Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)
Recognition of Prior Learning is a process by which prior learning is formally valued. It is a means by which prior learning is identified, assessed, and formally recognised by an educational institution as part of their modules and programmes on the National Framework of Qualifications. This makes it possible for an individual to build on learning achieved and to be rewarded for it.
Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) means that you can get recognition for learning you have done in a work-based environment and from learning from life experiences to support your personal and career development.
Through RPL learners can show evidence of learning that has taken place prior to enrolment so that it is recognised and given value. A fundamental principle of RPL is that a learner should not be asked to relearn something they already know. With RPL, prior learning, once identified and valued, can count towards entry/admission, advanced entry, credit or exemptions from modules on a course.
RPL is a valuable process of reflection and consolidation of past experiences, enabling the identification of transferable skills and learning achieved that can then be used to pursue lifelong goals and ambitions. Learning can come from life, school, paid or unpaid work, short courses or learning at college.
- Types of RPL
- RPL Portfolio
- Jargon Buster
- RPL National Project
Recognition is a process by which prior learning is given a value. The five phases of ‘validation’ illustrate the processes involved in RPL. These processes consist of:
- Information: During this stage, you obtain information about what is possible (RPL for entry or exemption) and how the RPL process works.
- Identification, through dialogue, of the learning of an individual; - this is usually carried out with the Course Leader for the course you want to apply for.
- Documentation to make visible the individual's learning; - this is the gathering of the documentation as outlined by the Course Leader during the initial engagement.
- A formal assessment of these learning outcomes; - this is where the submitted documentation is assessed to establish whether the learning outcomes described in the curriculum are achieved and if the application is successful for admission, advanced entry or exemption.
- Certification of the results of the assessment.
There are two application forms that you may need to complete if applying for RPL. These are:
Application Form for Exemption from Module(s) - this is the form to complete if you are applying for a module(s) exemption using prior certified and non-formal and informal learning.
Advanced Entry Application Form - this is the form to complete if you are applying for advanced entry using prior certified learning.
Uncertified Learning Application Form – this is the form to complete if you are applying for entry, advanced entry or module exemption using non-formal and informal learning.
Types of RPL
If you are thinking of studying at the University and you have previous learning or qualifications at an appropriate level then you may be able to:
- gain admission without the standard entry requirements;
- gain advanced entry (admission to a year other than year 1 of a course);
- get exemptions from studying certain modules.
Recognition of prior learning or RPL is the term given to learning that may have taken place at an earlier point such as through your workplace, on short courses or another degree, in your community or through voluntary organisations.
You cannot request RPL for the activity itself (such as 100 hours voluntary work), but you can request RPL for the outcomes of the activity – i.e. the learning that has been gained through the participation in the activity. These outcomes need to be evidenced and matched against the outcomes for the course you are applying for, thus formally valuing your prior learning. In this way, RPL makes it possible for you to build on learning achieved and to be rewarded for it.
Types of learning may be defined as follows:
Prior formal learning is learning that has been acquired through a module or programme on a national framework of qualifications and has earned ECTS credits. Examples of this include modules and programmes via further education, higher education, micro-credentials, etc.
Non-formal learning is planned, structured learning that does not lead to credits on a framework. The purpose and intention of the learning may be known in advance. Examples of this include in-house company training, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), etc.
Informal learning is knowledge, skills, and competences acquired through day-to-day unplanned and unstructured activities. Examples include working, volunteering, day-to-day activities, etc.
To convert prior certificated learning or prior experiential learning into RPL credits, you need to put together a portfolio of evidence with your application. When you are compiling your application, your Course Leader/RPL contact will guide you on the information to be included. Below is some general guidance to give you an overview of the process.
RPL portfolio example structure
It's important you present your RPL portfolio in a logical way so it highlights your knowledge, skills and experience to assessors.
