Choosing the Right Electronic Portfolio

A few days ago, I received an email from Pratt’s Educational Technologist who invited me, along with a few other colleagues to look at some examples of Electronic portfolios.  We were given access to two demo installations of Eportfolios that the school is currently considering.

1- Desire 2 Learn: A commercial platform from Desire2Learn Incorporated.  Desire2Learn has been around since 1999 and offers a variety of e-learning solutions aimed mostly at educational institutions.

2- Mahara: This is a fully featured open-source Eportfolio web application that supports blogging, resume building as well as a file manager feature to store user files.  Mahara is developed by Catalyst IT.  I would like to thank Nigel McNie for clarifying that Catalyst IT is the lead developer of Mahara and that the actual founder of Moodle is Martin Dougiamas. The word Mahara means to “think” in Te Reo Maori, which indicates that the developers of this product are strong believers in a student-centered approach to learning.

Selecting the right ePortfolio application for your school can be a complicated process.  There are many factors to take into consideration as one must take into account the needs and preferences of all parties involved.  The most important of those parties are the end users who are the learner and the instructor.   As I explored the features and functionality of both Desire2Learn and Mahara I kept asking myself the following obvious question: which one is more intuitive and provides the best features to our students?   After many hours of clicking, dragging and dropping, here are some thoughts and observations:

Desire2lean (license: commercial)

In addition the usual Eportoflio features available in any platform (presentation, networking and reflection), Desire2Learn also offers:

1- A powerful control panel with easy to use tools for managing and sharing information.

2- Ability to create both learner roles and instructor roles.

3- Assessment tools to create quizzes and rubrics.

4- Class management tools, including a dropbox, class lists and a discussion forum.

These features make Desire2Leanrn a one-stop academic e-learning solution that addresses the needs of both the learner and the instructor.



mahara logo

Mahara (Free open-source)

As a full-featured ePortfolio, Mahara includes the following features:

  • Users can create multiple views for a variety of audiences
  • File repository for files of all types
  • Blogs
  • Social Networking
  • Resume Builder
  • Integration with Moodle (networking API) and one-click transfer

Overall, Mahara is an excellent e-portfolio solution that offers all the necessary tools learners need to showcase their work and reflect critically on what they have learned in the process.  When intergrated with Moodle, Mahara has the potential to deliver a comprehesive solution to online learning by allowing the learner to process and synthesize information, reflect on what has been learned and finally share those reflections.

Final thoughts

Both Desire2Learn and Mahara offer the necessary functions for learners to document their skills, critically reflected on aquired knowledge, and showcase their best work using a variety of multimedia tools.  Eventough, Desire2Learn includes an instructional component that currenly lacks in Mahara, I’m leaning more towards the latter since integration with Moodle compensates for that, making it a free comprehensive Eportfolio solution.


  1. RLR
    Feb 21, 2009

    I would also consider Nuventive’s iWebfolio ( It is functional and powerful. You create, deploy, and share powerful, scalable templates. Portfolio owners can create Web 2.0-based content, and attach files of all kinds. You create and use multiple times of assessment measures, with varying degrees of privacy. You create reports on those measures, demonstrating student performance. There are also functions for reflection, self-rate, instructions, presentation styles, and permissions.

  2. rachid
    Feb 23, 2009

    Thanks for the suggestion. I visited the website, but couldn’t find a demo to get a sense of how it works and how it looks.

  3. Nigel McNie
    May 6, 2009

    Just to clarify – Catalyst IT are _not_ the creators of Moodle – we lead development on Mahara, but Martin Dougiamas is the creator of Moodle.

  4. rachid
    May 6, 2009

    Thanks Nigel for clarifying this. I have updated the post accordingly.

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