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A feature story on addressed questions about prior learning assessment, its value and process, highlighting Marylhurst PLA students talking about their experiences.

Excerpt from an article titled Who Gets the Credit? by Paul Fain on, August 2, 2012.

The granting of college credit for knowledge gained outside the traditional academic setting – prior learning assessment – appears poised to take off in higher education.

Yet the practice remains controversial, and often misunderstood.

Amid this debate, it might help to hear what adult students who have received credit for prior learning think about the process. That's what Melanie Booth and her colleagues at Marylhurst University have done with a series of video interviews with students there.

An expert on prior learning, Booth recently answered questions about the process over email.

Q: People often think prior learning assessment is just credits for life experience. Is that true?

A: In fact, no. We don't award college credit for experience. We award credit when a student demonstrates the equivalent knowledge of an academic course – specifically, when the student demonstrates they've met the learning outcomes of the course. Students need to submit evidence of their experiences, but what they earn credit from is the more significant part of their PLA submission: evidence of learning.

A good example of the difference is that a student cannot earn credit for courses called "How Sheila Raised Her Kids," or "How Larry Manages Employees," because there aren't such college courses. However, students can reflect on their own parenting or management experiences (what worked, what didn't, how that compared to other experiences they had, causes and effects, pros and cons, etc.), what they learned from reading books, workshops or trainings, talking to other people, observations, etc., and then can do PLA for academic courses like Theories of Parenting or Child Development, or Theories of Management or Principles of Supervision [courses that many institutions offer]. The student needs to be able to say "here are my experiences and here's what I've learned from them, AND ... here's how they connect to and demonstrate the learning that is addressed in this course." They put their expertise and knowledge on the table and enter the conversation with the "academic experts."

Often understanding the difference between experience and learning, and then articulating their learning at the "college level" (meaning not just description but analysis and the identification of academic theory) is the hardest part to the PLA process. In PLA, we care deeply about the reflection and the learning – we just don't care so much how or where students got it.

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