Introduction to RPL

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What is Prior Learning?

Prior Learning is any learning arising from previous life activities, work experience, volunteer experience, personal study or formal education.

What does Recognising Prior Learning mean?

This is when value or credit is given to that previous learning in relation to the learning outcomes of an existing course or programme, usually occurring through an assessment process.

RPL Acronyms

Many acronyms can be found in the literature refering to the recognition of prior learning

RPL - recognition of prior learning
APL - assessment of prior learning
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PLA – prior learning assessment
PLAR – prior learning assessment and recognition.
APEL - accreditation of prior experiential learning 

As you explore further see if you can add any others to this list. 


Along with many acronyms there are also a variety of definitions. The following are differing interpretations of RPL.

Recognition of prior learning (RPL) is recognising and gaining credit for what you have already learned, and the skills you have acquired from informal learning such as:
“The APL process assesses your skills, knowledge and learning acquired through years of experience in your life and workplace." (Capable NZ, Otago Polytechnic)
"RPL has been defined in a number of ways, some more expansive than others. All definitions, however, include the key notion that RPL involves the assessment of previously unrecognised skills and of knowledge an individual has acquired outside the formal education and training system. The process of RPL assesses hitherto unrecognised learning against the requirements for a qualification or for a course leading to a qualification, in respect of both entry requirements and outcomes to be achieved." (Sheridan, I., & Linehan, M. 2009, p.5) (Recognition of Prior Learning - A practice focus, 2009)

NB: Right click (or control click for Mac users) on any coloured words, then open the links in a new tab this making it easier to move between the pages.

Why assess for prior learning?

The following activities and reflection will help you explore why prior learning is recognised in the tertiary setting.

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Look at the following documents as a starting point for considering the advantages and disadvantages of RPL.

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) read the section entitled What are the benefits of recognising prior learning? .

And What are the benefits of RPL?

Both of these focus on the advantages. What are the disadvantages?

Explore the internet and use the data bases available through the Robertson Library to seek more information on this topic.

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Record your thoughts and discoveries in your learning journal


  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of RPL in the tertiary setting?
  • Is RPL available for the courses/programmes you facilitate?
  • Why is or isn’t it available?

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Remember to submit an excerpt from your learning journal on the advantages and disadvantages of RPL. Send this directly to Heather.

Critically consider the process of assessing for prior learning from the perspective of a lecturer in an assessor or facilitator role, exploring the following areas:

You are asked to:
Explore the advantages and disadvantages of recognising prior learning in tertiary education (overview) - (due end of 1st module)
Marking criteria:
  • Critical discussion of the pros and cons of recognising prior learning in tertiary education (overview)
  • discussion is referenced and supported by literature sources

NB: Critical discussion involves a depth of thought that considers and debates a variety of perspectives including your own. Critical in this sense refers to reviewing, analysing and evaluating in depth; it does not mean focusing on negativity. It is possible to critically discuss and still totally agree with a particular perspective.