Further information about Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning

What is APEL?

APEL is the process of identifying, assessing and accrediting an individual’s competencies, knowledge and skills, no matter how these have been acquired. APEL stands for Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning, i.e. the un-certificated learning made by the individual, and basically refers to all previously acquired learning. In the words of McKelvey & Peters:

“…APL addresses the needs of adult learners and is part of a strategy to widen access to education for all learners. It can provide a structure that will attract adults who would otherwise remain outside the life of an educational establishment.”
[Source: “APL: Equal Opportunities for All?” C. McKelvey & H. Peters, 1993]

APEL means flexibility. It gives the institution the flexibility to consider all aspects of an individual’s background in the search for exemptions against pre-determined requirements. Combined with the flexibility inherent in the distance learning, never-ending academic year format offered by the University, acquiring a degree qualification could be much less of a problem than could be feared. It means that you can start on a programme at the most appropriate point, and achieve completion by the most direct route.

In addition to the ‘standard issue candidate’, the opportunities offered by APEL have implications for a whole host of other people:

  • Immigrants in an educational system unknown to them may be highly qualified in their country of origin, but unable to prove this where they are now.
  • Those in part-time employment, who generally suffer reduced training and development benefits, will be able to capitalise fully on a APEL/distance learning programme.
  • This also means that people with disabilities, who tend to work part-time, if at all, will be able to enrol on a programme without having to first find the physically most suitable institution relative to their needs.
  • The self-employed, who certainly cannot take the time off to undertake residential studies, and even if they consider part-time studies would not want to repeat what they have already covered as a matter of course in running their business.
  • The unemployed, for whom the flexibility of APEL/distance learning means that they would still be able to pursue a career whilst working towards a degree qualification.

What qualifies as APEL?

Experience is not necessarily learning, and it is important to set out at an early stage that what is assessed under a APEL scheme is the candidate’s ability to prove that any experience has resulted in learning.

Such evidence could fall within the following three broad categories (McKelvey & Peters):

  1. Existing certificated learning: certificates issued by recognised examining bodies are, where appropriate, used to grant entry or exemption only. Other certificates, licences or test results may provide evidence of skills or competence and may, subject to evaluation, be used for the award of credit.
  2. Prior learning achievement for which evidence is readily available: examples of materials within this category are: (a) testimonials or other authenticated reports of achievements acquired in the past. Many testimonials submitted for evaluation are very general, and in consequence of little value. Specifically solicited testimonials, addressing clearly identified competences or skills are preferred; (b) presentation of products which demonstrate achievement, such as written or published material, computer programmes, designs, objects, artefacts, etc.
  3. Prior learning achievement which is claimed but for which there is no direct evidence: the bulk of prior learning achievement will probably come within this category. A student will need guidance to reflect upon and set down relevant experiences in a structured manner, in order that claimed skills or competencies can be identified and assessed. The significance of the term ‘relevant’ will depend upon the units for which credit or exemptions is sought, but sources of prior learning achievement might include:
  4. (a) experience gained in the workplace; (b) informal or non-credit-bearing courses such as in-company training schemes or adult education; (c) independent and self-directed study, correspondence courses; (d) experiences such as voluntary work.

Wherever possible, the student should map the competencies represented by uncertified learning to existing college courses. This can be done by examining the syllabuses of other colleges in the relevant areas and selecting courses to “challenge” through portfolio. For example, a student may identify a 3-credit course in Twentieth-Century English Literature at the University of the Rockies, and then prepare a portfolio challenge based on meeting the criteria for that course through their prior education. European-American University will need full details of the courses to be challenged.

The University does not restrict portfolio assessment to areas where standardized tests do not exist, nor does it restrict assessment based on the credits that an applicant may already have earned save that the same credit cannot be counted twice during a programme for the same competency (however, some learning experiences will result in credit that is due in more than one competency). In theory, almost any area is capable of being assessed by portfolio, although obviously the nature of evidence required will change accordingly.

What is the procedure?

There is a specific procedure to go through when wishing to be considered for APEL credits against a degree programme:

1) The candidate makes the claim to have acquired knowledge and skill, and supplies evidence for the claim.
2) The candidate should remember that the APEL process aims to evaluate learning, not experience. If no learning can be ascribed to a particular experience, there is nothing to evaluate, and the candidate cannot make a claim on that basis.
3) Identifying learning outcomes is possible only through systematic reflection on experience. There are three stages to this reflection:

  • Experiences are looked at and those where learning has occurred are selected;
  • Clear statements are written about what was actually learned;
  • Evidence in support of the claim to learning is collected and collated.

4) A focused piece of writing should normally be submitted. This must satisfy the following criteria:

  • Authenticity It must be the candidate’s own work;
  • Quality It should be at degree level;
  • Breadth A balance between theoretical knowledge and practical application should be evident;
  • Directness It should focus on areas taught within the degree programme;
  • Currency Learning should have been kept up to date.

