Prior Learning Assessment Gives Credit Where Credit Is Due

Adults considering returning to school may be closer to the completion of their program than they think.

The University of New Brunswick (UNB) has a well-established Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) policy administered through the PLA Centre located at the College of Extended Learning. UNB students can have their prior learning reviewed and assessed formally for possible credit toward a UNB program.

“Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) has been available to mature students at UNB for quite some time. Establishment of the centre will raise awareness of the policy and standardize the process on both campuses,” said Marilyn Carkner, director, delivery and adult learner services at UNB CEL.

PLA consists of the determination, evaluation and recognition of non-formal, informal, and in some cases, formal learning that can result in academic credits.

“Adult learners come with a vast amount of learning and if their knowledge is at a university level, and is relevant to their academic program, we will evaluate it for consideration of credit.”

There are a few basic steps to take towards evaluation.

The first step is to choose a program.

Students should have an idea of what they want to study before beginning the process. Anyone who is unsure about what to take can make an appointment with an Adult Learner Services representative to find out about what is available at UNB and how any previous learning may ladder into the program of choice.

Step two is to apply to the program and find out if the university will accept any transfer credit from previous post-secondary experience. Some applicants may not have any room for prior learning assessment once the transfer credit process is done, as most faculties require that at least 50 per cent of the program be completed at UNB.

The third step is to contact the PLA Centre. At this point, the student will know what is required from the program and how much room may be left for PLA credit. If there is room, then the PLAR process begins.

A PLAR process may include activities such as interviewing, competency assessment, learning outcome assessment, and portfolio development. As a starting point, applicants should prepare a detailed resume, including a list of professional development courses or programs attended.

Applicants for PLA need to make a case for themselves and provide evidence that their learning is equivalent to the outcomes of the university courses.

“They [the applicants] need to show their past learning and explain the nitty-gritty details of it, essentially they need to formally put together a package that showcases their learning so that a faculty member or a content expert can assess it,” said Carkner.

The PLA Centre staff will provide guidance and assistance throughout the process by asking questions, explaining what the applicant needs to provide, and reviewing draft submissions. The PLA Centre also serves as a liaison between the faculties and the applicant.

Once the learning evidence (the package) is ready, it is sent to the faculty for assessment.

“Assessors are looking for university level learning—the theory, the application, and that the student understands the principles and theories behind the course material. The onus is on the individual student to show they have the equivalent learning. It is not necessarily easy, but going to class for 13 weeks isn’t either,” said Carkner.

There is a general fee per application even if credit is granted for multiple courses.

“By the time they pay the fee they have worked with us, we are ready to send their evidence to the faculty for assessment, and we are reasonably confident that they have a valid case for credit toward their program.”

Key areas that are most often assessed for credit include business, communications, training and development, and military training. The PLA Centre also has requests for information technology, computer science, kinesiology, nursing and languages.

UNB is a member of the NBPLAR Action Group, a provincial initiative focused on building awareness and capacity for PLAR around the province in multiple areas including universities, colleges, through multicultural and professional associations, and employers.

“At UNB, our goal is to expand and develop policies and practices surrounding PLAR so that more students will get the recognition they deserve for past learning as it applies to their studies,” said Carkner.

For more information on Prior Learning Assessment contact PLA Centre representatives: Lorna Campbell, (506) 458-7976 (Fredericton); Courtney Rock, (506) 648-5863 (Saint John); email; or visit