Below are answers to some common questions about the work of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL).

1. What is lifelong learning?

Lifelong learning is education or learning that people engage in throughout their lives and that takes place at all levels: formal, non-formal, and informal. It is the process of acquiring knowledge or skills throughout life through schools and formal educational programs, distance and online programs, training, work, and general life experiences. Typically, the term applies to adults of all ages and backgrounds.

2. What is experiential learning?

Experiential learning is learning in the context of real-life situations such as classroom study, work, training, online programs—or a combination of all of these and a person’s experiences in life. In many cases, experiential learning comes through people’s evaluation of their everyday experiences.

In addition, many variations of educational programs are designed around the principles of experiential learning.

3. How does CAEL help its clients?

In addition to serving adults who want to return to school, CAEL helps a variety of clients—employers, colleges and universities, and workforce developers—to connect learning and work, so they can build efficient systems that help adult learners succeed.


CAEL helps adults continue their learning throughout life. We do this by working with educational institutions, employers, labor organizations, government, and communities on creating effective adult learner programs.
CAEL also helps people earn college credit for what they already know at LearningCounts.org, and access career and education information at VIVIDFuture.org and EPCEonline.org.

CAEL helps employers offer smart, cost-efficient educational choices to their employees by assessing their learning organization and the skills they are building in their workforce to see if these skills match their strategic goals. We also help employees make sense of their educational choices and build a plan that is affordable, saves time, and leads to jobs in hard-to-fill positions. The result is cost-efficiency, an internal storehouse of needed skills, and increased loyalty, engagement, and mobility among employees.

CAEL helps institutions of higher education in better serving, attracting, and retaining adult learners. We offer a variety of services for higher education institutions and organizations, along with CAEL membership and publications.

CAEL helps economic and workforce developers to be ready for emerging industries and new skill demands, so they can build effective workforce development strategies to meet those demands. We also help them connect the learning systems in the region to the work and employment needs of local industry.

For more information on our client services, see Whom We Serve.

4. Who are some of CAEL’s clients?

CAEL works with a variety of organizations across multiple industries. We have clients in the electric utilities, telecommunications, health care, manufacturing, financial/insurance/consulting, and technology industries. Some are unions and public and non-profit organizations. Others are consumer goods and services companies. We also serve numerous public, private, and for-profit institutions of higher education that wish to improve their services and outreach to adults.

5. I’m an adult who wants to further my education. How can CAEL help me?

CAEL offers a number of resources to help adults find industry-specific career information and receive college credit for what they already know.

To discover career and educational options in the telecommunications and energy fields, visit these CAEL-sponsored websites: www.vividfuture.org, www.nactel.org and www.epceonline.org.

To learn about Prior Learning Assessment (PLA), the term colleges use for assessing whether to give you credit for what you have learned at work and in life, try these resources:

6. What is EdLink?

EdLink, LLC, is an independent company created by CAEL and another national non-profit leader in education, ACT, Inc. EdLink is the nation’s largest provider of tuition assistance management services for employers, helping them gain business value from their tuition programs while making education more accessible to their employees.

For more information, visit www.edlinktuition.com.

7. What is Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)?

Learning is a lifelong activity, and many adults who want to return to or attend college seek credit for their lifelong learning to accelerate their progress toward a degree or certificate. Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is a method whereby learning gained through a person’s life is considered for credit toward a college degree program. A rising number of colleges and universities are conducting PLA to help adults earn college credit for their demonstrated learning.

CAEL offers PLA training workshops to colleges and universities across the country and online. This training gives university staff and faculty assessors the basic tools to assess an adult’s prior learning and its possible qualification for college credit.

We also offer a variety of publications and workshops onsite or online to help colleges and universities evaluate and improve their PLA programs.

For more information, see Prior Learning Assessment Services.

