Recognition of prior learning (RPL), describes a process used evaluate skills and knowledge acquired outside the classroom for the purpose of recognising competence against a given set of standards, competencies, or learning outcomes.
This learning may have taken place formally through a further or higher education provider or informally or non-formally through work/life experiences. Ensuring that this prior learning is recognised and given appropriate value is an important step in ensuring that lifelong learning pathways are meaningful and accessible for those with a variety of experiences.
The European Commission (2001), suggest that for the purposes of developing a national approach to the recognition of prior learning, prior learning encompasses:
- Formal learning takes place through programmes of study or training and is delivered by education or training providers, and which attract awards,
- Non-formal learning takes place alongside the mainstream systems of education and training. It may be assessed but does not normally lead to formal certification. Examples of non-formal learning include learning and training activities undertaken in the workplace, in the voluntary sector, or in communities,
- Informal learning takes place through life and work experience (experiential learning). It is learning that is quite unintentional and the learner may not recognize at the time of the experience that it contributed to his or her knowledge, skills and competences.
RPL is practiced in many countries for a variety of purposes, for example an individual’s standing in a profession, trades qualifications, academic achievement, recruitment, performance management, career and succession planning.