23 Organizing and Planning Your Narrative

The Educational Narrative and accompanying Supporting Documentation are the heart of the PLA portfolio because they articulate and provide evidence to support the claims you are making about your learning.

The two sections of your portfolio are separate but very intertwined. In this section we will begin planning and outlining your Narrative, and you will be using the work you’ve done on the PLA resume and Supporting Documentation to help shape your outline. You will also refer to specific documents in your Narrative as a way to intertwine the two sections.


A typical learning narrative is divided into four sections:

  1. Introduction to yourself in relation to the course being challenged
  2. Series of Examples/Case Studies (descriptive discussion of college-level learning through experience, with references to documentation)
  3. Referenced documentation
  4. Conclusion

You will be outlining the second and third of these sections in this module.

Educational Narrative Length

First, however, you might ask: How long should my narrative be?

We generally aim for a length between 1000-1200 words. However, there is no definite number of pages required for an effective narrative; the length depends primarily on the subject matter and on the extent of your own learning.

Keep in mind that you are asking to “test” out of a semester-long course, and thus your rationale for doing this and its proof should be substantial. You need to be sure that your narrative addresses all relevant course objectives for each of the courses in your portfolio.


Begin with a general introduction. In this section, provide background information about what you did, when you did it, and where you did it. Include a discussion of your own personal background as it pertains to your area of knowledge and how you came to have the opportunity to learn. Your PLA résumé is a source for this introduction.

If your academic area is computer science, an outline of your introduction might look like this:

  1. Interested in computers since childhood
  2. Received my own computer at age four
  3. Learned how to type and search by age 6
  4. Took computer courses in school and in the community through high school years.
  5. Became proficient in various computer languages and troubleshooting over 10 years at X corporations and government agencies.
  6. Was sent abroad to assist military operations

Series of Examples/Case Studies and the Use of Learning Outcomes

An essential aspect of a successful narrative section is your description of your theoretical knowledge and applied learning. The person who reads your narrative needs explicit proof of the learning.  Your narrative should provide examples, stories, and plenty of detail.

The best way to give this proof of learning is to organize your Narrative around the course’s Learning Outcomes. Each grouping of outcomes can act as a major outline topic. As you work with the outline, you’ll need to fill in subtopics, examples, and documentation within each major topic. We will look more closely at this in an upcoming section of this textbook, and the course will lead you through a writing exercise on this.

For each outcome, you will list any of your experiential knowledge, theoretical understanding, or applied learning that is relevant to it. You have done much of this work already by writing your PLA resume and gathering Supporting Documentation. Use what you have produced already to create an outline for a narrative that will support your challenge. List as many examples as you think necessary to substantiate your claims that you’ve already learned everything the course teaches, and relate your documentation to the examples.


Business Management course

    1. Learning Objective 1: Write a business plan.
      1. Attended a community college lecture on setting up a business
      2. Listed everything I needed to run my business
      3. Mapped out how it would work
      4. Decided how much money I needed
      5. Found sources for those funds
    2. Learning Objective 2: Develop a philosophy of business.
    3. Learning Objective 3: Explain basic accounting practices.
    4. Learning Objective 4: Discuss issues involved in hiring and firing employees.

Generalization of Learning

As needed, explain and discuss ways you have generalized the knowledge and learning to settings other than the original experience or of how you might generalize it.

For example: I used the knowledge and skills from the business plan to start a viable business.

  1. How class business plan applied to startup
  2. Narrative about growth and success of business


This chapter contains material taken from “PLA 200: Introduction to Portfolio Development, Module 6, Lesson 6” by Center for the Assessment of Learning and Terry Hoffmann licensed under CC BY 4.0.


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