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Assessing Prior Learning

What are some differences in assessing prior learning from assessing classroom learning?

  • Learners come with the learning rather than ready to learn
  • Learners have driven the learning process rather than the classroom teacher/facilitator *
  • Learners come with learning from a variety of sources and places rather than the classroom setting

Assessment (including classroom assessment) reveals what the student knows and can do, not the method of, or stimulus to, the learning.

Simosko et al. (1988, 24)

What are some commonalities in assessing prior learning and assessing classroom learning?

  • Learners need to prove that they've met the course learning outcomes (that they know and can do what's expected of them)
  • Assessment methods are common to both types of assessment
  • Content experts do the assessments

Some key points to quality RPL assessment practice **

  • Educators have primary responsibility for establishing learning and assessment criteria and for ensuring that the technical requirements are met
  • Assessment processes should relate to course, program or institutional goals. These goals need to be clear, concise and understandable to all who need to use them-learners, faculty and staff, other institutions (e.g. other colleges, universities and perhaps employers)
  • Assessment involves expert judgment based on explicit performance criteria
  • Assessment should reflect multiple experiences and the use of diverse evidence to maximize learner success and respect learner styles
  • Sound assessment needs to include structured and constructive feedback to the learner on areas of success and those needing improvement

Methods of assessing prior learning include

  • Exams, Challenge Exams
  • Essays
  • Product Assessment (work samples)
  • Simulation/Performance Assessments/Demonstrations
  • Interviews & Oral Exams
  • Portfolio Assessment
  • Credit transfer (equivalencies)

Principles of Sound Assessment**

  • Clear learning outcomes/expectations that outline course requirements, using verifiable criteria makes for good assessment.
  • Technical requirements
    • Validity (Does the evidence relate to the learning outcomes?)
    • Sufficiency (Is there enough evidence to provide conclusive proof?)
    • Authenticity (Did the student produce this work?)
    • Currency (Are the knowledge and skills up to date?)
    • Reliability (How consistent is the assessment outcome?)
  • Systematic process to review evidence and to ensure the technical requirements are met, that there is appropriate recording, planning of assessment options and effective communicating with RPL candidates

To ensure sound RPL assessment assessors need to**

  • Know what they are looking for: state learning outcomes and skills standards
  • Identify a range of diverse evidence in course or program area before beginning
  • Think about the needs of the candidate
  • Avoid over-assessing
  • Collaborate with others in your discipline (clarify learning outcomes, skill standards, pitfalls, range of acceptable evidence etc)
  • Respect the learner

Assessors need to know**

  • Context in which candidates have performed/learned
  • Nature of their experiences
  • Outcomes/achievements that reflect what they know and can do

Assessors need to**

  • Agree on the areas they feel qualified to serve as an assessor
  • Develop checklists or other support materials for use by candidates
  • Participate in the development of guidance material for acceptable evidence or assessment options
  • Identify likely types and sources of evidence related to area of expertise
  • Set assessment criteria
  • Design/choose assessments
  • Meet with candidate to assess
  • Assess candidate's evidence
  • Ensure evidence meets technical requirements
  • Make recommendations about award, denial of credit or learning contract
  • Provide feedback to candidate
  • Maintain records and forward to appropriate office

* This is changing as education embraces portfolio education/learning centred models
** Taken from Prior Learning Assessment in British Columbia

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