Prior Learning Assessment, Credit for Prior Learning, Recognition of Prior Learning

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This page is under development. Definitions come from Definitions & Use of Key Terms & Concepts in Incremental Credentialingfrom Credential As You Go.

  • CAEL: Credit for prior learning (CPL) is a term for various methods that colleges, universities, and other education/training providers use to evaluate and formally recognize learning that has occurred outside of the traditional academic environment. It is used to grant college credit, certification, or advanced standing toward further education or training. Other common terms for this process include prior learning assessment (PLA) and recognition of learning.
  • Jobs for the Future (JFF): Credit for prior learning is making it easier for students with knowledge, skills, and experience gained on the job or in the classroom to quickly earn credits needed to obtain a degree without having to retake courses or develop competencies they already possess. Credit for prior learning enables learners to demonstrate the competencies they have gained through significant on-the-job or military experience, or through courses or credentials completed at an approved institution and that align to a for-credit program. Prior learning assessments, which is a term often used interchangeably with credit for prior learning, provide a means for students to receive credit as described above. These formal assessments, which can vary by institution and program type, gauge students’ existing knowledge and skills in order to determine the degree to which they should be awarded credit for previous coursework completed at another approved educational institution or for prior work and life experience.
  • UPCEA and WCET: Recognition of prior learning is a term used for various methods of valuing college-level learning that has taken place outside of formal educational institutions, but that can be assessed so that it can count toward degrees or credentials. The ways students can demonstrate this learning and earn credit for it in college degrees or credentials include:
    • Standardized examination: Students can earn credit by successfully completing exams such as Advanced Placement (AP), College Level Examination Program (CLEP), International Baccalaureate (IB), Excelsior exams (UExcel), DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST).
    • Faculty-developed challenge exam: Students can earn credit for a specific course by taking a comprehensive examination developed by campus faculty.
    • Portfolio-based and other individualized assessment: Students can earn credit by preparing a portfolio or demonstration of their learning from a variety of experiences and non-credit activities. Faculty evaluate the student’s portfolio and award credit as appropriate.
    • Evaluation of non-college programs: Students can earn credit based on recommendations provided by the National College Credit Recommendation Service (NCCRS) and the American Council on Education (ACE) that conduct evaluations of training offered by employers or the military. Institutions also conduct their own review of programs, including coordinating with workforce development agencies and other training providers to develop crosswalks that map between external training/credentials and existing degree programs.
  • Wikipedia: Recognition of prior learning (RPL), prior learning assessment (PLA), or prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR), describes a process used by regulatory bodies, adult learning centers, career development practitioners, military organizations, human resources professionals, employers, training institutions, colleges and universities around the world to evaluate skills and knowledge acquired outside the classroom for the purpose of recognizing competence against a given set of standards, competencies, or learning outcomes. RPL is practiced in many countries for a variety of purposes, e.g., an individual’s standing in a profession, trades qualifications, academic achievement, recruitment, performance management, career and succession planning. The methods of assessing prior learning are varied and include evaluation of prior experience gained through volunteer work, previous paid or unpaid employment, or observation of actual workplace behavior. The essential element of RPL is that it is an assessment of evidence provided by an individual to support their claim for competence against a given set of standards or learning outcomes. RPL is sometimes confused with Credit Transfer, assessments conducted in order to recognize advanced standing or for assigning academic credit. The essential difference between the two is that RPL considers evidence of competence that may be drawn from any aspect of an applicant’s professional or personal life. Credit Transfer and advanced standing deal primarily with an evaluation of academic performance as it relates to a particular field of study and whether or not advanced standing may be granted towards the gaining of additional qualifications. Some academic institutions include Credit Transfer within their overall RPL umbrella, as the process still involves assessment of prior learning, regardless of how achieved.
  • Wikipedia: Recognition of prior learning is known by many names in different countries. It is APL (Accreditation of Prior Learning), CCC (Crediting Current Competence), or APEL (Accrediting Prior Experiential Learning) in the UK, RPL in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, and PLAR (Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition) in Canada (although different jurisdictions within Canada use RPL and RCC (Recognition of Current Competence). France has a more sophisticated system in which assessment is known as Bilan de competences, Bilan des competences approfondi, or Validation de Acquis des Experiences (VAE). The United Nations UNESCO organisation has a “Global Convention on the Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications Project” to standardize terminology and definitions used in Higher Education.


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