Recognition of prior learning
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Recognition of prior learning (RPL), prior learning assessment (PLA), or prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR), describes a process used by regulatory bodies, adult learning centres, career development practitioners, military organizations, human resource professionals, employers, training institutions, colleges and universities around the world to evaluate skills and knowledge (learning) acquired outside the classroom for the purpose of recognizing competence against a given set of standards, competencies, or learning outcomes. RPL is practiced in many countries for a variety of purposes (e.g. competence standing in a profession, trades qualifications, academic achievement, recruitment, performance management, career and succession planning.
Methods of assessing prior learning are varied and include: evaluation of prior experience gained through volunteer work, previous paid or unpaid employment, standardized exams or observation of actual workplace behavior. The essential element of RPL is that it is an assessment of evidence provided by an individual to support their claim for competence against a given set of standards or learning outcomes.
RPL is sometimes confused with Credit Transfer or assessments conducted in order to recognize advanced standing or for assigning academic credit. The essential difference between the two is that RPL considers evidence of competence that may be drawn from any aspect of an applicant's professional or personal life. Credit Transfer and advanced standing deal primarily with an evaluation of academic performance as it relates to a particular field of study and whether or not advanced standing may be granted towards the gaining of additional qualifications. Some academic institutions include Credit Transfer within their overall RPL umbrella, as the process still involves assessment of prior learning, regardless of how achieved.
RPL is known by many names in different countries. It is APL (Accreditation of Prior Learning), CCC (Crediting Current Competence), or APEL (Accrediting Prior Experiential Learning) in the UK, RPL in Australia and New Zealand, and PLAR (Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition) in Canada (although different jurisdictions within Canada use RPL and RCC (Recognition of Current Competence). France has a more sophisticated system in which assessment is known as ‘Bilan de competences’, ‘Bilan des competences approfondi’, or ‘Validation de Acquis des Experiences (VAE)’. Regardless of the title, all are the same and all are RPL.
RPL has been the mainstay of all assessments conducted under national vocational education and training systems since the late 1980s and continues to evolve as different VET systems evolve. It was first introduced into the UK by Susan Simosko, a consultant with the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, who adapted it as the central element of all competency-based assessments. A similar process was adopted by all countries during the development of their own vocational education and training systems, some aligned solely with the need to assess competence in line with the needs of private and public sector organizations, and others as a critical element of the assessment of skills and knowledge in order to grant vocational qualifications.
RPL is a very simple and straightforward process of assessing someone’s skills or knowledge, regardless of where and how these were learned. Unlike other forms of assessment it doesn’t judge someone’s evidence of competence solely by the credentials or qualifications they have achieved, although this can form part of their claim. Nor does it consider where a person worked, their age, gender or physical attributes.
What RPL does is allow people to demonstrate that they are capable of undertaking specific tasks or working in certain industries based on evidence of skills and knowledge gained throughout their life.
RPL is what is known as a criterion-referenced assessment – assessment of skills and knowledge against certain criteria. And this criteria is outcomes-based (i.e., the outcome of somebody doing something, such as the outcome of writing is a letter, or the outcome of making something which results in an end product), not process-based such as learning.
In teaching or traditional training, the criteria against which formative and summative assessments are conducted is known as teaching or training objectives. (Sometimes these are also referred to as learning objectives but these are really the outcome the learners seeks to achieve, not the teacher or trainer.) They may be written in different ways but in all cases they include the behaviour to be observed, the conditions under which such behaviour is to be performed, and the standards or criteria which the performance must meet. These are the standards to be achieved as a result of the learning or training activity.
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