This practice, known as Prior Learning Assessment (PLA), provides adult learners with the means to potentially earn credit for work and life experience. Prior learning programs not only provide students with an alternative option for credit beyond taking courses, but also validate and recognize the non-traditional learning (knowledge, skills and experience) that adult learners bring with them to college.
Since PLA is an alternative method of awarding credit, it requires additional support and effort beyond traditional academe. It can take many forms:
- Credit by exam: the process of earning college credit through a credit-by-exam program.
- Credit by essay or portfolio: a process through which a student documents college-level learning based on nontraditional learning experiences.
- Credit by licensure or certification: the process of recognizing competencies demonstrated through successful completion of professional certifications or licenses.
- Course by arrangement: the process through which a student petitions to document major-course learning outcomes and course equivalent competencies. Faculty provide self-directed comprehensive course instructions and assignments.
In addition to providing adult learners with these prior learning program options, adult learners need support to fully realize the benefits of participation. Through effective marketing, advising and feedback during student processes, prior learning programs can have multiple benefits. This could include increased student satisfaction, increased retention, and faster degree completion.
Achieving successful student outcomes with prior learning programs requires support throughout the student lifecycle, including their time before, during and after they engage in prior learning processes. For National Louis University (NLU) in Chicago, this realization didn’t occur overnight. It took years of trial and error until we found the right balance of support. As a result, there was an increase in the number of students using PLA programs and in successful student outcomes.