Assessing for Prior Learning/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
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:

  • life experiences
  • work experiences
  • training courses or workshops.” (Career Services)

“Assessment of Prior Learning (APL) is an internationally-recognised academically valid way of recognising the understandings that people have gained through their experience. Through APL, candidates are encouraged to identify, articulate, demonstrate and reflect upon the understandings and skills they have developed in their lives (both through their work and any other relevant learning experiences).” (Otago Polytechnic)

“RPL can be defined in a number of ways, but all definitions include the key notion that RPL involves the assessment of previously unrecognised skills and knowledge an individual has achieved outside the formal education and training system. RPL assesses this unrecognised learning against the requirements of a qualification, in respect of both entry requirements and outcomes to be achieved. By removing duplication of learning, individuals are encouraged to continue upgrading their skills and knowledge through recognised education and training towards formal qualifications and improved employment outcomes”. (Australian Qualifications Framework Advisory Board, 2002)

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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Review the article Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) - Let's Not Get Sidetracked by Norma Smith,as a starting point for considering the advantages and disadvantages of RPL.

Explore the internet and use the data bases available through the Bill 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?

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