PLA is so hot right now

I started working with PLA back in 1980, when I was an advisor for the Board of Governors Bachelor of Arts degree program.  I've always been a supporter and have seen it spur students towards a degree.  I think it's an important part of higher education, although it's only a part.  So to see it championed lately as some kind of higher education change agent makes me a little uneasy.  I guess it would be fair to say I'm a bit conflicted on the matter.

For one thing, I've always been reluctant to market our adult degree programs with PLA out front.  It sends the wrong message; it cheapens it.  Sometimes the process is presented inappropriately. Although it comes up less often lately, for example, I hate the term credit for life experience.  Of course, credit should only be awarded for learning, not for experience or anything else. A good PLA program is comprehensive: it includes CLEP, ACE recommendations, DANTES, challenge exams (testing out of courses), in addition to the portfolio process.

I also think PLA is most appropriate for lower division courses.  In more advanced college courses, students are introduced to theory.  Since most prior learning has occurred through work or hobbies, theory is often missing while application is emphasized.  This is not universally true, of course, but that's been my experience.  An experienced public speaker might impressively demonstrate mastery of the learning outcomes for Introduction to Public Speaking, for example, but struggle to show the same competency for Interpersonal Communication.  However, as the article I've linked to points out, the emergence of open learning initiatives could change that.  As more college courses are online and open to the public, students will be able to take advantage of this educational tool to seek credit at an institution through PLA.  I don't believe anyone would consider that learning illegitimate.  So maybe PLA will be a change agent after all.

This article is from Anya Kamenetz, writing in Change.

The Transformation of Higher Education through Prior Learning Assessment
Historically, whether out of a sincere belief in the superiority of their own offerings or the desire to collect tuition revenues, the vast majority of colleges have put limits on the number of transfer credits they accept, even from institutions within their own state systems. They may also reserve the right to use PLA credits only for electives, rather than letting them satisfy core requirements.

“Lots of institutions have a PLA policy on the books but don't do much of it in fact,” says Pamela Tate, CEO of the Council on Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL). “An amazingly small number of people actually get credit for prior learning.” Moreover, most students don't get their college's final word on how many credits are accepted until they've already made the decision to attend.
It's time for that to change.

Prior Learning Assessment, or PLA, offers a proven pathway to raise productivity in higher education, to enable millions of students who have stopped short of a degree to complete their education, and to increase the application of more authentic and student-centered forms of assessment. PLA also offers a ready way to incorporate the past decade's revolution in open courseware and open learning into the existing framework of accreditation and assessment, making a college degree more affordable and accessible to all.


sign said…
Good luck and thank you too for asking.
A very insightful post. Thanks for the info.
Digital Media?

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