Utilizing Prior Learning Portfolios to Rebundle Formal and Informal Learning

Utilizing Prior Learning Portfolios to Rebundle Formal and Informal Learning

Diane M. Treis Rusk (University of Wisconsin System Administration, USA) and Lauren Smith (University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-3809-1.ch007
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In this chapter, the authors will explore credit for prior learning (CPL) by portfolio as a high-impact educational practice that can enable learners to weave together disparate learning in meaningful ways while also deepening elements of integrative learning. While portfolio-based CPL is a longstanding educational practice, its utility is often undervalued. The authors will consider why the portfolio process should be a more central feature of academic programs and how it can support student learning and achievement. The authors will share findings of a CPL portfolio case study that directly and indirectly assessed student integrative learning performance and student perceptions of their proficiency. Findings validate student learning as well as increased internal validation of learning and academic confidence. Respondents indicated the portfolio process positively impacted their ability to apply learning, communicate, and create new knowledge. Implications for teaching and learning, program assessment, and administration and policy will be discussed.
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Outside of the United States, in nations where CPL is best established, conversations about “validation of learning” are shaped by concerns similar to those that shape the conversation in the U.S. Education professionals seek to address unemployment rates by providing improved access to credentials, particularly for underserved groups (Villalba-Garcia, 2021). As in the United States, scholars are concerned both with quality assurance and with the acceptance CPL by university faculty and employers, as well as with uptake of CPL by underserved students (Looney and Santabanez, 2021; Wihak, 2007). The language with which scholars and practitioners write about CPL varies widely, as does the particular means of providing CPL (Villalba-Garcia, 2021), with CPL by portfolio under-utilized outside of the United States. The research for this chapter was conducted at a regional four-year university in the United States and situates itself in a U.S.-based conversation about CPL and CPL by portfolio. Because of similar motivations (access to credentials for underserved) and similar concerns (quality assurance and uptake of CPL processes), findings should be applicable in contexts outside of the United States.

The impact of CPL on adult students’ success is well-established in the context of U.S. literature on adult learners. Klein-Collins (2010) found that adult students who earned CPL had better academic outcomes than students who did not, regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status, age, academic ability, and financial aid status; and these findings were confirmed by a range of narrower studies focusing on specific institutions or institutional groups (Chappell, 2012; Hayward & Williams, 2015; Klein, 2017). The work of Klein-Collins et al., (2020) confirmed the positive impact of CPL on students, including students of color and low-income students. They also found equity challenges in the relatively low uptake of CPL by students of color. This was particularly true for those who are Black or low-income. Furthermore, Klein-Collins, et. al. (2020) found Latinx and military students had a higher uptake of CPL in the form of Spanish CLEP tests and ACE credit recommendations.

A follow-up study, Klein-Collins et al., (2021) took a deeper dive into these equity issues and found that low-income and Black students get a particularly strong boost from CPL completion when they engage in the process, making their relatively low uptake especially troubling. The authors suggested that among the barriers for some minoritized adult students are the cost, a lack of confidence in their own academic skills, lack of institutional flexibility, and knowledge of the process. In order to provide the benefits of CPL to these students, the authors recommended more and better outreach, financial support for low-income and minoritized students, and CPL processes that are woven into programs and curricula. A microstudy completed by Rogers and Forte (2016) examined seven students’ passage through the CPL process and the findings supported those of previous studies. The authors suggested that CPL feels inaccessible to many minoritized students for reasons that are complex and interwoven, including a lack of comfort with or confidence in a process that requires them to prove college-level learning when they have gotten the message in the past that they are not college material.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Internal Validation: The outcome in which a learner is able to self-evaluate and recognize for themselves that they have proficiency of certain content or abilities.

CPL Portfolio: A collection of artifacts and reflections that are organized around a specified set of learning outcomes, competency expectation, or prompts. An electronic portfolio (eportfolio) refers to a portfolio that is presented in a digital format.

Integrative Learning: The ability to connect and synthesize learning across institutional and extrainstitutional setting in a way that extends an individual’s ability to adapt and create knowledge in multiple contexts.

Credit for Prior Learning (CPL): The practice of recognizing, evaluating, and awarding credit for university-level learning that was acquired by a student outside of university-sponsored credit instruction.

Metacognition: The ability of an individual to recognize their personal learning needs and how that learning may be acquired.

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