Definitions are the bane of my life. Defining exactly what is meant by a particular phrase or measure has serious implications for how recipients of institutional reports interpret any findings.  In terms of data across higher education institutions (HEIs), the selection of one measure over another can produce almost opposite findings.  Falling into the trap of assuming readers know exactly what is being reported can often lead to misinterpretation, discrepancies and misleading information.

The recent OU seminar on the recognition of prior learning (RPL) further highlighted this confusion. The OU’s Dr Liz Marr referred to the different language used in relation to RPL, including:

  • the accreditation of prior learning (APL)
  • the accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL)
  • informal learning
  • non-formal learning
  • formal learning

Does it matter if we, as HEIs use different terminology? We all know that it means the same thing, right? Perhaps not for the providers but as Liz suggested, for students, different terminology makes it difficult to navigate their way through institutional processes and is often confusing.

Terminology is only one part of the jigsaw surrounding RPL. Dr Jon Talbot from the University of Chester raised issues around the range of approaches taken by organisations when it comes to RPL whether this is formal, non-formal, experiential etc …. the list goes on.  He raised an interesting question regarding whether the process is seen as credit exchange (i.e. this is what I’ve got, what is it worth in credits?) or whether it is a development model, where it is not necessarily the competence that is being assessed but the ability of the student to be able to use the learning in an applied way.  This is further exacerbated when it comes to credit that is gained through work-based learning.  As Dr Darryll Bravenboer from Middlesex University suggests, institutions vary in the percentage of a course that can be made up from RPL and Darryll calls for a more collaborative approach to the recognition of work-based learning between employers and universities, including the co-creation of knowledge and learning.  In a time of austerity where employer-sponsored learning has been declining, this may be an aspiration rather than a reality.  Perhaps the apprenticeship levy will enable organisations to revisit their approach to apprenticeships and work-based learning and the relationships they have with FE and HE institutions.

Details of the seminar and presentations can be found by following this link.

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