Fact Sheet No 6
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.
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.
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.
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.
5. Frequently asked questions
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Alberta Council on Admissions and Transfers
Prior Learning and Recognition: http://aet.alberta.ca/post-secondary/policy/plar.aspx
- 11th Floor, Commerce Place
- 10155 102 Street
- Edmonton, Alberta T5K 2J5
- Telephone: (780) 422-9021
- Fax: (780) 427-0423
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- British Columbia
- PLA(R) in British Columbia
- Emily Carr University of Art + Design: http://www.ecuad.ca/studentservices/pla
- Thompson Rivers University, Open Learning: http://www.tru.ca/distance/services/plar-ol.html
- 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)
- E-mail: email@example.com
- New Brunswick
- Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition Department of Education
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
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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
Montréal (Québec) H3C 4W9
- La reconnaissance des acquis (RA)
- CAMO Personnes immigrantes
- La reconnaissance des acquis et des compétences (RAC)
- Recognizing Prior Learning (RPL)