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(Answered)-What are your thoughts after reading the article " Prior

What are your thoughts after reading the article ?Prior Learning Assessment in Adult Education?? Of the 10 CAEL standards discussed in the article, whichtwo?do you think are the most significant in terms of educating adults today???Why? For each standard you chose, justify your position.

Prior Learning Assessment in Adult Education


(This is an adaptation of an unpublished article that was written by Elizabeth Tice, Ph.D. in





While formal educational systems have been around since before the 7th century, the


proliferation of adults entering formal educational systems is relatively recent. Adults


represent an increasing segment of today?s educational market. The number of college


students over 25 is close to 50%.


At the mid point of the 20th century, virtually all institutions of higher education


were operating under the pedagogical model of education. Pedagogy means literally ?the art


and science of teaching children.? It developed between the 7th and 12th centuries in the


monastic schools of Europe. When secular schools began to evolve in the 19th century, they


adopted the pedagogical model, which was the only one available.


The basic assumptions of the pedagogical model are that the teacher is fully


responsible to impart knowledge, primarily through lecture, while the student?s role is to be


a passive receiver of knowledge. As long as the learners were primarily children and youth,


this model remained unchallenged. Since most primary and secondary systems were based


upon the same assumptions, traditional students anticipated this educational experience as


they entered institutions of higher education.


Adults, however, were uncomfortable with the system and with the assumption that


they were ?blank slates.? They were not. Research consistently demonstrates that adults


want to be partners in their own learning process, and will shoulder a lot of the responsibility


for their own learning when given the opportunity (Heimstra & Brockett, 1994). The





distinguishing characteristics that make adults different from children have created problems


for traditional educators who have relied upon ?blank slate? pedagogical practices (Brickell,


1995). Malcolm Knowles (1980; 1990), whose research produced an alternative educational


paradigm known as the andragogical model, has demonstrated that adult students are more


self-directed than youthful students and that their learning is more meaningful and profound


when their pre-existing competencies are acknowledged within the learning process


(Carleson, 1989).


Fortunately, many innovative individuals and educational institutions saw the


problems as opportunities, and a new industry emerged. Many new processes and


paradigms emerged with this new industry, one of which is the Prior Learning Assessment


(PLA) movement. This paper will overview the evolution of the PLA movement.


Historical Evolution of PLA


To those who were willing to see, it very quickly became clear that the adult student


was not a blank slate. Adults often bring significant knowledge and skills with them to the


classroom, knowledge and skills that were not learned at ?the feet of the master.? Life is also


a great teacher. International experience from military involvement leads to conceptual


understanding of intercultural communication. Working in a business environment for years


often leads an individual to significant understanding of business administration. Yet, the


traditional mind set would tell the successful, self-taught computer programmer whose


product is being marketed worldwide that he needs to sit in a lecture hall and listen to a


professor who has studied (but probably never worked in) computer programming. Or the


small business owner who has developed a successful retail business that his ?on-the-job?






learning of retailing principles is inferior to that of an 18 year old student who has listened to


lectures and taken a test. This does not make sense (Tice, 1997).


So, beginning as early as the 1940s and gaining impetus in the 60s and 70s, a few far


sighted educators started toying with the idea of evaluating the experiential life learning that


adult students bring with them for its equivalency and applicability to college credit. At the


time (and still today to some), this was a radical idea. Could one possibly learn anything of


value that a tenured faculty member did not teach him or her? Ironically, history books are


filled with ?self-taught? individuals whose knowledge and abilities in their particular field


far surpass their college educated peers. Yet, the time honored, traditional mind set that


dominated education since the 7th Century has often found it difficult to accept this learning


as legitimate.


The first documented PLA program in the United States actually began at Antioch


College in 1942. It was not a fully developed portfolio program, but rather a set of entry


examinations. Student earning As and Bs on these exams were immediately awarded up to


20 semester credits towards degree completion. In 1954, Brooklyn College introduced a


Special Baccalaureate Degree program for Adults incorporating PLA, and a number of other


schools began limited PLA programs in the 60s (Keeton, undated).


One of the major thrusts in the PLA movement came in 1974 with the incorporation


of The Cooperative Assessment of Experiential Learning (CAEL). CAEL began as a project


of the Commission on Non-Traditional Study. This study was co-sponsored (beginning in


1971) by Educational Testing Service (ETS) and the College Board. ETS had developed the


College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and wanted more information on other forms


on non-collegiate sponsored learning. During the next three years, the Commission





conducted research into the field of adult and continuing education. Among other things,


they surveyed adult learners about their interest in continuing education, and they surveyed


educational institutions about their interest in offering continuing education opportunities to


adults. In 1973 they published a report with fifty-seven recommendations for projects and


practices to promote adult learning opportunities. Recommendation 47 stated that ?new


devices and techniques should be perfected to measure the outcomes of many types of nontraditional study? and Recommendation 48 stated that ?systems of quality control should be


built into the instruction and evaluation of non-traditional study? (Gamson, 1989, pp. 2324). These two recommendations laid the foundation for what would become CAEL.


