Excel in Portfolio Development for Adult Students

Excel in Portfolio Development for Adult Students
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Adult students are different from the traditional college student. So much so, they even have the nickname “non-traditional students”. These students are typically older, work at least part-time and have families. They are not looking the have the typical college co-ed experience. They are in school to hone skills they already have, learn a new skill or trade, or back up the experience they already have with the required education to progress in their careers. For students who fall into the latter category, developing a portfolio is a way of applying what they already know to their chosen program, allowing the student to possibly complete their chosen program faster. It is also a way for the adult student to showcase projects and assignments completed during the program that will help them in the workforce and offers the student the opportunity to participate in his education and evaluation process.


Portfolio development for adult students started when educators realized that adult students had different motivations and needs than traditional students. Traditional college students typically have no work experience and are exploring their career options. This differs from the adult student who either already has a career or knows what they want their next career to be. Androgogy, the study of the educating of adults, has evolved from traditional teaching methods of college students such as the instructor lecturing and the student taking notes, because in many instances, due to work and life experience, adult learners have a greater knowledge of the subject matter. To accommodate this, adult education programs are more hands on and kinesthetic, and focus less on traditional evaluation methods such as examinations. However, the switch from the traditional scoring methods meant new evaluation methods had to be developed and applied that matched the teaching method. Portfolios allow the instructor to continue with practical, hands-on instruction while providing a tangible product with which to evaluate the student.

Prior Experience

An adult attending school to further his education often has practical work experience that can be used toward college credit. To prove this, some schools could require the student to submit a portfolio of work – a collection of special projects completed as part of his job duties. For example, a student who has worked as a graphic designer that has returned to school to get a design degree could submit a portfolio of work they completed. School administrators examine the portfolio and decide if any of the work can be applied toward college credit.

Completed Assignments

An adult student’s portfolio will also include completed assignments. Most instructors of courses with major projects will instruct students to include the completed project in their portfolio. For example, students in a course on creating lesson plans could be instructed to include a completed lesson plan in their portfolio. Other items that could be included in the portfolio include an essay explaining why the student chose the program, mandatory exam scores, evaluations and recommendations from instructors. At the completion of the program, the student will have a body of work they can use as proof of experience to potential employers.

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