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CAEL Pathways Blog

The Importance of a Prior Learning Assessment Process Mapping Checklist

Prior learning assessment (PLA) can be a very effective way for encouraging adult students to persist toward meeting higher education completion goals.




Vital for the success of an institution's implementation of PLA, however, is the establishment of a means of capturing current PLA processes and providing a framework to improve PLA offerings. This process, known as PLA Process Mapping, provides a structured approach that can remove the burden of maintaining a strong PLA program institution-wide.

So, you've looked at the extensive research-including our latest study-and have come to the conclusion that developing a prior learning assessment (PLA) plan for your institution can be a valuable strategic offering for helping your institution meet enrollment, persistence and completion goals. Congratulations! You're making a choice that will help your institution serve the growing population of adult learners.

When offered to students in accordance with the right process, PLA can be a powerful tool to serve students, giving your institution a persuasive marketing asset for attracting the millions of adult students who may be able to expedite their degree or credential goals.  

Yet for many institutions eager to offer PLA, determining precisely which process is the right one can be trying. Even internal staff dedicated entirely to devising, implementing and improving upon a PLA strategy can feel overburdened by the myriad responsibilities already on their plates.


What is a PLA proponent to do?

There is a solution that your institution can implement to set your PLA program on the right path. The solution, PLA Process Mapping, can guide internal discussions about PLA, help stakeholders assess current or planned PLA offerings, and devise and implement solutions to any problems that may be preventing your PLA program from functioning as well as it could.



PLA Process Mapping provides an exhaustive look at PLA offerings current and prospective, by design. Before you commit to PLA Process Mapping, below are a few of the variables you should be able to determine that play into successful PLA implementation.

PLA Inputs

Where is the source of your PLA credit applicants? Determining from where PLA credit applicants come to your institution can inform how you structure your PLA program. Trade events, job centers, open enrollment and career fairs are just a few potential sources of students who are seeking PLA credit, and knowing which ones represent most of your students is key for building a PLA program that works for them.

PLA Throughputs

For your PLA program to thrive, it's essential that your institution consider the division, department or specific functional role that processes or reviews PLA applicants and applications. Beyond the role(s) responsible for assessment itself, which other departments-such as marketing, admissions and student support services-play roles in your PLA offerings?

PLA Outcomes

Outcomes of PLA at your institution-also referred to as outputs-must be discussed to build and improve upon your PLA curriculum. Not just focused on the question of PLA credit being added to a student's transcript, PLA outcomes that you must consider also include whether the PLA process is consistent, whether there are clear guidelines on how to obtain PLA credit for students and whether there is a measurement system in place to track PLA credit.  

PLA Forms and Methods

PLA credit can come from many different sources, and your institution needs to be able to factor them in to your PLA process. CLEP, DSST and UExcel exams; ACE credit; certification or license crosswalks to credit; and other methods and forms of demonstrated higher learning can allow students to earn PLA credit and so must be considered by internal PLA stakeholders within your institution. 

Use a Helping Hand

Sound like a lot of questions that need to be answered? Thankfully, you have an option that can help you remove the burden of PLA programmatic development and implementation. A trusted PLA partner like CAEL can solve bandwidth issues at your institution that may impede PLA success. Recently, several major higher education institutions throughout the country have leveraged CAEL's decades of PLA experience to solve similar issues caused by a lack of available internal capacity-issues that may be the only thing standing in the way of successful PLA implementation at your institution.  

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