Here's an example RPL portfolio structure you can use when you put your portfolio together:
- Title page – including your name and the course your RPL relates to
- Table of contents
- Personal information – including address, and contact information
- A summary of each module your RPL applies to, cross-referenced to relevant employment, education, training, qualifications and learning activities
- Appendices (if relevant) – including copies of certificates and other evidence such as assessments or written feedback
Choosing what evidence to include
When you're deciding what evidence to include in your RPL portfolio, make sure it meets the following criteria:
- Current – no more than 5 years old or presented with further evidence that shows how you've kept up-to-date and built on your learning
- Authentic – your own work or own contribution
- Relevant – to the subject area of the course and linked to course or module learning outcomes (you can get detailed information about the modules you'll study on your course by requesting the Course Handbook from the Course Leader or School Office for the course you are applying to)
Reflecting on your experience
It's essential that each learning experience you include in your RPL portfolio contains evidence that you've reflected on and applied what you've learnt. Use these questions to help you identify and reflect on relevant learning experiences:
- What major events have you undertaken in your studies/experiences?
- What are your thoughts and feelings about these events, now and at the time you did them?
- What new skills have you developed as a result of these events? For example, have you changed your attitude? Would you act differently if the same situation arose again? Have you transferred this learning to other situations such as the workplace?
- What new learning has taken place as a result of the experience?
- What reading have you done? Which articles or books have you read that support your learning? What did you think of them?
- What personal changes have taken place as a result of your learning? For example, are you more confident?
Further RPL portfolio tips
- Give yourself enough time to complete your portfolio – don't plan to do it in 1 session
- Don't assume the reader will have an understanding of the points you're making, or know the course or modules you're referring to
- Make sure your portfolio reflects an academic approach at the level you're seeking credit for – your RPL advisor/Course Leader will help you with this
Below are some of the most frequent questions asked which may be helpful in assisting you with your query.
- Can both formal and informal learning be claimed?
- It may well be that a claim for credit will include both certificated and experiential learning. This is not a problem providing appropriate evidence can be provided to support the claim.
- How recent does my learning need to be?
- Normally formal or certificated learning has a valid shelf life of five years but some universities accept older qualifications providing you can provide evidence that knowledge and learning has been kept up to date. The same principle is applied to informal or experiential learning.
- Can I get credit for partially completed credit rated qualifications?
- You may be able to gain credit for partially completed qualifications providing they are at an appropriate level and that your learning has been kept up to date.
- How do I apply?
- Detailed information is available in the application forms available on the ‘Process’ tab of this page.
- Can I appeal the outcome?
- Details on how to appeal can be found in the RPL policy.
- What is an unclassified award?
- If a classified award is to be made module exemptions cannot be granted at the Award Stage and instead marks are awarded. If it is not possible to assign a grade and an exemption is granted, an unclassified award is made. This means that classifications such as Merit 2, Merit 1 or Distinction cannot be applied.
- Is there a maximum number of credits that can be claimed?
- Ordinarily, applicants can apply for up to a maximum of 50% of the total credits for an academic programme through RPL where seeking exemptions. The number of credits awarded depends upon the nature and extent of the student’s learning, how well it matches the learning requirements for the course and if the learning is successfully demonstrated. This is different to RPL applicants who are seeking entry or advanced entry. There are some courses which may have additional limits on the number of credits or modules in which RPL can be claimed. This is usually for external accreditation/validation/professional body reasons and can be checked with the course leader.
- Are there individual course exceptions to RPL?
- There are some courses which may have additional limits on the number of credits which can be claimed or modules for which exemptions cannot be applied for. This could be for external accreditation/validation reasons and should be checked with the course leader.
- I still have questions, who can I contact?
- Your main point of contact is the Course Leader for the course that you are interested in applying for or the School Office for the course. It is advisable to look through all of the information on this section of the website and on the course information page before e-mailing them so that you can send informed questions or queries.
This brief glossary aims to explain some of the main ‘academic jargon’ terminology that students may come across.
The process by which learners may start a programme having received recognition for prior learning.
An award is conferred by the awarding body when you have successfully completed a programme of study. An example of an award is an Honours Bachelor Degree.
This is where admission is granted to a course in year 2 or above, so you do not need to complete the previous years on the course on the basis of prior learning you have undertaken, be that formal accredited learning or informal ‘experiential’ learning that you have gained through work/life experience.
This is learning that has been formally recognised or accredited that you are using as part of your RPL application.
