Information on Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition in Canada

Fact Sheet No 6

top of page 1. What is prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR)?

Adults learn in many different ways throughout their lives. Their social skills develop over years; their technical skills develop at work and at home as needs arise. Many adults have had to learn computer skills in recent years. Their efforts in the volunteer sector and in their leisure time, whether in the arts, sports, or even travel, all contribute to adult learning. Yet many people have no documentation or other means to verify their knowledge and skills.

PLAR is a process that helps adults to demonstrate and obtain recognition for learning that they acquire outside of formal education settings. PLAR focuses on what adults know and can do.

top of page 2. Who recognizes prior learning?

In Canada, most public colleges recognize prior learning in at least some of their programs. Some universities also recognize it - often in programs offered through continuing education. British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario offer PLAR to adults at the secondary school level.

In some parts of Canada, licensing and certification bodies such as the College of Dental Technicians of British Columbia and the College of Optometrists of Ontario use PLAR to evaluate the knowledge and skills of internationally trained applicants wishing to enter their professions. Some organizations also offer PLAR to Canadian applicants from different provinces/territories.

top of page 3. How does the PLAR process work?

PLAR is used to assess an individual's knowledge and skills in relation to specific criteria. The establishment of clear, measurable criteria is the key to a high-quality PLAR process.

A variety of methods might be used to assess prior learning. These include demonstrations, structured interviews, and presentations of examples or products. Many colleges, universities, and professional licensing and certification bodies use written tests to assess an applicant's prior learning. Some organizations offer portfolio development courses. A portfolio is an organized collection of documents and other items that show what an individual knows and can do.

top of page 4. What are the benefits of PLAR?

PLAR has several benefits. It improves access to education when formal credentials are not well understood. It helps place learners at appropriate levels within educational programs. It eliminates the need for students to study things they already know. It helps learners develop clear educational goals and plans. Research indicates that PLAR also improves learner confidence, self-esteem, and motivation to learn. If an institution's course offerings are flexible, PLAR can reduce students' program workloads and costs.

PLAR increases access to professions by providing important information to licensing and certification bodies about what applicants already know and can do. It can help determine if applicants are eligible to write qualifying exams or undertake placements. PLAR can help to determine if individuals need additional training, and it can reduce costs by pinpointing training needs more accurately.

top of page 5. Frequently asked questions

  1. I have lots of experience in my field of work. Will I be able to get recognition for it?

    One of the most important things to understand about PLAR is that it does not recognize experience. It recognizes the knowledge and skills that people gain from their experience. But if you have knowledge and skills that are going unrecognized, PLAR may be a good option for you to explore.

  2. How much recognition will I get?

    Although many people receive recognition for education and work-related qualifications through PLAR, this cannot be guaranteed. The decision on how much recognition to give is completely up to the organization you are applying to, whether that is a college, university, secondary school or other educational institution, professional licensing or certification body, or employer.

  3. PLAR sounds like it might be easy. Is it?

    No. No matter what PLAR process an organization uses, it takes time and careful thought about how your experiences have become knowledge and skills. This is not an easy process. But those who have gone through PLAR report that it was well worth it, both personally and occupationally.

  4. How do I know if my prior learning will be fairly assessed?

    Quality assurance should be built into PLAR processes to ensure that legitimate learning is recognized and that formal requirements are met. If you are unsure about the quality of an assessment process, ask for a copy of the criteria used to set up the process and ask about the qualifications of the assessors. Although Canada does not have national standards for PLAR processes or practitioners, most educational institutions and professional licensing and certification bodies offering PLAR have developed formal policies and procedures to guide their work. The Canadian Institute for Recognizing Learning (CIRL) publishes Principles for Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR)[PDF], which it recommends to all organizations that offer PLAR services.

  5. How long does the PLAR process take?

    That depends. It can vary from a few hours to a few days depending on the complexity of the assessment. You can learn more about this by directly contacting the organization that would be doing your assessment.

  6. How much does PLAR cost?

    The cost of PLAR depends on who is doing the assessment. Colleges and universities set their own rates, which vary depending on the complexity of the process. Fees charged by professional bodies are also set by the bodies themselves and vary by occupation.

  7. Do I have to be in Canada to participate in PLAR?

    Usually yes, but some organizations will allow you to start the process while you are still in your home country. You will need to ask the organization you are applying to. Sometimes this information is on their Web site.

  8. Will anyone help me through the PLAR process?

    Most colleges and universities have staff assigned to assist learners. In some instances, you must already be enrolled as a student at the institution. Professional licensing and certification bodies also usually have trained staff responsible for advising applicants.

  9. What do people who have gone through PLAR have to say about it?

    "I would tell [other students] that it is a great opportunity for anyone who was working and had experience in that area."

