Prior Learning

In Higher Education it is vital that the students prior knowledge is encompassed into the teaching.


Prior Knowledge is also referred to as declarative knowledge, refers both to the quantity of knowledge (what is known) and the quality of knowledge (how well it is known i.e. its organisation and structure) (Pintrich, 1993). There is disagreement as to precisely what knowledge is necessary for effective learning in any given context (Bransford, 1990). What is also important are the ways in which students’ knowledge is organised and structured psychologically. Well structured knowledge is easily and spontaneously accessed, supported by many internal and external connections (Mayer, 1996) and, through the activity of schemas and scripts, acts as a guide to comprehension, inference, reasoning, and problem solving. Recent research suggests that the effective use of cognitive and metacognitive strategies can assist in the appropriate organisation of knowledge and, hence, in its effective retrieval and application (Bransford, 1990). Consequently prior knowledge acquired in a setting external to the higher education may have different schema’s and structures to those acquired within the university sector and retrieval of that data may therefore be different.

Recognition of Prior Learning

Prior Learning is learning which has taken place prior to admission to a programme. The learning can be certified or experiential. The generic term RPL is generally used to incorporate the terms Recognition of Prior Certified Learning (RPCL) and Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning (RPEL).

Recognition of Prior Certified Learning (RPCL) is where an applicant has already been awarded certification for a formal programme taken at another institution or training organisation, this prior learning can be recognised and may entitle the applicant to admission to a programme, exemptions from some parts of a programme or advanced academic standing within a programme. Recognition of Prior Experiental Learning (RPEL) involves the awarding of credit for learning from experience, i.e. learning which has not previously been academically accredited. In this case, the candidate must prove that the required learning outcomes have been achieved. This proof can then be used to support a claim for admission, exemption or credit. As a general principle, credit is given for learning, not for experience per se. For the purpose of this paper we will be referring mainly to RPEL.

Therefore Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) recognises learning which has occurred outside the traditional classroom setting. It therefore challenges the traditional university setting of academic excellence and scholarship acquired with in the university environment. It has been argued that academic resistance to RPL is not essentially an anti-market, economic one but rather a pedagogic one (Murphy 2009), but surely both are somewhat related? – in that economics whether we like it or not will affect pedagogy.

Work Based Learning

Work Based Learning (WBL) is learning which has taken place in the work environment, this may take the form of formal or informal learning.

Negotiated Work-Based Learning (NWBL), allows practitioner-learners to create individual programmes based on work activities and projects, and to have them then approved for the award of a university qualification. NWBL differs from modular schemes in that instead of assembling programmes from pre-existing components, learners are involved in creating pathways that draw chiefly on experiential sources of learning, backed by independent investigation (Lester 2002).


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