Adult learners with significant life experience may be able to earn college credit for what they have learned over the years. Many schools offer prior learning assessment (PLA) programs offering students an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of college level knowledge, skills, and abilities acquired outside a traditional classroom, in order to earn credit toward their degree.
How can you determine if you are a good candidate for PLA?
Students interested in seeking credit for prior learning should start by considering their previous experience in terms of the knowledge, skills, and abilities acquired. Remember credit is earned for prior learning, not prior experience. Students should reflect on their work experience, volunteer activities, personal hobbies and interests, and other activities; learning can occur in any environment.
Students can begin by taking a critical look at their resumes. The resume shows a potential employer what a person has done. However, when considering options for prior learning assessment, the resume will provide a starting point for a student to consider what he/she really had to know or have the ability to do in order to fulfill job responsibilities. For example, consider a student who has worked as an administrative assistant. The job responsibilities could include anything from creating correspondence to managing budgets or supervising other administrative staff. However, what did the student need to know or be able to do to perform in that position? In general, most administrative personnel need to have superior computer skills. She should ask herself if the skills she has developed align with any computer applications courses. What about courses in business or technical writing, business administration or finance?
Learning in the workplace is a good place to start, but students should not overlook learning resulting from volunteer activities or personal interests. For example, a student may learn about the workings of government through working on campaign committees or serving in an elected capacity. A student who volunteers for at his/her child’s school may have learned about child development or classroom management. A history buff may have learned a great deal about American history from independent reading and visiting museums and battlefields.
Creating a chart, such as the one below, to organize your knowledge, skills, and abilities may be helpful.
|Activity||Description||Knowledge, skills, and abilities required/acquired|
|Administrative assistant||Created correspondence, reports and meeting presentations, made travel arrangements, data entry, inventory control, prepared research on competitors||MS Word, Access, Excel, PowerPoint, internet research, written and oral communication, inventory control best practice and procedure|
|PTO/ Classroom Volunteer||Served on fundraising committee, coordinated classroom volunteers, served a teachers aid in child’s classroom one morning each week||Leadership skills, communication skills, organizational skills, non-profit management, learned about stages of child development and learning milestones, learned to leverage social media to create awareness of volunteer needs and fundraising events, collaboration and team building skills|
|Travel||Yearly travel with a specific focus on national parks||Learned about geography and topography, cultures within various US regions|
Once you have started thinking about your life experience in terms of what you have learned, start perusing the course descriptions in the college catalog. In the case of the student above, computer applications courses and introductory business courses would be a good starting place. After reviewing these course descriptions, she might move on to communications courses, child development courses, and geography courses. Once you have a list of potential courses you might challenge via PLA, it is time to get in contact with the PLA department and seek additional advice.
By Tedi Thompson-Magrini
Associate VP/Prior Learning Assessment at American Public University System
Ready When You Are
At American Public University, students are priority one. We are committed to providing quality education, superior student resources, and affordable tuition. In fact, while post-secondary tuition has risen sharply nationwide, the university continues to offer affordable tuition without sacrificing academic quality.