PLA: An Alternative Approach to Earning College Credit

By Ashley Gleiman, Ph.D., Alternative Learning Coordinator, APUS

As an adult learner, you can earn college credit for what you already know. Aside from the classroom, college credit can be earned through:
• Work training
• College Level Examination Program (CLEP)
• DANTES Subject Standardized Test (DSST)
• Excelsior College exams
• LearningCounts courses
• Military education
• Professional experience

The PLA Allows You to Convert Your Experiential Learning into College Credits
The Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) provides an opportunity for you to earn college credit for all of your experiential learning, anything that you’ve learned in life. This education can come from hobbies, volunteering, independent study, traveling or civic duties. It can also come from work training, certifications and career experience. The key is to be able to describe your learning in a way that provides direct evidence that you’ve already accomplished the learning objectives for a specific college course.

How Does the PLA Work?
In the PLA process, you build a portfolio that demonstrates creditworthy mastery of a course and submit it for Subject Matter Expert (SME) evaluation by faculty members and deans. Building that portfolio takes time and effort. Portfolios consist of the following components:
• An educational goal statement
• An autobiography that describes your professional and personal learning efforts
• A professional resume
• A narrative of how you meet the learning objectives of the course for which you seek PLA credit
• Documentation — such as sample work products and professional certificates
Once your PLA portfolio is complete, it is sent for evaluation which provides constructive feedback, an overall assessment and a recommendation.

Building a portfolio takes time and effort. Undergraduate students at APUS have the option to complete their portfolio by taking COLL200 (Prior Learning Assessment Seminar), an eight-week elective course in which the instructor facilitates the process of building your initial portfolio. Graduate students are offered a workshop option to build a portfolio.

Benefits of the Prior Learning Assessment
Research from Lumina Foundation and the Council of Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) demonstrates how students who participate in PLA programs are likely to save time, money, persist in their academic pursuits and graduate. According to a study by the American Council on Education (ACE) and the Center for Policy Research and Strategy (CPRS), the overall success rate in earning academic credit for prior learning is an astounding 82 percent,
While the PLA has a variety of benefits, some of the top reasons for choosing it involve:
• Less time required to complete a degree
• Lower tuition costs
• Elimination of redundancies associated with reviewing material you’ve already mastered
• The chance to demonstrate learning for which there is no standardized exam or if you perform better using written assignments

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About American Public University System:
American Public University System, recipient of the Online Learning Consortium’s (OLC) Gomory Award for Quality Online Education and four-time recipient of OLC’s Effective Practice Award, offers more than 90 online degree programs through American Public University and American Military University. More than 60,000 alumni worldwide have benefited from APUS’s relevant curriculum, affordability and flexibility in pursuing and earning degrees in such areas as business, information technology, and security and global studies. For further information, visit