8. How can CAEL help our college or university design a program for adult learners?

CAEL developed the Adult Learning Focused Institution (ALFI) Initiative to help colleges and universities develop programs to attract, serve, and retain adult learners. As part of the ALFI Initiative, we offer benchmarking tools, publications, study tours, and consulting services. The ALFI Assessment Tools, based on CAEL’s principles of serving adult learners effectively, include a pair of surveys (the Institutional Self-Assessment Survey (ISAS) and the Adult Learner Inventory (ALI)) that help you uncover what is important to your adult learners, as well as pinpoint your institution’s strengths and areas for improvement.

For more information, see Colleges & Universities.

9. Why should I become a member of CAEL?

As a member of CAEL, you will be part of a growing group of individuals, organizations, and institutions committed to their own success and that of their employees, students, members, and constituents. In active partnership, CAEL members work to create better living and learning conditions for all. We offer three types of membership: institutional (for colleges and universities), organizational, and individual. Becoming a member of CAEL is easy.

For more information and to join, see Membership.

10. What are CAEL’s Online Learning Initiatives? What is NACTEL? What is EPCE?

CAEL was instrumental in creating and now manages two national, industry led online learning initiatives, one in the energy industry, the Energy Providers Coalition for Education (EPCE), and one in the telecommunications industry, the National Coalition for Telecommunications Education and Learning (NACTEL).

NACTEL and EPCE emerged from CAEL’s experience in managing tuition assistance, in providing career and education advising, and in creating internal career paths for entry and mid-level workers.

EPCE – The Energy Providers Coalition for Education

  • 27 EPCE industry members represent investor-owned utilities, national and regional associations, municipal utilities, industry contractors, government agencies, professional associations, and local unions.
  • EPCE online programs include courses and industry-sponsored certificates which lead to associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
  • Curriculum content includes Electric Power Technology, Nuclear Power Technology, Renewable Energy and Smart Grid, Electrical Engineering, Power System Management and Engineering, several industry non-credit courses, as well as online high school courses.
  • Educational providers include Bismarck State College, Excelsior College, Colorado Community College Online, Clemson University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and The Virtual High Global Consortium.

NACTEL – The National Coalition for Telecommunications Education and Learning


  • NACTEL members include AT&T, Century Link, The Communications Workers of America (CWA), Frontier Communications, The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and Verizon Communications.
  • These NACTEL partners represent nearly 2 million workers.
  • NACTEL sponsored programs include jump start courses; certificates; as well as associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
  • Curriculum content includes Telecommunications, Networking and Broadband, Wireless Networking, Video Technology, Mobile Technology and Emerging Telecom Technologies
  • NACTEL-sponsored programs are offered by Pace University

For more information, visit www.epceonline.org and www.nactel.org.

11. What are LiLAs?

Lifelong Learning Accounts (LiLAs) are individual asset accounts set up to finance lifelong learning—so workers can upgrade their skills and knowledge to achieve their career potential. CAEL’s goal is for LiLAs to become a standard part of workers’ compensation packages, similar to 401(k)s or health insurance, so that any worker could contribute funds to a LiLA, which would be matched by his or her employer and, in some cases, third parties. Workers could then use these combined funds for education, training, and related activities, and the funds would be portable.

LiLAs differ from traditional job training programs in that they create systemic change in the way individuals can invest in their own futures, while leveraging employer involvement and investment.

For more information, visit www.lifelonglearningaccounts.org.

12. What is WorkforceChicago?

CAEL’s WorkforceChicago initiative was established to strengthen workers, companies, and the regional economy by stimulating greater company investments in employee learning and development. Through this initiative, CAEL seeks to position the Chicago area as a leading U.S. talent pool.

Our goals for the initiative are to expand employee learning and development through regional commitments, recognize effective learning strategies used by Chicago area companies, demonstrate the value of company-sponsored learning initiatives, and strengthen relationships between industry, education providers, and the public sector.

We give an annual WorkforceChicago exemplary practices award to two companies in the region that are doing leading-edge work in their employee training and education programs that can be documented in case studies and shared with other companies.

In addition, members of the CEO-level Business Leadership Group, which heads the WorkforceChicago initiative, raise awareness of the critical importance of workforce development for the region’s economy. They help to influence other firms to adopt WorkforceChicago’s exemplary practices in training and development.

For more information, visit www.workforcechicago.org.