S3E12: Prior Learning Assessment in Higher Education

Doug McKenna |
March 8, 2021
  • For the Record
  • prior learning assessment

Prior Learning Assessment in Higher Education

Registrars regularly oversee the practice of how credits are recorded in the academic record and how these credits apply towards educational credentials. Registrars are also often at the forefront of helping to shape the institutional policies related to Prior Learning Assessment (PLA). Listen as Becky Klein-Collins of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) talks through the origins of PLA and Competency-Based Education (CBE), the ways PLA and CBE can assist older or non-traditional learners achieve a credential, and some of the barriers PLA and CBE face when it comes to implementation and adoption by institutions of higher education.

Key Takeaways:

  • Neither PLA nor CBE are new. They’ve been around since the early 70’s. They started as concepts supported by FIPSE, and can be viewed as a way to advance social justice by creating college opportunities for non-traditional populations.
  • PLA is a way for students to receive college credit for knowledge and skills acquired outside the classroom; assessed by faculty. CBE is a comprehensive curricular approach that requires an intentional and transparent approach, and centered around the specific and measurable competencies that a student should have upon completion of a course of study. Many of today’s CBE models are designed to be self-paced, asynchronous, and online.
  • PLA and CBE offer different pathways to credential attainment by members of the workforce and adult learners; both can be used to make higher education more accessible and equitable and be tools to recruit working adults to postsecondary learning.
  • CBE is a movement that could grow after our current moment: self-paced, asynchronous, online learning modules have increased in prevalence and availability over the past year as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Becky Klein-Collins (pronouns: she/her/hers)
Vice President, Impact, CAEL

References and Additional Information:

  • The new CAEL-WICHE research report (and 1-page fact sheet) on the impact of prior learning assessment: Read more
  • New AACRAO survey research report on the prior learning assessment/credit for prior learning policies and practices: Read more
  • Professional development on PLA: Learn more
  • CAEL's annual conference with professional development and peer-led workshops on PLA and other topics related to supporting adult learners, San Diego, California, November 17-19: Learn More
  • Free 1-hour online micro course, "Roadmap to Success: Understanding and Serving Your Adult Learners": Learn more
  • Learn more about how CAEL can help with PLA and other ways to support adult learners: Learn more
  • CBE Network
  • AACRAO Publication: Guide to Best Practices: Awarding Transfer and Prior Learning Credit
  • AACRAO Professional Proficiency: Evaluating Prior Learning