Warren Willingham, of Educational Testing Service, was called upon to chair a committee


charged with developing a proposal for a project to address these recommendations. Morris


Keeton, then of Antioch College, James Hall of Empire State College, David Sweet of


Minnesota Metropolitan College, and James Brown of Thomas Edison College were also on


the committee and later played key roles in CAEL?s evolution (U. Whitaker, personal


communication, November 5, 1997). In February 1974, a sixteen month project was


approved for $821,000 funding by the Carnegie Foundation, and CAEL was officially born.


Grants procured by Willingham and Keeton kept CAEL alive after the Carnegie Foundation


project ended (Gamson, 1989).


In 1977, CAEL changed its name to The Council for the Advancement of


Experiential Learning and published Principles of Good Practice in Assessing Experiential


Learning (Willingham, 1977). This publication was an attempt to begin the development of


national standards for PLA practitioners. While CAEL itself is not a college and has never


awarded PLA credit, it was the first organized lobby for PLA and has shouldered the cause,





lobbying state and federal legislatures as well as regional accrediting commissions, training


practitioners, and publishing extensively on the subject of PLA. Its leadership in quality


PLA programing was confirmed when, in 1979, the American Council on Education?s


Council on Post Secondary Accreditation (ACE COPA) and the American Association of


Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) began to formally endorse PLA


programs if they were conducted according to CAEL?s principles of good practice (as


outlined in Willingham?s book) (Keeton, undated).


CAEL?s primary contributions to the PLA movement since 1984 include the


establishment of the National Institute on Assessing Experiential Learning, an annual PLA


training conference offered in conjunction with Thomas Edison College, continued


publication of PLA literature, continued lobbying, and an annual international conference


with a strong emphasis on PLA (Keeton, undated). It now claims more than 1400


institutional members, most of whom have PLA programs that espouse CAEL?s standards.







Credit shall be awarded only for the learning, not for the experience.


Probably the biggest problem in PLA programs is the difficulty of distinguishing



between experience and learning. Whitaker (1989) say that ?this standards is, at once, the


most important and the most frequently violated rule in the quality assessment field? (p.10).


Not everyone who has had a given experience will learn something significant from that; we


all know people who continue to make the same mistakes because they fail to learn from


their experiences.


It is the responsibility of the student to document, demonstrate, and articulate the


learning that has been gained from the experience. This is often easier said than done. Many





schools began their programs with requirements that students submit only documentation of


experience. This, however, required the faculty evaluator to infer the knowledge from the


experience. To address this discrepancy, many schools require that the student write an


experiential essay which not only describes the experience, but also articulates the


associated learning. This also proves difficult for students because they did not learn what


they know in an organized, academic format. For many, the line between the experience and


the knowledge is blurred. The work of another important researcher in the field of learning


has been instrumental in addressing this issue. David Kolb?s work on experiential learning


produced a model that has been incorporated into a majority of institutional programs


(Hopkins, 1993).


This conceptual model explains the learning process as a cycle moving from the


concrete experience, to observation and reflection, to abstract conceptualization and


generalization, and back to the experiential realm with active experimentation. As a person


gains more experience in an area, he or she starts to recognize patterns and relationships


which lead to more complex abstract conceptualization, which in turn allows for more


precise experimentation (Stice, 1987). This allows students to extract the what I know part


from the what I did.





College credit shall be awarded only for college-level learning.



For adults with minimal experience in formal higher education, it is often difficult to


distinguish between learning that is personally meaningful and learning that is college


equivalent. I have argued this issue with hundreds of students over the years. If the learning


was meaningful to them, they believe it should be awarded credit. I often use the


comparison of taking a college course in psychology and going to personal counseling to





illustrate this point to students. While the counseling experience was meaningful and


probably led to some knowledge, its focus is not the same as a course. The learning is


personal, not generalized or conceptual.


Sharon (1997) indicates that in order to be college level learning, there should be


some counterpart in formal educational systems.





Credit should be awarded only for learning that has a balance, appropriate to


the subject, between theory and practical application.


Many fields have specific academic vocabulary that the experiential learner would



not necessarily gain. If a PLA student seeking credit for Child Development can describe


phenomonologically developmental processes such as object permanence and conservation


but is not familiar with the Piagetian terms, does she have college level learning? There are


two schools of thought regarding this issue. Some say no, that the vocabulary is part of the


college course. Others say yes, that the vocabulary is secondary to the conceptual







The determination of competence levels and of credit awards must be made by


appropriate subject matter and academic experts.


