How to Apply Prior Learning to Your Studies

How to Apply Prior Learning to Your Studies

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By Tedi Thompson-Magrini
Associate VP/Prior Learning Assessment at American Public University System

Have you ever sat in a class and thought, “Geez, I learned this stuff on the job ten years ago” or “Wow, I know this from my volunteer work with the town council; I wish I could just skip this class and learn something new.”?

Wouldn’t it be nice to earn college credit for what you have learned through life experience?

You may be able to!

What is Prior Learning?

Prior Learning Assessment programs allow students to demonstrate mastery of college level learning for credit toward your degree. There are several methods by which students can demonstrate their learning. The two most popular methods are national testing programs, such as CLEP and DANTES exams, and by portfolio. There are pros and cons to each method depending on the nature of the learning and the individual student. Either method helps students save time and money!

Testing programs allow students to demonstrate knowledge in a variety of areas, including general education subjects that are required in most degree programs. Naturally, the subjects are limited and usually cover learning that would take place at the freshman or sophomore level. Students who possess good test taking skills can be very successful.

More on the Portfolio Method

The portfolio allows students to demonstrate higher level learning or learning in subjects that are not available for testing. The portfolio method is also a good alternative for students who are “test-phobic”. Many institutions offer courses or workshops to help students learn to develop a portfolio. Most portfolios include an autobiography and/or a resume, a narrative section in which the student writes about what he/she has learned, how the learning took place, how it has been applied, and documentation to support the narrative. Documentation might include letters from employers, training certificates, or even work products. The process can be writing intensive, but most students find it enjoyable and discover that they know even more than they had previously thought.

If you have life experience which has led to college level learning, it may be time to look into Prior Learning Assessment.

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