Monday, January 23, 2012

Credit for Prior Learning as Part of a Branch Strategy

Are you familiar with the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL)? The web address is CAEL provides a variety of services, but I especially want to draw attention to their work with prior or experiential learning.

Even as more faculty members and administrators become comfortable with online and hybrid delivery of programs, I find that there is a lot of misinformation about credit for prior learning. To be sure, there are institutions with low standards for awarding credit, but there also are best practices that, if examined, represent a legitimate assessment in support of awarding credit. In that regard, check out CAEL’s Learning Counts site, to see more on their assessment services,

When one looks at research on adult learners, such as Stamats’ “Adult Students Talk,” among the features of academic programs adults are seeking is credit for prior learning. Institutions can refuse to award or recognize such credit, but to the extent that online programs put prospective students in the driver’s seat, those institutions will be creating a competitive disadvantage for themselves.

I certainly wouldn’t approve of a laissez-faire approach to the assessment of prior learning, but organizations like CAEL contribute to developing practices that are of high quality and that will be widely respected. Personally, I’ve advocated for at least a state-level approach to evaluating life experience, so that institutions have an agreed-upon standard that will facilitate transfer of credits.

I’d love to see campuses developing the sort of certificates or badges I wrote about two posts ago, as well as creating a legitimate approach to award credit for experiential learning. This combination could draw prospective students who want or need recognition for having certain skills and knowledge. Thoughtfully crafted, students could then see an efficient route to complete a degree. If an institution attracts adult learners by clearly meeting their needs, through certificates and credit for documented prior learning, then it will be exceedingly difficult for competitors to lure them away.

Personally, I’d price certificates and the awarding of credit for prior learning aggressively. That would help seal the deal with prospective students. Then, if that institution’s own courses and programs are of high quality, and the support services are strongly focused on student success, the package will be complete.

It isn’t rocket science, as they say. Rather, it is a matter of paying attention to student audiences and then seeking ways to distinguish your institution by respecting their needs and delivering innovative programs that draw them to your campus.

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