Thomas Edison State College Blog

How the New Prior Learning Assessment Courses Can Help You Earn Additional College Credit

September 03, 2013

By Todd Siben
Assistant Director of Portfolio Assessment

Unsure if you possess enough knowledge to earn college credit? Think again.

Do you have a background playing the piano, or are you accomplished in another instrument like guitar or trumpet?

Do you teach pre-school or a daycare provider?

Do you have experience in the marketing or communications field?

Do you work in law enforcement in New Jersey or attended one of the police academies?

Do you have a business background in accounting, finance, management, marketing or another area of business?

Do you identify yourself as a computer geek with knowledge of programming, systems design, network design or website design?

Do you have volunteer or career experience in a “helping” profession such as a teacher, counselor or some other form of human interaction and support?

Do you have skills in public speaking, presentations, non-verbal communication, small group discussion or dynamic one-to-one communication?

Do you have military training that has or has not been recommended for credit by your training school?

Whether these specific examples apply to you or not, chances are, as an adult, you have acquired additional knowledge through work and other experiences. And that understanding can potentially help you to earn college credit through creating a portfolio.

You’ve heard the term used in a few contexts. Artists keep a portfolio of their work in a carrying case, financial advisors help clients build a portfolio of stocks and assorted investments and job hunters present a portfolio to a perspective employer highlighting their background, competencies and accomplishments. At Thomas Edison, students can develop a portfolio to earn credit for the college-level knowledge they have obtained through work, the military, hobbies, or some kind of training.

Now, to guide students through the process of documenting prior learning, and save time and money, are two new courses: PLA-100: Intro to Prior Learning Assessment and PLA-200: Intro to Portfolio Development. These courses help you identify your competencies, college-level knowledge and background, all while teaching portfolio development skills.

PLA-100 is a 1-credit, 4-week course that will take you through all the options offered through the College for earning credit for what you already know: portfolio development, testing, program review, licenses, certificates, and more. The course also helps you understand what college-level learning means, and how to determine whether PLA options fit your own goals and experience. PLA-100 carries General Education Elective credit in the Intellectual and Practical Skills (IPSL) category, which is already required for your degree. Intended as a continuation of PLA-100, PLA-200 is a 2-credit, 8-week course that will help you identify the specific courses for which you can earn credit, and get you moving on the path to creating your own portfolio. PLA-200 provides structure and support to help you document your experiences and develop a narrative that aligns with the learning outcomes of a similar course. Along the way, your PLA-200 mentor and the Office of Portfolio Assessment will answer your questions, provide you with the learning outcomes for the subjects you want to earn credit for, and guide your progress so that you can maximize the number of credits you can earn through PLA. As with PLA-100, PLA-200 also meets IPSL General Education Elective requirements. The resulting portfolios are submitted for review by Subject Matter Experts to award credit.

Upon successful completion of the PLA-100/200 courses you will have gone through a reflective process, identified and organized your personal and professional competencies in one place, and acquired or refined your skills in the area of narrative writing and organizing. You may have also identified some or many areas of competence where you can develop and submit a portfolio for assessment, as long as the potential credits will apply to your degree program needs. Nearly every degree requirement can be satisfied with credit based on prior learning.

At the end of the day, this is knowledge that you already have, and you will determine how it can work for you:

Save you time? Check.
Save you money? Check.
Fulfill program requirements? Check.
Help you earn additional college credit? Double check.

If you want more information on the process, or if you have any questions, you can contact the Office of Portfolio Assessment at [email protected] or share them in the comments section.

Tags: assessments , course outcomes , portfolio assessment , prior learning assessment , Prior Learning Assessment and Portfolio , tips and advice

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What fabulous news for nontraditional students. Kudos to TESC for providing excellent resources for helping students get the credit they deserve!
Nancy Szakats 2:45PM 09/05/13

Is PLA Right for You?

October 17, 2012

Todd Siben, assistant director, Prior Learning/Portfolio Assessment

Todd Siben, assistant director, Prior Learning/Portfolio Assessment

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 [email protected].


Tags: course outcomes , PLA , portfolio assessment , prior learning assessment

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