It is widely accepted that faculty members with expertise in the field are the only



appropriate evaluators of academic credit.





Credit should be appropriate to the academic context in which it is




With this standard, Whitaker (1989) argues that PLA credit should not be limited to



the fringes of a student?s credit. ?College creditable learning occurs in the major, in general






education, and in electives? (p.16). He argues that to limit credit only to certain areas is to


apply a double standard. .







Credit awards and their transcript entries should be monitored to avoid


giving credit for the same learning twice.


Duplication of credit is a larger issue that just its application to PLA. It is every



institutions responsibility to monitor its credit awards to avoid awarding duplicate credit.





Policies and procedures applied to assessment, including provision for


appeal, should be fully disclosed and prominently available.



VIII. Fees charged should be based on the services performed in the process


and not determined by the amount of credit awarded.





All personnel involved in the assessment of learning should receive adequate


training for the functions they perform, and there should be provision for their


continued professional development.






Assessment programs should be regularly monitored, reviewed, evaluated, and


revised as needed to reflect changes in the needs being served and in the state of


assessment arts (Whitaker, 1989).


What all this means to the adult student is a significant savings in time and money.



Practices vary by institution, but students attending institutions with PLA programs who can


provide documentation of college level learning equivalent to the courses that they are


required to take can receive the college credit without the redundancy of sitting through the








Although PLA has assimilated into the mainstream of adult education, it is not


without its detractors. Many educators argue that the learning (and therefore the credit) is


inferior. They believe that on-the-job learning is too practical and not theoretical enough.


Horton (1996) and Ashworth (1996) criticize the widely accepted practice. Ashworth states


that most adults do not ?in the course of their jobs perform tasks of such breadth or


intellectual substance that the work should be deemed adequate to constitute a university


credential or credit toward such a credential?(p. A88). Horton argues that education is not


about credentialing, but about expanding students? minds. Personally, I would argue that it


is both. These recent criticisms echo the early critic who called PLA ?credit for life


experience? (Sam, 1979) and ?credit for living? (Under Attack, 1979). Critics typically use


the example of a mother receiving credit Social Science credit for Psychology Parenting


because it tends to amplify the theory verses practice argument. However, research


indicates that in the U.S., most PLA credit is awarded in business and management, a less


vague area (Sheckley, 1988).








Ashworth, K. (1996, September 6). Virtual universities could provide only virtual learning.


The Chronicle of Higher Education A88.


Brickell, H.M. (1995). Adults in the classroom. New York: College Board Publications.


Carlson, R. (1989). Malcolm Knowles: Apostle of andragogy. [On-line], xx. Available:


College campuses getting grayer. (1996, October 17). The Arizona Republic, p. A12.


Gamsom, Z. (1989). Higher education and the real world: The story of CAEL. Wolfboro


NH: Longwood Academic Publishing.


Hiemstra, R. & Brockett R. (Ed.) (1994). Overcoming resistance to self direction in adult


learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Hopkins, R. (1993). David Kolb?s experiential learning machine. Journal of


Phenomenological Psychology, 24(1), 46-62.


Horton, S. (1996, Summer). Pitching real world learning. Ocotillo: The Journal of Adult


Learning, 1.


Knowles, M.S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education. New York: Cambridge


Knowles, M.S. (1990). The adult learner: A neglected species (4th ed.). Houston: Gulf




Lamdin, L. (1997). Earn college credit for what you know. Chicago:CAEL.


Marienau, C. & Fiddler, M. (1996, Summer). Diminishing distinctions. Ocotillo: The


Journal of Adult Learning, 1.


Sam, N.H. (1979, February). Life experience--An academic con game? Change, pp. 7, 62.






Sharon, A. (1977). Assessing occupational competencies: A CAEL handbook.




Sheckley, B. (1989). Institutional policies and practices for assessing prior learning:


Results of a national survey. CAEL Forum and News, 11 (5), 8. Chicago: CAEL.


Stice, J.E. (1987). Using Kolb?s learning cycle to improve student learning. Engineering


Education, February, 291-296.


Tice, E. (1997) Educating adults: A matter of balance. Adult Learning, Sep/Oct 1997.


Under attack: College credits for living. (1979, April). U.S. News and World Report,




Whitaker, U. (1989). Assessing learning: Standards, principles, and procedures.


Chicago: CAEL.


Willingham, W. (1997). Principles of good practice in assessing experiential learning.




Keeton, M. (Undated). High points in the history of assessment of experiential learning.







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