How Prior Learning Assessment Fits Into Today's Education Landscape

How Prior Learning Assessment Fits Into Today's Education Landscape

Susan Huggins (Independent Researcher, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5255-0.ch004
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Abstract

As defined by the American Council on Education (ACE), prior learning is learning gained outside the college classroom in a variety of settings and through formal and non-formal means, including workplace training, military training and service, independent study, professional certifications, civic activities, or volunteer service. These learning experiences may be equivalent to college-level skills and knowledge and warrant academic credit. Although this definition was coined many years ago, the definition and purpose of prior learning assessment are more pertinent given the changing educational landscape. Today, the proliferation of online and digital learning has opened endless opportunities for learners. With a few clicks on any device, learners can find an immediate solution to their knowledge gap. This increased learning that is occurring outside the walls of formal education increases the need on the assessment process; hence, the growing emphasis on prior learning assessment.
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How Prior Learning Assessment Fits Into Today’S Education Landscape

What Is Prior Learning Assessment?

Prior learning assessment (PLA) is a process used by academic institutions that enables students to earn college credit for learning gained outside the traditional classroom. The assessment of formal or non-formal learning from workplace training, military service and training, professional certifications, or volunteer service can help students save money and accelerate their time to degree. PLA is known by many different names such as, Assessment of Prior Learning (APL), Assessment of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL), Credit for Prior Learning (CPL), Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR), and Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). While the benefits of saving time and money are clear for the student, PLA is also a major selling point for programs and institutions that serve adult learners.

The benefit of prior learning assessment is very clear both for the individual and for the institution. The data collected from a 2010 CAEL study, Fueling the Race, revealed additional institutional benefits of PLA include the following:

  • PLA students in the study had much higher degree-earning rates than non-PLA students. Across all students from all institutions, after seven years, twice as many PLA students earned postsecondary degrees as had non-PLA students.

  • The average time to degree for PLA students in the study was shorter than for non-PLA

    • students, particularly at the bachelor degree level. PLA students earning bachelor’s degrees

    • saved an average of between 2.5 and 10.1 months of time in earning their degrees, compared to

    • non-PLA students earning degrees.

  • PLA students earn degrees at a greater rate than non-PLA students. Of all PLA students in the sample, 43 percent went on to earn a bachelor’s degree compared to only 15 percent of non-PLA students.

  • PLA students had higher GPAs than non-PLA students. Seventy percent (70%) of PLA students had GPAs of 3.0or higher, compared to 64 percent of non-PLA students, and 98 percent of PLA students had cumulative GPAs of 2.0 or higher, compared to 88 percent of non-PLA students.

  • PLA students had higher graduation rates than non-PLA students, even when controlling for GPA. Among all students with cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher, PLA students had graduation rates of 66 percent compared to 35 percent of non-PLA students.

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