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CAEL Pathways Blog

Using the Right Terms: Announcing CAEL's Switch from PLA to CPL

After much deliberation, CAEL is excited to announce that we will now be using the term credit for prior learning (CPL) when referencing the various methods, strategies, and programs used to evaluate and assess an individual's extra-institutional learning for the purposes of awarding college credit or advanced academic standing. 

CAEL's work to support adult learners has long been broad ranging - from advising postsecondary institutions on making programs better for adult students to making workforce development systems more closely aligned with economic development initiatives, and from testing new models for career navigation to leading national discussions on the future of work and learning. But our roots are in postsecondary efforts to recognize and value adult students' experiential learning - it has been so important to CAEL's history that experiential learning is still part of our name today. 

For four decades now, we have been using the term prior learning assessment, or PLA, as the umbrella term for all methods that institutions use to evaluate a student's prior learning - learning acquired outside of a formal college classroom, such as from work experience, corporate training, military training, self-study, volunteer work, and more. But now, after many internal discussions, consultations with external experts and members, and a national student opinion survey, we are shifting to use the term credit for prior learning, or CPL. 

The main reasons for this change are: 

  • CPL is a More Inclusive Term. CPL is a term that is more inclusive of all methods used to evaluate learning, particularly methods that do not involve individual learning assessments (e.g., review of noncredit courses, apprenticeships, licenses, military training, corporate training, MOOCs, etc for the purpose of making credit recommendations that can be used by multiple students).
  • CPL is More Understandable. The term prior learning assessment is not immediately understandable (what kind of assessment? assessment for what?), but credit for prior learning is much more understandable to someone who might be unfamiliar with the concept: the term signifies the process of awarding college credit for things that students already know and can do. (And it doesn't hurt that by emphasizing the concept of awarding credit for a student's prior learning, the term may serve to align 'experiential learning credit' with 'transfer credit' - potentially helpful for legitimizing it with college leaders.)
  • CPL is the Term More Students Prefer. One common complaint that members and clients have raised with CAEL is that prior learning assessment contains the word assessment, which can be off-putting for some students. So despite CAEL's history with PLA, we explored possible alternatives. Earlier this year, Strada's Market Impact team and Hanover Research conducted a national survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults aged 25-64 who are 'likely enrollees' in a 2-year or 4-year degree program within the next six months. The respondents were asked their opinions about several possible terms to describe the concept, including prior learning assessment, credit for prior learning, recognition of prior learning, learning recognition, recognition of learning, and recognition of non-college learning. Of these, credit for prior learning was viewed as the most appropriate name, while prior learning assessment ranked toward the bottom for 'most appropriate' term and toward the top for 'least appropriate' term (see figure). 



It makes little sense to hold on to a term that is too narrow in its implied scope, not very clear in its intent, and unappealing to its target population. So we're making the leap and embracing a change to credit for prior learning/CPL.

This change will not be immediate - nor is it likely to be an absolute change. It will take CAEL a period of time to implement the change across all of our various work streams, and many of our publications - like The PLA Boost research report - will still use the term PLA. But you will start to see more use of CPL, or a combined term CPL/PLA, on our website, at the CAEL conference, in our communications, and as we interact with our members and the larger field. 

Check out CAEL's robust set of helpful and instructional resources on CPL/PLA available to postsecondary institutions at no charge.


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