Guest Author - Elizabeth Stuttard
Many universities and colleges that offer online courses will allow students to earn some credits through Prior Learning Assessment. The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) is an organization that encourages students, colleges, and universities to use Prior Learning Assessment “to retain and graduate more adult students”. The questions many students have are “What is Prior Learning Assessment?”; “Why would I want to use it?” and “How do I apply for it?”
What is Prior Learning Assessment?
The CAEL definition of Prior Learning Assessment is:“it is a term used to describe learning gained outside a traditional academic environment”. This learning can be from various sources. It may be a combination of formal and informal learning. It may be independent learning that you have done on your own because of special interests you have. It may be courses or training that you have taken at work or learning you have accomplished in workshops you have attended. Perhaps you have done some volunteer work and had to learn some new skills to do it. All of this knowledge and the skills you have learned may be knowledge and skills you will learn in one or more courses that you must take to earn your college or university degree. If you can show that you have learned the equivalent of the learning outcomes for a course or courses, then you can follow your college’s instructions to apply to have an assessment done of your prior learning.
Why would I want to use Prior Learning Assessment?
If you apply for course equivalency learning through Prior Learning Assessment and you are successful, then you will be given credits for the course or courses. This will mean that you will save time in your college studies because you will not have to take the courses for which you have been given credit. If you do not have to take the course, you will not have to pay for it either which means that you will save money on your education. Although there is a fee to have a Prior Learning Assessment done, it is much lower than the cost of a course. There are also some benefits to looking at what you have learned in your lifetime and using that information to help you in setting your learning goals.
How do I apply for Prior Learning Assessment?
Not every distance learning college or university allows students to receive credit for experiential learning but many do. Those that do allow these credits will have the information about the requirements, and how you go about applying, available on their website. Often there are forms to download that must be completed; very often you must complete a prior learning portfolio; often there is a mentor or advisor that you must talk to before applying. I have found that the information you need is there on most of the college or university websites. Because portfolios are required for the process so often, my next article will give more detail about the requirements for prior learning portfolios.
If you are an adult returning to school after working for a number of years – probably about 5 or more – and you feel that you have learned specific knowledge or skills that are being taught in one or more of your courses, then you should consider applying for a Prior Learning Assessment at your school.