"Values" statements



The Community College
The future of prior learning assessment within the college system in Canada

Because of their mandates to serve communities and industry within that, community colleges have historically been delivering educational programs which are for the most part, closely linked to the world of work. This has positively influenced two elements which facilitate the integration of PLAR concepts within their systems. These are:

  • The learning outcomes and the language with which they are expressed - Community college programs are designed to meet workplace needs with much focus being placed on behaviors and they are expected to achieve very concrete, measurable and often obvious results. As such, program and course objectives tend to be expressed in more tangible and measurable terms.

  • When the condition in (A) is met, the development of assessment tools is fairly straightforward and evidence of competencies usually does not require complex evaluation processes, consequently, there appears to be less apprehension on the part of faculty to assessing prior learning. This factor may be that which influences the variance in the willingness to respond to requests for PLAR between community colleges and the universities.
In seeking a national perspective on PLAR issues, the following represents synthesis of feedback received from five provincial jurisdictions, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.


The following are elements mentioned as integral to a healthy vision of Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition in the community college system.

  • PLAR needs to be integrated into the day-to-day academic activities of the institution. Its availability must be well-known throughout the college community and conducted as a matter of course. It should be incorporated into all training projects and contract training activities.

  • PLAR needs to be treated by the institution as an individual standing item on a ll internal administrative agendas - the college budget planning process, the professional development agenda, the college marketing strategy, the governing body's annual meeting agenda, the college research agenda.

  • Assessments should be conducted by the institutions for external organizations (including the workplace ) on contract and thus PLAR is a service provided quite apart from delivery of training but obviously linked to training in that those assessed, would seek further training. For example, a provincial licensing body could purchase the assessment services of the college for their own purposes, not just academic credit.

  • PLAR should offer credible flexible assessment practices for all learners -a system that will allow learners the opportunity for assessment of learning no matter when, where or how it was acquired. It should incorporate best practices which includes fair, equitable and transparent access such as identified in the Canadian Labour Force Development Board standards for PLAR.

  • In order for PLAR to be more cost-effective, it should be marketed more extensively to and developed for group assessments. This provides a much more cost-recoverable option for institutions.

  • In order for PLAR services to be valuable, the ensuing "top up" training required as a result of the assessment must be available in a flexible manner, on an "as needed" basis and in module sizes that avoid duplication of learning already undertaken.

The list of benefits offered by PLAR services are numerous and some of these are well documented in the CLFDB's brochure dealing with this topic. For the purpose of this overview, those attributes which were identified as paramount to PLAR success are described below.

  • The learner: PLAR's greatest strength has been to increase learner's confidence in their own learning capacities and to motivate them to continue learning. As well, it avoids the need to unnecessarily repeat learning that has already taken place. This can accelerate the process of obtaining credentials which the learner might need to enter the workforce or to be promoted. 
  • Unfortunately this is most often achieved through costly, one-on-one processes that are not saleable in this age of education-cost cutting. We need to do research and experimentation to find better ways to provide PLAR at less cost and share findings with other jurisdictions. We also need to convince governments that it is a worthy investment.

  • The institution: PLAR provides institutions with opportunity to attract a significant number of new learners. The attractiveness of having prior learning recognized and credited towards formal learning can be an inviting feature for the "lifelong learner" which now characterizes a large proportion of our workforce.
  • A great deal of focus is being placed on the immediate cost benefits of offering PLAR services versus that of offering the corresponding course. The resulting benefit, if any, is likely minimal and perhaps one needs to look at PLAR as the institutions' short term investment for the longer term benefit of an increasing and a returning client base enroled in programs.
    One of the main challenges with this approach is the short sighted vision which usually accompanies annual budgets and the expectation of immediate revenue generation.
    If PLAR is appropriately positioned within institutions' contracted services, and ensuing training plans are well coordinated, access to flexible training can be augmented as some training seats are freed up by successful PLAR candidates. This would allow more efficient use of existing training and education capacities within our institutions.

    There are a number of unresolved issues and concerns regarding the use of PLAR in our community colleges. The following identifies those appearing to be the most critical within the community college system.

    • With the recent "hypes" about PLAR and its value, there is always a danger that it be perceived as a panacea for all the woes in the educational system. This leads to false expectations and subsequently a potential failure to demonstrate its true value. We need to communicate reasonable expectation about the potential benefits of this approach to both students and employers and this needs to be accompanied by solid evidence of success.
    One such questionable message is that if PLAR was in place, there would be thousands of people who would access it. There is a sense now that the numbers are not as great as anticipated in the early 1990's and our failure to reach these numbers now could make implementation look like a failure.
    • As with the implementation of any new approach which requires significant change from current practice, resources need to be dedicated to the establishment and development of the concepts and appropriate -supports. Inadequate funding could lead to PLAR being put in place without credible policies, procedures and quality assessment practices based on sound adult learning principles.
    • Another significant danger at this point, is that PLAR not be accepted by business and industry. We need to develop, maintain and ensure a "valid and reliable process" for the assessment. Until PLAR is well accepted or until it has been understood and witnessed that credits earned through PLAR are indeed equivalent to credits earned through more formal learning, experiences, it is critical that the focus be on the very high standards required in granting these credit. If the credibility is lost and the general public and employers have the impression that you can "buy your credits or diploma", it will be very difficult to restore the confidence and lost credibility.
    If we force this acceptance too quickly, without having "demonstrated" that graduates with PLAR credits are highly qualified and that we have not compromised standards, we may experience a backlash and the employers will start to recognize only training and education from very specific institutions, namely those that they know do not accept PLAR.
    Many of the administrative structures in our educational institutions as well as those governing student support such as student loans have not adjusted to officially include PLAR as an educational activity, therefore successful outcomes in PLAR are often a disincentive to students - eligibility status for student loans, for example, could be jeopardized as a result of successful PLAR and offer candidate less financial support that anticipated and required.
    As one reviews the issues surrounding the successful establishment of Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition concepts in our community college system, one condition that surfaces throughout this document is the need to include all of the stakeholders as we develop solutions to the challenges presented to us. This strongly confirms the need for a national champion for the cause who can rally the troupes to guide, coordinate, support and advocate for progress.

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