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Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract. 2017 Mar;22(1):221-228. doi: 10.1007/s10459-016-9679-4. Epub 2016 Mar 30.

Do portfolios have a future?

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Department of Educational Development & Research, Faculty of Health Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands.


While portfolios have seen an unprecedented surge in popularity, they have also become the subject of controversy: learners often perceive little gain from writing reflections as part of their portfolios; scholars question the ethics of such obligatory reflection; and students, residents, teachers and scholars alike condemn the bureaucracy surrounding portfolio implementation in competency-based education. It could be argued that mass adoption without careful attention to purpose and format may well jeopardize portfolios' viability in health sciences education. This paper explores this proposition by addressing the following three main questions: (1) Why do portfolios meet with such resistance from students and teachers, while educators love them?; (2) Is it ethical to require students to reflect and then grade their reflections?; (3) Does competency-based education empower or hamper the learner during workplace-based learning? Twenty-five years of portfolio reveal a clear story: without mentoring, portfolios have no future and are nothing short of bureaucratic hurdles in our competency-based education programs. Moreover, comprehensive portfolios, which are integrated into the curriculum and much more diverse in content than reflective portfolios, can serve as meaningful patient charts, providing doctor and patient with useful information to discuss well-being and treatment. In this sense, portfolios are also learner charts that comprehensively document progress in a learning trajectory which is lubricated by meaningful dialogue between learner and mentor in a trusting relationship to foster learning. If we are able to make such comprehensive and meaningful use of portfolios, then, yes, portfolios do have a bright future in medical education.


Assessment; Competency-based education; Medical education; Portfolio; Reflection

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