Australian Universities' RPL Policies and Practices: What Knowledge Counts?

Australian Universities' RPL Policies and Practices: What Knowledge Counts?

Tim Pitman (Curtin University, Australia) and Lesley Vidovich (University of Western Australia, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8856-8.ch002
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This chapter explores the difficulties surrounding the credentialing of open learning through an analysis of policies and practices relating to recognition of prior learning (RPL) in the Australian higher education sector. Here, credentialing encompasses both RPL for credit, where we ask to what extent there is a hierarchy of value placed on prior learning; and RPL for access where the notion of ‘meritocracy' is foregrounded. The main argument is that, in the context of the Australian higher education sector, and possibly well beyond, RPL is more likely to be operationalised for strategic reasons relating to competitive university positioning within the sector, than for pedagogic motivations. As a result, equity considerations - especially for the most disadvantaged students - are further marginalised. It is one thing to develop processes through which open learning facilitates the production of knowledge, but another for this knowledge to be recognised by the Academy.
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Background: Defining Open Learning In The Context Of Rpl

Open Learning

The term ‘open learning’ eludes precise definition and is a phrase to which a range of meaning can, and is, attached (MacKenzie, Postgate, & Scupham, 1975). For the purposes of this study, our definition of open learning focuses on learning that is a) learner-centred rather than institution-centred; b) recognises the use of a wide range of teaching and learning strategies and; c) supports the removal of barriers to learning, particularly those inherent in conventional education/training provision (Lewis, 1986). For us, therefore, the term ‘open learning’ encompasses not only pedagogic processes but also experiential, self-directed and even ‘accidental’ learning.

Most extant definitions of open learning assume an intention to instruct, or educate the learner, by someone other than the learner his/herself. For example, open learning is “a set of techniques… characterised by the use of resource-based teaching and training” (Field, 1994, p. 7); and while Rumble (1989) elucidates the impreciseness of the term, his discussion nonetheless presumes it is an educational offering. Although we would argue that this defines ‘open education’ rather than ‘open learning’, we acknowledge that the approach we take in this chapter extends the concept of open learning beyond its usual delineations. Nonetheless, the lessons learnt from our study have relevance to scholars in the field of open learning, especially as they relate to credentialing, which is a foundational concern of this chapter.

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