Step 1: Basic information
Prepare a full cv or resumé/biodata. This should include all areas for which the candidate will attempt to claim credit.

Step 2: Detailed information
Provide a detailed description of activities, paid and unpaid work, periods of study, voluntary work, social activities and hobbies for which a claim for credit will be attempted. Candidates should identify experiences, detailing what they did, what was learned and how that learning was achieved. Sources of supplementary evidence should be indicated where relevant. See below for a (non-exhaustive) list of activities that may have led to learning of some form.

Step 3: Record of learning
This should be a focused piece of writing which puts the learning the candidate has achieved into context. It should draw all supporting evidence produced into an academic framework, properly referenced and clearly demonstrating how the learning has progressed. In order to do this, candidates need to reflect on their experience to identify where significant learning has occurred. Learning involves more than just doing. It is not enough to know that a particular procedure is important, the student must show they understand why.

Step 4: Sources of evidence
This could be certificates or transcripts of training programmes, log books, reports produced, surveys carried out, job descriptions, letters of verification etc.

Then what happens?

Having received all of the above, the University will make a formal evaluation of the candidate’s existing qualifications against the requirements for the degree they have in mind. A jury will meet to consider the portfolio and will conduct verification and seek any additional information from the candidate that is necessary.

Following this evaluation, the candidate will be advised of the result. The result may be full or partial degree credit applicable to the relevant degree level, a complete degree, diploma or certificate at a lower level, or no degree at all. If the recommendation is an award, the candidate can pay the formal candidature fee and graduate without further requirements.

If the candidate falls short of their desired standard in the award of APEL credit, the University will advise as to what amount of work is needed to reach the degree requirements. For an APEL programme this would typically be a matter of a dissertation or professional project, on a topic to be proposed by the candidate. There would, of course, be the usual Mentor support available, and the candidate would be supplied with the University’s guide to academic writing. This ‘topping up’ paper would then, apart from the above four steps, be all the work required to complete the degree programme. The fee for this stage is the same as the formal candidature fee, but with an annual continuation fee payable on the anniversary of matriculation.

How learning may have been accumulated

1. Work-related learning
A large proportion of the abilities and skills needed to hold down a job are often the very same that universities and colleges try to convey to students. The list of such skills is endless, but could include accounting, computer operating/programming, filing, financial management, stock control, planning, sales, typing etc. etc.

2. Volunteer work
Church activities, social service work, hospital work, community activities, political campaigns and the like. All of these may involve activities that lead to learning.

3. Homemaking
Organising and maintaining a household is no mean task, although often one taken for granted. There is a large element of organisational skills required, together with planning and budgeting, psychology, communication, education etc. The ‘little things’, such as cooking and cleaning, also form a learning curve which may be described for the attainment of credits.

4. Travel
This relates not to a mindless package tour to the nearest sunny poolside, but to the concept of travel as it was originally formed. Travel can be a great former of personality, and offers vast learning potential. Have you been on any study tours, important/significant holiday or business trip? Have you lived in other countries for prolonged periods? There may be learning experiences to be described.

5. Learning in formal settings not specifically designed for credit
All on-the-job training falls under this heading. Workshops, seminars, conferences and conventions, radio/TV courses followed, your tape-based language-course. Think of more.

6. Discussion with subject experts
The topic is less important than the concept of your spending significant time in the pursuit of specific knowledge in the company of a subject expert. The old mentoring system still holds many benefits, and crucial learning may be extracted via this method, including some which is not readily available through other sources.

7. Hobbies and related activities
Do you play an instrument? Can you fly an aircraft? Most people do not realise just how much they have learned in their pursuit of spare time activities, much of which may be acceptable for credit against some course or other. What can you do that required learning?

8. General study
This could be any area in which you have done some level of study, and can demonstrate some learning. Many people have a specific interest in some element that they see as a hobby, but which may have brought them to a level of insight quite commensurate with that held by people with qualifications in the same field. Just think of successful quiz-show contestants – do they tend to be graduates, or people from all walks of life, who happen to have a strong interest in and knowledge about something? What is your special interest?

9. Any other way that you can demonstrate to have led to a learning experience.

What sort of evidence can you provide?

The following forms of evidence can help you with the documentation of your learning outcomes:

  • audio tapes/CD-ROMs
  • awards
  • paid invoices
  • certificates
  • commendations
  • copies of speeches and publications
  • copies of tests
  • course details/outlines
  • designs and blueprints
  • endorsements
  • exhibitions
  • films
  • honours
  • interviews
  • job descriptions
  • licenses
  • military records
  • patents and copyrights
  • photos
  • theatre bills, performances
  • samples of work
  • slides
  • testimonials
  • videotapes
  • works of art

And generally any other form of documentation or evidence you can think of.