem.


Portfolio-assisted PLAR has much to offer adults who are in transition. It can help them to manage the challenges which accompany change. It provides them with a framework to update their skills and knowledge over their lifetime in a comprehensive, self-directed fashion. It contributes to helping them take stock of their lives, make informed choices about their personal or cultural learning, education and employment goals and constructively manage the ambiguity which often accompanies change. Adults in transition often need support and guidance to help sort out their situation and to develop and implement plans of action. This is a key aspect of the Indigenous PLAR practitioner’s role. Changing one’s usual ways of thinking and doing, takes courage. Setting sail on a somewhat uncharted voyage to an unknown destination is risky and intimidating. Working with adults on the development of portfolios is a privilege. It gives one an intimate, first-hand view of diverse examples of the obstacles which adults regularly overcome in pursuit of their goals, aspiration and dreams. The portfolio process uncovers individual strengths, assists people to recognize and value their previous learning, and their potential in ways that go well beyond the granting of credits or qualifications.


The PLAR portfolio is a formal document which identifies learning acquired through a variety of formal and informal learning experiences. It is used to request formal credit/recognition for an individual’s learning from experience related to specific learning/employment competencies/goals and qualifications.

Portfolio preparation is an exercise in self-evaluation, introspection, analysis and synthesis. It is an educational experience in itself. It requires that adults relate their past learning experiences to their personal, cultural, education and employment goals, to exhibit self-analysis, to organize documentation in a clear, concise manner and relate it to specific competencies related to employment and/or learning goals and qualifications.

Increasingly, portfolios are being used to record the important learning and achievements gained in education and training programs or as heirlooms to pass along to family members. Portfolios, log books and achievement records are becoming common to those working in a variety of occupations and it is our belief that they will become more widely used by adults pursuing diverse learning, employment and cultural opportunities.


The portfolio is, in many ways, a highly individualized description of the adult’s own unique experiences and the learning arising from them. However, there is a certain prescribed format which should be followed especially if the individual is seeking formal credit/recognition of his/her learning. A portfolio is an effective mechanism for describing and outlining evidence in support of competent performance. It is a practical way for individuals to prove that they are competent in what they do and to identify new personal, educational and occupational goals. A portfolio may therefore be used to demonstrate competence and would include the following:

  • a personal narrative/profile;

  • evidence/documentation drawn from day-to-day activities;

  • detailed work on specific projects/initiatives; and

  • records and samples of previous learning.

    Generally documentation is not difficult to find. Most of it is readily available especially in the workplace because it is often being produced/created as part of one’s regular work activities.

    As a record of one’s learning and development over time the portfolio usually includes the following elements:

    a. A Personal Profile – this may take the form of a narrative describing important events in one’s life and how they helped to shape the adult learner’s current personal, cultural and occupational situation.

    b. A Goals Paper – describes the adult learner’s personal, cultural, occupational and educational goals

    c. Evidence of Competence – describes and documents competence related to specific education, training and employment competencies/levels/qualifications. Areas covered by evidence include documentation drawn from work activities produced by the learner, evidence from others about the adult learner’s skills and abilities, a description of their current occupational situation and the context in which he/she is working.

    A major outcome of the portfolio development process is that it has the potential to be a powerful statement about the individual’s skills and competence related to specific learning and employment skills, knowledge and attitudes. The portfolio should be constructed within a clearly defined, systematic framework, be supported by reference to documentation sources, be able to verify the candidate’s skills/competence, describe the context in which the candidate has been learning/working, be easy to read and understand and make allowance for the individual’s own unique personal style and life/work history.

    As a result of participating in the portfolio development process, adult learners should be able to:

  • describe the conditions under which one should participate in the portfolio development process, the basic elements of a portfolio and the role of the advisor;

  • review existing competence (self-assessment) related to specific learning/ employment competencies and identify appropriate sources of evidence to demonstrate competence;

  • recognize the value and legitimacy of learning from experience and that learning is a lifelong, ongoing process;

  • assemble a portfolio of evidence for credit/recognition related to specific cultural or learning/employment competencies; and

  • develop a learning plan for achieving cultural, personal/occupational or educational goals.


With the help of the Indigenous PLAR practitioner, individuals will work through the following steps in the portfolio development process. They will

  1. Reflect on their prior experiences and examine what they have learned related to specific education, cultural or occupational goals.

  2. Clarify their cultural, educational, occupational and personal objectives in the light of past learning experiences and develop an education/career plan. With the assistance of the Indigenous PLAR practitioner, identify and record learning they have acquired from a variety of sources and relate it to specific education/ occupational/cultural competencies to demonstrate equivalency.

  3. Prepare suitable evidence to document the learning for which they are seeking credit and/or recognition.

  4. Complete the portfolio, which includes a personal profile/narrative, a statement of cultural, educational, career and personal objectives, a clarification of experiences and related learning, and supportive documentation. The portfolio will demonstrate how the learning is related to particular competencies or outcomes related to specific education/occupation goals. Their specific request for credit/ recognition related to the identified learning is also included.

  5. Submit their portfolio for evaluation by the Indigenous PLAR practitioner (advisor) who will return it to them with specific comments, for revisions or corrections as warranted.

  6. Submit their portfolio for evaluation by a qualified assessor or team of assessors based on the type of credit/recognition requested.

  7. Have any formal credit/recognition which is awarded, recorded in their file/transcript in the manner in which competencies/outcomes related to specific educational/ occupational achievements are usually recorded.


As a record of one’s achievements, including one’s growth and development, personally, culturally and occupationally, a portfolio can have long-term, lasting benefits. As individuals begin the process of compiling a portfolio they should notice:

• An increased awareness of their own skills/competencies and how they can be further developed. The process should help them identify their strengths and gaps in learning.

  • A heightened ability to reflect upon their day-to-day activities at work, home and in the community. This should encourage them to become more thoughtful and focused in their overall approach in each of these spheres.

  • An increase in self-confidence and enhanced motivation to pursue learning activities which will help them meet cultural, personal, educational and work- related needs/goals.

Adults who have completed portfolios often find that they can reflect upon and evaluate the performance of others as well as their own performance. As a result of this increased sensitivity and self-confidence they are able to more accurately and quickly recognize competence in others and to acknowledge it positively.