10 Aligning Experiential Learning with Academic Learning Objectives

As we read earlier, a foundational principle of Prior Learning Assessment is that the credit awarded to you is for the learning you’ve done, not just for the experience itself. And PLA awards academic credit for specific classes already in the BSU Academic Catalog, so the way you demonstrate your knowledge has to address a specific course’s material. For example, if you were challenging a course on Interpersonal Communication, you’d need to give evidence of what you’ve learned about that specific topic, rather than simply listing your years of customer service work.

In other words, PLA is a way to confirm that you’ve already learned all the things a class would’ve taught you. You just learned them outside of a classroom. For many students, they know the material so well that not only should they not have to take the class, but that they could actually teach the class.

When you’re preparing to challenge a course, how do you know what the course covers, to see if you’ve already learned the material through experience? The answer is the same one as so many questions students ask their professors: it’s in the syllabus.

In every syllabus there should be a section titled Course Objectives. It may also be called Learning Outcomes or Learning Objectives or some similar phrasing. The course objectives are a list of things students in the course should know, understand, or be able to do after passing the class.

But for PLA, the course objectives are like a key or a treasure map.

If you find course objectives and feel like your background aligns with them, then you can use those course objectives to guide your portfolio! If you are confident that you know and can do what the objectives are asking of you, then you should be successful with your prior learning assessment. Through your Learning Narrative, Supporting Documentation, and PLA Resume, you can address the learning outcomes directly and clearly demonstrate to your reviewers that you are comfortable and facile with the course material and have met the course objectives through your on-the-ground experiences.  

Sometimes, the course objectives will reveal a gap in your knowledge, but that can be addressed or overcome. For example, there might be specific terminology the objectives refer to, which you might not know even though you’ve been doing those things for years. With a solid background and experience, those gaps can usually be filled with a little research to be able to reframe your experience and write about it from an academic perspective.

NOTE: For each course you want to challenge, you’ll have to craft a separate Educational Narrative addressing those course outcomes (though, of course, there will be overlaps and ways to reuse parts of your work across separate courses). In Chapter 5, we’ll take a very close look at the Educational Narrative.


This chapter contains material taken from “PLA 100: Introduction to Prior Learning Assessment, Lesson 2” by Center for the Assessment of Learning and Terry Hoffmann licensed under CC BY 4.0.



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