Course (or Programme)
This is the specified programme of study that a student must pursue to earn an award. The programme is made up of modules. Information on the modules that make up a programme, the purpose of each one and how they are to be examined or assessed is made available in a Programme Handbook. Programme Handbooks are available from the Course Leader or School Office. The terms ‘Programme’ and ‘Course’ are used interchangeably at SETU.
Every course has a Course Leader who is a member of the academic staff teaching on the course. The Course Leader liaises with students, academic staff and the Institute Management on the day-to-day management of the course.
As learners complete modules and demonstrate that they have met the learning outcomes, they are awarded credits which they accumulate to earn an award. SETU Carlow modules are typically worth five or ten credits each. On successful completion of one year of full-time study, learners are deemed to have earned 60 credits.
Exemption/s from a module/s within a programme of study where students can formally demonstrate that they have already met the learning outcomes for the module/s concerned. Exemptions from modules may be granted at the non-award stages of a course on the basis of recognised prior learning. Where exemptions are being sought for an award level module then the assessment process should assign a mark for the module arising out of a robust assessment of the learning achieved as defined by the assessment criteria of the module. Where it is not possible to assign a mark to the exemption that he student shall receive a non-classified award.
Formal learning occurs in an organised and structured environment (in an education or training institution or on the job) and is explicitly designed as a learning experience in terms of its structure, learning objectives, learning outcomes, time and resources.
Informal learning is not organised or structured; informal learning is usually unintentional from the learner's perspective and results from participating in daily activities related to work, family or leisure, e.g. coaching a team, event management.
Clear statements of transferable knowledge, skills and attributes which an applicant can be expected to have gained on successful completion of a programme or element of a programme of study e.g. module. The learning outcomes are listed in the module descriptor.
In the context of academic programme, ‘level’ refers to the level of the programme on the National framework of Qualifications:
- Level 6 : Higher Certificate
- Level 7 : Bachelor Degree
- Level 8 : Honours Bachelor Degree
A module is a self-contained unit of a student's workload. (Also, known as a subject). Modules are typically delivered and assessed within a semester. A ‘module descriptor’ is available to students for all modules. The module descriptor sets out what the objectives and learning outcomes of the module are, how many credits attach to the modules, how it will be assessed etc.
A module exemption is where you are granted an exemption from a module or number of modules on the basis of prior learning they have undertaken, be that formal accredited learning or informal ‘experiential’ learning you have gained through work/life experience.
Some courses are divided into modules and students are required to pass a number of these modules to successfully complete their degree programme. Modules can be compulsory or optional.
Non Formal Learning
Non formal learning is intentional from the learner’s point of view but usually does not result in accreditation or certification. Non formal learning is embedded in planned activities not explicitly defined as learning e.g. on the job training or IT skills acquired in the workplace.
Reflection on past learning as part of your RPL application is a dynamic process. It is not about being passive, staying where you are and looking back – but an active engagement with knowledge and experience. So, in reflecting you are able to construct new and deeper understanding and to articulate knowledge in a more meaningful way. (Nationalcollege.org.uk 2018)
Programme (or Course)
The terms ‘Programme’ and ‘Course’ are used interchangeably at SETU.
The process by which learners may transfer from one programme to another programme having received recognition for knowledge, skill and competence acquired.
RPL National Project
The National Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) in Higher Education Project is an ambitious 5-year (2020-2025) €6.9m initiative funded by the Higher Education Authority’s Human Capital Initiative Pillar 3 (Innovation & Agility). Recognition of Prior Learning is a process whereby evidence of learning (formal, non-formal or informal) that has taken place prior to enrolment in higher education is recognised and given value. A fundamental principle of RPL is that a learner should not be asked to relearn something they already know. With RPL, prior learning can count towards entry, advanced entry, credit, or exemptions from modules.
The national project team based in the Technological Higher Education Association works closely with cosponsors the Irish Universities Association, as well as 19 project leads based in each partner Higher Education Institution. The goal is to make RPL an integral and vibrant part of higher education, one which offers lifelong learning opportunities to learners and enterprise. For more information on RPL see: www.priorlearning.ie