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By Kimberly Watson
Alternative Learning Specialist, School of Continuing and Professional Studies, APUS
The Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) program offers you a way to earn academic credit outside of a traditional classroom. The PLA is beneficial because it helps you avoid redundant classroom material, decreases the time you need to complete your degree and potentially lowers your tuition costs.
However, PLA also requires considerable work. Here are five steps to help you prepare for PLA.
1. Identify Your Prior Learning
One way to identify prior learning is to make a list of all the things you have learned since you graduated from high school. List the activity, what you did and what you learned. Create the personal learning inventory using any method that is comfortable and convenient for you, such as an Excel spreadsheet or Word chart as shown below.
|Experience||Responsibilities||What I Learned|
|First job — Assistant Store Manager||Inventory control, prepare payroll, HR Management||Importance of stock rotation, avoiding shrink, basic record keeping, interviewing techniques|
|Served as Treasurer — HOA Board||Develop budget, AR/AP, prepare P&L statements, reconcile bank statements||Basic bookkeeping, budgeting, Preparation of basic accounting forms and use of formulas|
List experiences in both your personal and professional life and what you learned as a result. Once you have completed your learning inventory, review the course catalog. You may find courses in your degree program that align with your prior learning.
2. Decide if the Portfolio Method Is Right for You
There are several forms of prior learning assessment. Choose the one that is best suited to your academic needs and goals. The different forms of PLA include the following:
- American Council on Education (ACE) recommendations
- Institutional credit recommendations
- Challenge exams
- National exam programs such as CLEP and DANTES
3. Find a Program That Offers the Portfolio Option
In 2011, APUS successfully launched a portfolio-based prior learning assessment program. For more information, read the “Prior Learning Assessment for Academic Credit” page.
4. Enroll in the Required Workshop or Course to Develop Your Portfolio
Many schools offer portfolio programs and most provide a workshop or course to assist students in preparing the portfolio. APUS offers a four week no cost/no credit PLA workshop for graduate students. Undergraduate students are required to participate in a three credit hour course — the COLL200 Prior Learning Assessment Seminar. The workshop and course are beneficial in identifying prior learning that can successfully be applied towards a specific course and provides support to students as they develop a portfolio.
5. Compile the Portfolio and Submit It to an Evaluator
Portfolios contain a wealth of information that can demonstrate prior learning. A typical portfolio will include a resume, autobiography, educational goal statement, narrative and supporting documentation.
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About the Author
Kimberly Watson joined American Public University System in 2010 as the Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) Coordinator when the University began the pilot of the PLA program. She later became an Alternative Learning Specialist, which supports all forms of non-traditional learning.