Personalized learning in higher education with an advanced digital portfolio

In recent years, there has been a growing demand for personalized and differentiated education in higher education, both in universities of applied sciences and research universities. This is particularly evident in the increasing need for a new type of portfolio. Many educational programs can no longer work with a ‘traditional’ portfolio where students simply submit assignments. This trend is also reflected in various studies conducted in the field (1,2).

A second development we observe is an increasing emphasis on workplace learning or practical learning. Learning is no longer confined to lecture halls but occurs primarily during practical projects and internships. For instance, technical programs often work with ‘challenges’ in a concept known as ‘challenge-based learning’, where students learn through engaging practical projects. We have seen this development in other domains such as healthcare and business for some time (2).

Education experts consider personalized learning as a promising way to optimally align with the individual needs, talents, and learning preferences of each student. An advanced digital portfolio can be a powerful tool for this, provided it meets certain conditions. Not every digital portfolio is equally suitable for personalized learning in higher education. There are various challenges that educational institutions must consider when implementing such a system (1,4).

Later in the article, we will delve deeper into the functionalities needed to further tailor the learning path to the learner’s needs.

The prerequisites for a suitable digital portfolio are:

Access for external parties

In workplace learning, it is crucial that the digital portfolio is flexible enough to give external parties such as internship companies and assessment committees access for feedback and evaluation. This is especially important in universities of applied sciences, where internships and vocational projects play a significant role. Companies and institutions should be able to easily view and assess the portfolios of interns.

In academic education, it is equally important that external evaluators such as examination boards and potential employers have access to students’ portfolios. The portfolio functions as a digital business card for the job market.

This means that a portfolio system must provide functionalities to give external practice assessors very easy access so that the sometimes hundreds of practice assessors do not require a lot of management capacity from the institution. At the same time, access must be secure and traceable. So it must be easily traceable who provided the feedback or assessment.


Alignment with learning and assessment vision

Secondly, the digital portfolio must seamlessly align with the program’s and the professional field’s vision on how students learn and are assessed. Some programs, such as those in the medical sector, have been applying programmatic assessment and e-portfolios for a longer time. For such programs, a digital portfolio tailored to this approach is essential.

Other study programs work more with traditional forms of assessment. For them, a digital portfolio might be less suitable or the system needs to be used differently, for example, more as a developmental portfolio alongside regular assessment.

The portfolio should therefore be able to fit in with several educational concepts. Whether work is based on learning outcomes, competencies or Entrustable Professional Activities, or entirely different units should make no difference to the portfolio. It would be especially beneficial if a portfolio could support multiple concepts simultaneously.

Successful implementation and adoption

Thirdly, successful implementation and adoption by teachers and students is essential. There must be sufficient resources, training, and support for a smooth introduction of the digital portfolio for personalized learning. Both teachers and students will need to familiarize themselves with the new method and the digital system, which often proves to be a challenge in practice.

Research shows that a step-by-step approach with adequate guidance greatly increases the chances of successful adoption. Involving teachers and students in the implementation is also of great importance for support (1,4).

For such portfolios, cooperation between the institution and the supplier is very important. Educational knowledge on the part of the supplier is crucial for a good translation to the portfolio of the concept and testing model used by the institution.

In our experience, the introduction of such a portfolio is often also a change management project. That is why the knowledge and experience of implementing a portfolio in an often fairly complex environment also helps enormously.

Read more in the article ”Succesful implementation and adoption of a digital portfolio: 5 do’s”


Integration with a digital learning system

Finally, the digital portfolio must be well integrated with the rest of the institution’s digital learning system. It should not be a standalone system but must be part of the broader digital learning environment in which students and teachers work.

Seamless integration with the electronic learning environment, scheduling programs, assessment systems, and other software used is essential. Only then can the portfolio be optimally used as an instrument for personalized learning (2,3).

That all sounds very logical, and it is. But there are several reasons why it is not always the case. Sometimes the systems cannot be linked with each other. That means that data is in different places and a clear picture about oversight may be missing. This, in turn, can result in students not receiving proper guidance when it is needed.

Another issue is the irritation of having to log into different systems. This is also increasingly leading to “drop out” behavior within organizations. Conversely, we also see that if a platform is well integrated and students and supervisors have a good picture of study progress, that better learning results can actually be achieved.


What functionalities are needed for personalized learning?

Research has shown that the chances of success increase significantly if certain conditions are met:

  1. Adjusting learning goals and activities
    Teachers can adapt learning goals and associated learning activities per student in the portfolio to their specific level, interest, and learning needs.
  2. Formative evaluation and tailored feedback
    By closely monitoring students’ portfolio submissions and progress, teachers can provide targeted, personal feedback that aligns with each individual student’s learning needs.
  3. Choices for students
    A powerful aspect is that students make choices within the curriculum in their learning activities, work forms, and ways of learning.
  4. Flexible learning routes and paths
    With the flexibility of a digital portfolio, universities can easily set up different learning paths and choice trajectories, tailored to the preferences, talents, ambitions, and learning speeds of individual students.
  5. Live monitoring and adjustment
    The clear dashboard gives teachers current insight into the progress, development, and bottlenecks of each individual student.
  6. Individual timing and location of learning activities
    In addition, in our own practice and especially in medical education, we see the importance of being able to do learning activities individually in time and place as opposed to classical classroom learning. After all, in practice, you don’t often have a say in what will happen. And certainly in a healthcare facility or hospital this is the case. So for setting up the portfolio, it is then necessary that the actions or assignments with the corresponding feedback or assessment form can be easily changed by the institution.
  7. Flexibility at the process level
    Finally, in order to facilitate all of the above points at the process level, you must also be able to be very flexible. For example, the programmatic testing concept works with many different forms such as low-stake and high stake assessments, self-reflections, group feedback, 360 degree feedback and many other processes. This is because the specific learning situation requires a specific feedback form, content and process.



Through these extensive functionalities for differentiation and personalization, an advanced digital portfolio makes it possible to shape higher education around the individual student. Students gain more control over their own learning process and can follow a learning path that seamlessly aligns with their personal needs, possibilities, and ambitions.

Thus, a well-implemented digital portfolio optimally supports universities in realizing personalized learning. A promising development for high-quality and future-oriented higher education, in which customization and talent development are central.


Sources to this article

  1. Invoeren van een digitaal portfolio in het hoger beroepsonderwijs (
  3. surf-rapport-herijking-van-de-visie-op-de-digitale-leeromgeving_webversie_0.pdf
  4. Surfen over glad ijs; ICT-implementatiestrategieën in het hoger onderwijs vanuit veranderkundig perspectief (

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