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CAEL Pathways Blog

The Transformative Impact of the Prior Learning Assessment on Adult Learners

Written by Marsha Metzer, M.A., M.B.A.
Experiential learning specialist and PLA faculty member, American Public University System

American Public University System (APUS), a CAEL institutional member, has a prior learning assessment (PLA) program. PLA represents a significant innovation in higher education, benefiting adult learners reentering academia.

The PLA enables students to convert real-world experiences into academic credits, acknowledging the knowledge and skills they acquired through professional work, military service, volunteer activities, and other personal endeavors. This recognition allows students to bypass redundant coursework, expediting their educational journey and making degree completion more efficient.

The Benefits of PLA for Adult Learners

The PLA offers a unique advantage by allowing students to leverage their life experiences to fulfill their degree requirements. This approach not only saves time but also reduces the financial burden associated with paying for courses.

For adult learners who often juggle multiple responsibilities, PLA can be a pivotal factor in achieving academic goals without compromising their professional and personal commitments.

Accelerated Degree Completion through the PLA: Paili Bloom’s Journey

Paili Bloom, a seasoned retail manager with 15 years of experience, serves as a compelling example of the benefits of PLA. Employed by the Army Air Force Exchange Service, Paili oversees corporate strategies and daily store operations. Despite holding an associate degree in communication, she aspired to further her education by seeking a bachelor's degree in retail management.

The Application of PLA to Benefit Paili’s Academic Progress

As Paili approached the final stages of her degree program, she discovered the potential of PLA to expedite her educational progress. Recognizing her extensive professional background, Paili sought to earn PLA credits for her work-related knowledge and skills.

Paili compiled comprehensive portfolios, which included performance reviews, training certifications, awards, and work samples, to demonstrate her competencies. Faculty members reviewed these submissions and granted her academic credits based on the knowledge and skills she demonstrated that were equivalent to course learning objectives and requirements.

Support and Guidance through PLA Workshops

Paili also participated in a PLA workshop, which provided her with essential insights into effectively presenting her knowledge, skills, and experiences. This guidance was instrumental in helping her structure her portfolios to meet academic standards.

Consequently, Paili earned 24 PLA credit hours, significantly accelerating her path to degree completion while she continued to work full-time.

Paili’s achievements support research conducted in 2020 by CAEL and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), which found that assessing and granting credit for prior learning significantly boosts the chances of adult students completing their credentials. This positive impact applies to all student subgroups, recognizing and crediting the skills and knowledge adults have gained from their past experiences helps them successfully finish their education.

Paili’s Endorsement of PLA

Reflecting on her experience, Paili stated, “Discovering PLA was a game-changer. It allowed me to apply my extensive experience as a retail manager covering areas like organizational change, merchandising, operations, and employee relations toward my academic goals. The workshop was particularly helpful in teaching me how to articulate my skills and knowledge effectively.

“Completing eight PLA portfolios enabled me to finish my degree in retail management more quickly and efficiently. I highly recommend PLA to any working student aiming to leverage their professional experience in their academic pursuits.”

Save Time and Money with PLA

Paili Bloom’s success story underscores the transformative potential of the Prior Learning Assessment for adult learners. By valuing and accrediting real-world experience, PLA not only facilitates faster degree completion but also enriches the academic landscape with diverse perspectives drawn from practical knowledge. This innovative approach empowers students like Paili to achieve their educational aspirations while balancing the demands of their professional and personal lives.

In addition to saving time and money, the PLA offers several other significant benefits to students. By recognizing and accrediting hands-on learning, PLA enhances students' confidence and confirms their valuable business skills. Moreover, Hanover research indicates that PLA students often achieve equal or better academic outcomes compared to their peers without prior learning credits.

The PLA program ensures that the expertise acquired through years of professional and personal experience is acknowledged and valued. It effectively bridges the gap between practical knowledge and academic achievement, allowing students to leverage their real-world experience toward their educational goals.

For more information, visit the APUS prior learning assessment page or email PLA@apus.edu.

Note: A similar version of this article was originally published on APUEdge.com and AMUEdge.com.

About the Author

Marsha Metzer is a versatile professional with broad experience in education, psychology, business, ministry, and coaching. She serves as an Experiential Learning Specialist and Prior Learning Assessment faculty member at American Public University System, assisting adult learners in reaching their academic objectives. Marsha is also a life coach and chaplain, offering guidance and spiritual support. Her educational background includes a Regents Bachelor of Arts from Shepherd University, a Master of Arts in Psychology from American Military University, an MBA from American Public University, and a graduate certificate in life coaching. She also holds a chaplaincy certificate in Virginia.

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