What is Prior Learning Assessment & Recognition (PLAR)/ Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)?

PLAR/RPL stands for Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition of Prior Learning.

Prior learning assessment and recognition defines processes that allow individuals to identify, document, have assessed and gain recognition for their prior learning. The learning may be formal, informal, non-formal, or experiential. The context of the learning is not key to the process as the focus is on the learning. PLAR processes can be undertaken for several purposes, including self-knowledge, credit or advanced standing at an academic institution, for employment, licensure, career planning or recruitment.

Some organizations in Canada use PLAR to describe processes associated with assessment and recognition of nonformal and informal learning only. Tools such as challenge exams, demonstrations, structured interviews, simulations and portfolios can be used alone or in combination, for experiential learning and competency assessment in such instances.


Here are three good reasons to participate in PLAR:

  1. The process of looking back on your past experiences and reflecting on what you learned can help you take stock of your skills and abilities and set career and educational goals. In turn, these goals can help you begin to build upon what you already know and can do.
  2. The PLAR process makes it possible for educational institutions, workplaces, professional bodies and other organizations to assess your knowledge and skills for the purpose of awarding credit, granting professional status or advancing your career.
  3. The PLAR process can help you save time and money by filling in the gaps in your learning without having to repeat things you already know and can do

Credit for Learning, not Experience

The idea behind PLAR is that the learning that takes place

  • in different educational settings and
  • through experience outside classrooms

Learning experiences are important, but it’s essential to understand that learning does not come automatically with experience and learning differs from person to person.

Credit and recognition is given when you demonstrate and validate learning from experiences and not for the experiences themselves. In fact, the Golden Rule of PLAR is: “credit for learning, not experience”

In PLAR, its learning, not experience, that counts. What’s more, depending upon your goal, your knowledge or skills must be related to workplace standards, professional skills and competencies as identified by professional bodies, or learning outcomes as described in the course outlines of post secondary institutions.

How do I prepare for having my learning assessed?

You can take part in the following processes to help you identify, organize and describe your knowledge and skills:

  1. Portfolio Development

    A Portfolio is an organized collection of materials which records and verifies your learning achievements and relates them to the requirements of an education or training program, a work standard, or a professional qualification.

    Portfolio development produces a valuable product but the process is also important in helping you analyze, understand and explain to others what you know and can do, as well as what you still need to learn.

    Your portfolio will be developed and owned by you and therefore it’s really up to you to decide what to include. But normally, a portfolio must have the following:

    • a paper outlining your education and career goals
    • learning outcomes and competency statements
    • documentation verifying the learning you claim

    Portfolios may also include:

    • a chronological record of your significant learning experiences
    • a life history paper
    • a resume
    • formal and informal records of your past learning achievements

    The process of portfolio development can provide a structured opportunity for you to review and evaluate your past experiences and the learning which has resulted from them. Once it is complete, your portfolio will provide up-to-date information and evidence of learning for you to use in a variety of work and educational settings. Some colleges, universities and professional and trade associations offer workshops in portfolio development. Look in our PLAR Contacts to see if a workshop is available at the organization of interest to you.

  2. The Challenge Process

    The second process that may be available to you is the preparation of a challenge for credit for particular courses. The term “challenge” is most often used in the Community College System. If you are interested in challenging a course for credit you should first contact the person responsible for PLAR at the institution where you want to study. Ideally, you will be able to work with the faculty member in charge of the course to determine the best way to demonstrate that you meet its learning outcomes. Challenge processes differ amongst educational institutions and regulatory bodies but usually include one or more of the following:

    • assessment of educational documents
    • standardized tests and program reviews of employer-based training
    • product assessment
    • interviews and oral exams
    • performance testing and demonstrations
    • essays
    • challenge exams
    • self assessment

    Not all courses can be challenged. It is important that you consult the college, university or other organization from which you want recognition to determine

    • whether you can challenge a course, and
    • what process you need to follow

    PLAR has many benefits but it takes time. Often there are deadlines for application to have your learning assessed. So start early!