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Recognizing prior (informal) learning

There’s a gap between what people say is important in education and learning today…and between what is formally acknowledged as important. For example, informal learning is generally not recognized by corporations and education institutions, even though it comprises as much as 80% of what we learn in order to do our work. Our work environments no longer allow for separation of learning and work (i.e. go to college for 4 years, get a job). Now, learning is a vital skill to staying competent in our careers (I believe it’s called “seamless” or “embedded” learning – where we learn what we need to do while we are in the circumstance in which we need to do it).

The lines between work and learning are blurred to the point where they are no longer separate activities, but activities with vital connections that feed into and direct each other. The problem, as stated, is the gap between what we know is happening in work environments and what is happening in education. Fortunately, a promising development appears to be addressing this concern – Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR).


PLAR has been defined as: “the process of identifying, assessing and recognizing skills, knowledge, or competencies that have been acquired through work experience, unrecognized training, independent study, volunteer activities, and hobbies. PLA may be applied toward academic credit, toward requirement of a training program, or for occupational certification.” The concept just makes sense…and I’m really surprised that elearning companies have not taken a greater interest in this. It’s a perfect fit with the concerns of this market – recognizing prior learning.

In the PLAR model, learners follow a structured process of “proving” their learning based on clearly defined program wide/curriculum wide learning outcomes. A well designed online course, for example, would be fairly easy to open up to the PLAR process…while a poorly designed course would be frustrating for both learner and evaluator.

In many ways, PLAR and elearning have much to offer each other. PLAR provides a means of evaluating informal learning…and well designed elearning provides a way to fill gaps revealed (for example – the gap between informal learning and outcomes of a course/program) through PLAR. Elearning and PLAR need each other

Here’s a few resources if you are interested in exploring more on PLAR:

PLAR Overview
The PLAR Process (for the learner)
PLAR Value Statements
PLAR Foundation Training Course
PLAR Abroad
Canadian Association for Prior Learning Assessment
Web-based Resources for PLAR
Developing Benchmarks for PLAR