By Todd Siben, Assistant Director
Prior Learning/Portfolio Assessment
If you are like many adults, a significant amount of your life knowledge has been acquired through learning experiences that occurred outside of a classroom. Through Thomas Edison State College’s Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) courses, you can use your college-level knowledge to earn the credit you deserve.
Because Prior Learning Assessments (PLAs) are such a unique method of earning credit, students often find the concept somewhat difficult to grasp. I'm going to simplify it for you and help you over the next hurdle!
What is PLA?
The PLA process allows you to earn credit for knowledge gained through learning experiences that can be equated to what would have been learned in a college course from an accredited college or university.
This method of earning credit provides you with the opportunity to work with a mentor to demonstrate that you already possess college-level knowledge in a subject. Our students have reported that it is one of the most rewarding ways to earn credits, because it acknowledges and validates the learning they have acquired outside of a traditional classroom setting.
Students often ask if course credit can be awarded for life experience. The answer to this question is no. For example, we would not give you the credit equivalent for our Principles of Management (MAN-301) course because you have a business card that lists your title as 'manager.' We could, however, award credit for the same course once you articulate the knowledge you have of management theory and concepts, substantiate your associated professional accomplishments and demonstrate how those accomplishments equate with the College's MAN-301 course objectives.
I also explain to students that PLA is not necessarily about book knowledge. Being well read on a topic may not be enough for you to earn credit via this method of course completion as PLA typically focuses on "experiential" learning.
What kind of experience may be applicable?
Did you grow up in an ethnically diverse culture? Are you proficient at playing a musical instrument? Do you have an interesting hobby in which you have an in-depth knowledge? Do you serve as the 'go-to' person for your employer in Microsoft Excel solutions? If so, you may be a candidate for PLA completion.
How is a PLA structured?
A PLA course has four significant components, they include:
- A course description that you have selected
- A set of course outcomes objectives provided by the course mentor
- A narrative that you write, which is fine-tuned to address the course objectives
- A body of appropriate evidence that proves your college-level knowledge in the subject you selected
The course description can be selected from the PLA Course Description Database. If you can't find a match there, locate a course description from the catalog of another regionally accredited college and submit the course description for approval to a Thomas Edison State College academic advisor.
The course outcomes are determined by the PLA mentor and they will serve as your roadmap for satisfying the PLA requirements. Through these, the mentor conveys what capabilities/competencies someone would have if they had taken this course.
The narrative is a student statement that discusses your knowledge of the topics in the course description and correlates these to the course objectives. In the process of completing the narrative portion and tying your narrative to the course outcomes objectives, you may even uncover some new learning opportunities. In the narrative, you should also address how, when, where and why you gained this knowledge. You would then provide information on how the knowledge was applied through supporting evidence.
Your evidence may include letters of reference or support, transcripts or certificates of completed training, licenses, performance appraisals from supervisors or samples of your work. If you have targeted the performing arts, for instance, you will want to submit a video/Web video or DVD of one of your performances. If you are a PLA candidate for Public Speaking (COM-209), you would need similar evidence. A photo of you giving a speech probably will not suffice, for instance, unless it is accompanied by a newspaper article that details your speaking engagement.
Isn't it time you got the credit you deserve?
This year marks Todd Siben's 24th anniversary with Thomas Edison State College. Previously, he served on the staff of Mercer County Community College, the University of Rhode Island, Northern Arizona State University, The University of Buffalo and Columbia University. He earned his Master of Arts degree at the Teachers College of Columbia University in adult and higher education. Siben has also been known to take courses at the College just to experience things from a student’s perspective.
Contact Todd and learn more about PLA at PLAWeb@tesc.edu.