PLAR: Make Your Experience Count

In Canada, all those hours you spent learning computer skills on your own, or the project management skills you developed while volunteering for a non-profit organization, might be recognized by some colleges, universities or licensing bodies. Through Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR), adults can demonstrate and get recognition for learning experiences that occurred outside formal education settings. The results of the assessment can be applied toward academic credit in diverse academic programs, including primary education such as high school. It can also result in shorter periods of accreditation, by reducing training.

PLAR can really boost your chances of getting further education. This type of assessment can help you determine your level within a program, so you won’t have to re-study some topics; increase your chances of being accepted into a program when your formal credentials are not well understood in Canada, and provide licensing bodies with information about your qualifications, making it easier to determine whether you need further training, or whether you are eligible to write qualifying tests or participate in placements.

How does it work?

The recognition of previous learning might include work experience (paid and unpaid), volunteer work, school credits, military experience, travel, hobbies, independent study, and life experiences, among others. However, it is not the experience itself that’s valuable; it’s the skills those experiences help you develop.

The assessment process varies depending on the institution (a college or a university, for example) and the province were the evaluation is conducted. For example, Athabasca University, in British Columbia, has a detailed Centre for Learning Accreditation (priorlearning.athabascau.ca/) where information about the methodology they use to assess skills is available, including information about fees – PLAR is only available for enrolled students. In Manitoba, where universities and colleges conduct a similar process, there are also advisors at Adult Learning and Employment Centres who provide free PLAR services related to career planning and employment.

Despite these differences, there are some common elements in the evaluations that anyone should expect, such as skills demonstrations, personal interviews, and presentations of products or portfolios. In addition, according to the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC), many colleges, universities, and professional licensing and certification bodies use written tests to assess an applicant's prior learning.

In most case, institutions conducting PLAR offer assistance for those interested in getting their skills recognized. Educational institutions usually have dedicated staff, such as monitors or mentors for portfolio development, test preparation and general guidance.

Is PLAR for you?

According to the Canadian Association for Prior Learning Assessment (CAPLA), in PLAR your knowledge or skills must be related to workplace standards, professional skills and competencies as identified by professional bodies, or learning outcomes (results of education) as described in the course outlines of post secondary institutions, depending upon your goal.

How much recognition is given to any individual depends on a series of factors, among them the institution you are applying to. For example, up to 75% of course credits required to earn a Mohawk College credential may be achieved through PLAR; however, that does not guarantee that any credit would be granted. Some organizations, like Athabasca University, have an appeal process in case you disagree with your assessment.

In any case, regardless of the methodology, PLAR takes time. Depending on the institution, the assessment alone can take from a few hours to weeks. More important, the whole process requires thoughtful preparation of materials and the analysis of experiences – that anyone must conduct to develop portfolios or prepare for tests. This self-assessment includes the identification of skills that are transferable in Canada, which can be a demanding task for new immigrants. However, it is likely to pay off in the long run.

Canadian Newcomer Issue 44