Higher education has been very good about identifying how long someone has sat in a classroom, but very weak in determining exactly what they learned while there. The focus on time, in the form of the Carnegie Unit or credit hour, has come to shape higher education in terms of workload, scheduling room allocation, financial aid, how we segment knowledge, federal financial aid policy, and more. It is the Higgs Boson particle of higher education, giving shape to almost everything we do.
For 37 years, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) has led the fight to reverse the time/learning relationship, arguing that what someone has actually learned is far more important than time spent sitting in a classroom. The idea of measuring competency, what you have mastered or know, is particularly important to adults who may be 30, 40, or 50 years old and who have already learned a great deal on the way to getting there. So CAEL pioneered the idea of Prior Learning Assessments (PLAs), a method for demonstrating what you have learned and getting credit for it. You may not have a college degree, but if you worked your way up through the business for which you work and now keep the books, you surely can demonstrate a wide range of accounting skills and save both time and money while moving faster towards a credential. If you went to work as laborer right of high school and now own a construction company, you surely can demonstrate a wide array of competencies. PLAs provide a way of showing it and colleges and universities have come to trust CAEL to administer PLAs with integrity and an eye to quality.
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