    "When I found out how easily I could access the college and the program, I was quite excited about taking it, and I really enjoyed the whole program."

    "I was able to gain self-assurance and a greater knowledge of myself. It put into place a lot of skills I had gained during my life and showed me the value they had. I did gain a lot of self-confidence and self-worth."

  10. Will my academic credentials be evaluated through PLAR?

    Wherever possible, your academic credentials should be evaluated before you undertake PLAR. That way, you will not need to go through PLAR to demonstrate qualifications that your credentials already show. For more information on credential assessment in Canada, contact us or refer to Fact Sheet No. 1 and Fact Sheet No. 2 on the CICIC Web site.

  11. If I have my prior learning recognized, am I more likely to obtain a job?

    If your prior learning is assessed by educational institutions, professional licensing or certification bodies, or employers, you will be in a better position to seek employment because your qualifications will be more clearly understood by everyone, including you. But PLAR is not a guarantee of employment in any field.

  12. If I have my prior learning recognized, am I more likely to be admitted to college or university?

    If your knowledge and skills are assessed, you will be in a better position to demonstrate them in relation to academic admission requirements. But again, PLAR is not a guarantee of admission to educational programs.

  13. Where can I obtain more information on PLAR?

    If you wish to have your prior learning recognized by a specific college, university, secondary school, other educational institution, or professional licensing or certification body, you should contact the organization directly and ask if they provide PLAR services.

    If you are interested in obtaining general information about PLAR, you may wish to contact the following organizations:

    At the national level

    Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC)
    95 St. Clair Avenue West, Suite 1106
    Toronto Ontario   M4V 1N6
    Telephone: (416) 962-8100
    Fax: (416) 962-2800

    A Spring 2003 Snapshot [PDF]: The Current Status of Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) in Canada's Public Postsecondary Institutions: Part One

    Canadian Association for Prior Learning Assessment (CAPLA)
    P.O. Box 56001
    355 Slater Street
    Ottawa   Ontario   K1R 7Z0
    Telephone: (613) 860-1747

    Recognition for Learning (RFL)

    At the provincial level

  14. Alberta
    Alberta Council on Admissions and Transfers
    Prior Learning and Recognition:
    11th Floor, Commerce Place
    10155 102 Street
    Edmonton, Alberta T5K 2J5
    Telephone: (780) 422-9021
    Fax: (780) 427-0423

    British Columbia
    PLA(R) in British Columbia
    Emily Carr University of Art + Design:
    Thompson Rivers University, Open Learning:
    British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), Advanced Placement & Prior Learning (APPL) Program

    Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition in Manitoba

    Manitoba's Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition Policy Framework
    Council on Post-Secondary Education

    Manitoba Prior Learning Assessment Network (MPLAN)

    New Brunswick
    Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition Department of Education
    Place 2000
    P.O. Box 6000
    Fredericton, New Brunswick   E3B 5H1
    Telephone: (506) 453-2644

    Nova Scotia
    PLA Centre
    7001 Mumford Road
    Halifax Shopping Centre
    Tower 1, Suite 101
    Halifax, Nova Scotia  B3L 4N9
    Telephone: (902) 454-2809
    Fax: (902) 454-3603

    The Ontario Ministry of Education
    Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR): Implementation in Ontario Secondary Schools
    Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) for Mature Students: Implementation in Ontario Secondary Schools
    Ontario Colleges
    Ministère de l'Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport du Québec
    Formation professionnelle et technique
    1035, rue de la Chevrotière, 12e étage
    Québec (Québec)   G1R 5A5
    Vous avez de l'expérience? La reconnaissance des acquis et des compétences est pour vous

    7100, rue Jean-Talon Est, 7e étage
    Montréal (Québec), H1M 3S3
    Reconnaissance des acquis (RA)

    Compétences Montréal
    Centre collégial montréalais de reconnaissance des acquis et des compétences
    3205, boulevard Saint-Joseph Est
    Montréal (Québec) H1Y 2B6
    Tel. : 514 789-0067
    Fax : 1-866-598-6712

    Service régional d'admission du Montréal métropolitain (SRAM)
    C.P. 11 028
    Succursale Centre-ville
    Montréal (Québec)  H3C 4W9
    La reconnaissance des acquis (RA)

    CAMO Personnes immigrantes
    La reconnaissance des acquis et des compétences (RAC)

    RPL Referral Guide

The Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC),
a unit of the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC).

© 1990-2014 CICIC (All rights reserved)
Links to this site may be established without permission. Its contents may not be reproduced without prior authorization. Reproduction for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Follow us on social media:    

Subscribe to the InfoCICIC newsletter

Ask us a question