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

Overview

Prior learning assessment (PLA) is a term used for various methods of valuing college-level learning that has taken place outside of formal educational institutions, that can be assessed to count toward degrees or other credentials. It is the evaluation of valuable college-level learning often gained through volunteer work, previous paid or unpaid employment (including military training and employment), or observation of actual workplace behavior.

PLA describes a process used by regulatory bodies, career development practitioners, employers, training institutions, and colleges and universities to evaluate skills and knowledge. The purpose is to recognize competencies based on a given set of standards, competencies, or learning outcomes. It is practiced to determine an individual's standing in a profession, trades qualifications, academic achievement, or professional skill set.

Definitions by Various Organizations

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.

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.

Assessments

Assessments can vary depending on the college/university and the academic program. Common assessment methods according to the UPCEA and WCET:

  1. Standardized examination such as students earning 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).
  2. Faculty-developed challenge exam in which students take a comprehensive examination developed by campus faculty.
  3. Portfolio-based and other individualized assessments in which students prepare a portfolio or demonstration of their learning from a variety of experiences and non-credit activities and faculty evaluate the portfolio and award credit as appropriate.
  4. Evaluation of non-college programs in which students 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. Credit for prior learning can make it easier and more efficient 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.

Research

Education Commission of the States (ECS) conducted a 50-state scan in which they include references to states that have policies and statutes related to PLA.[5]

HCM Strategists and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) created a resource guide for state leaders considering drafting and implementing state policy.[6]

Jobs for the Future and CAEL drafted a series of memos for the California Community College System (CCCS) PLA taskforce that informed the CCCS PLA policy that was established in March 2020.[7] Information from these sources find that:

  • 35 states and District of Columbia have system-level, state-level policy and/or legislation passed that requires institutions to award credit for military experience (31 of those states and the DC have passed legislation regarding credit for military experience).[8]
  • 26 states have system-level, state-level policy and/or legislation that requires postsecondary education institutions to accept credit for minimum AP scores (four of those states have passed legislation regarding credit for minimum AP scores).[9]
  • 27 states have system-level, state-level policy and/or legislation that requires institutions to award credit for prior learning outside of military and/or AP experience (10 of those states have passed legislation regarding credit for prior learning).[10

Ecosystem Relationship

Prior learning assessments and credit for prior learning are important parts of transparency, quality and value, as they help individuals earn credit for their previous knowledge without them wasting additional time and money on courses covering what they already know. It is also a method of recordkeeping and verification of ability.

Types/Examples

  • Tests developed by individual colleges to verify learning achievement.
  • Program evaluations done by non-collegiate instructional programs.
  • DSST Credit by Exam Program (formerly the DANTES program), owned and operated by Prometric. Exams that test knowledge of college material.
  • College Level Examination Program Exams offered by the College Board.
  • American Council of Education Guides - credit recommendations for formal instructional programs.
  • Portfolio-based assessments of student portfolios.

Alternative Terminology

  • Prior learning assessment and recognition
  • Recognition of prior learning
  • In the UK, it is called APL (Accreditation of Prior Learning), CCC (Crediting Current Competence), or APEL (Accrediting Prior Experiential Learning) in the UK
  • In Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, it is RPL i and PLAR (Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition)
  • In Canada. it is RCC (although different jurisdictions within Canada use RPL and RCC (Recognition of Current Competence).

History

As described in a WICHE brief, the concept of PLA has been around since World War II and the G.I. Bill when postsecondary institutions began thinking of ways to help military veterans earn academic credit for their military experiences.[1] In the 1970s, incumbent workers and military veterans saw a further increase in opportunities to earn credit for their prior experiences.[2] In recent decades, PLA has also been largely associated with high-achieving high school students who have had opportunities to access AP and IB courses and receive credit for prior learning when they enter college.

References

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