Validation of Prior Learning in Ireland: A Learner’s Experience

3 May 2017
The learner voice sits firmly at the heart of AONTAS’ work. As the National Adult Learning Organisation in Ireland, we believe that in order to widen participation in lifelong learning, we must listen to the voices and experiences of learners. AONTAS spoke to adult learner advocate Una Buckley about Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). Una details her personal experience of RPL and gives some suggestions on how to make the process more accessible for learners.

RPL in Ireland

Validation of Prior Learning is commonly referred to as ‘Recognition of Prior Learning’ (RPL) in Ireland. RPL encompasses all forms of prior learning, including learning acquired by following a programme of study (formal learning), learning acquired outside of the formal education system which may not lead to certification (non-formal learning), and learning acquired through experience.

Under the EU Council recommendation on the validation of non-formal and informal learning, EU Member States must have arrangements in place for the validation of non-formal and informal learning, no later than 2018. Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) (link is external)are responsible for establishing policies on RPL in Ireland within the policies and criteria for Access, Transfer and Progression (ATP). (link is external) Ireland does not currently have a national policy on RPL, however huge strides have been made towards RPL policy in Ireland and are ongoing.

In 2015, the RPL Practitioners Network Ireland (link is external) was formed by practitioners working and interested in the area of RPL. The network aims to:

RPL: A Learner’s Experience

In 2016, I completed the BA in Adult Learning for Personal and Professional Development (ALBA) programme (link is external) at All Hallows College, Dublin. This unique programme was developed specifically for adult learners and built on a model pioneered at the School of New Learning at DePaul University, Chicago. 

While completing my degree, RPL was a very significant issue for myself and many of my peers - we were all “mature adult learners” with a wealth of lifelong learning experience. Luckily for us, the ALBA programme recognised prior learning, both accredited and non-accredited and this had great benefits for us as learners.

Prior to starting the ALBA programme, the college gave all learners a module descriptor and a number of detailed learning outcomes for each one. In order to obtain RPL credits, I had to show that I had already achieved these learning outcomes through my previous experience, which included a range of accredited and non-accredited courses, and over 30 years’ work experience. This involved completing an application form and submitting copies of other official certification that I had previously gained.

All Hallows had a system to recognise non-accredited courses and work experience called Independent Learning Pursuit (ILP). Due to my previous experience the ILP model was very useful for me. There was a variety of ways that ILP could be completed and this suited a range of learning styles. Learners could write an essay or give a detailed presentation, other options included creating a piece of art, or performing music or drama. This provided an alternative option for learners who excelled outside traditional teaching/assessment methods and were stronger at expressing themselves in a creative manner. All ILPs were assessed and marked to the standard required for the particular module outcome.

Fortunately I kept all the module descriptors from previous courses that I had completed so I could use these details, I was also able to provide copies of my certificates. This information was then checked and approved before confirmation of RPL was issued. I had a very positive experience of RPL but a number of my peers weren’t so lucky. Some were left disappointed when they were unable to obtain their previous certificates from other education institutions. Others found that their previous place of learning had closed.

RPL can have huge benefits for learners and it facilitates access for people who may not have had the opportunity to do further study. However information is knowledge and all learners should be informed in advance of starting a course that their previous learning – accredited and non-accredited, has a value and is recognised. Learners must also be informed about whether there is an RPL strategy in place and they must be supported to navigate this process.

I think an overarching national RPL Strategy is needed. Lifelong learning is fluid and learners often progress from different educational institutions, and this can make it difficult for learners to keep track of their certification and achievements. A strategy would also ensure consistency and quality across the board. Another suggestion would be to issue an educational passport for every learner, this could track their learning path, and information could be updated at the end of each completed course.

Ireland has progressed so much over the past number of years in terms of RPL but it is vital that we continue to include learners in these discussions to ensure that the RPL process is accessible for all learners and that they are adequately informed and supported.

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