Recognition of Learning Part II

My apologies, internet friends, for a long delay between posts. I took a bit of a holiday to swim with some manatees and look what happens! I got all discombobulated and actually had to do some real work for a while. But I’m back. And so are you. Thank you.

In my last post, I referred to a number of technical terms and acronyms: PLAR, RPL, Credit Transfer, Challenge Credit, Block Transfer, Multi-Lateral Articulation, Articulation Agreements, and the Bologna Process. I could add more technical jargon to the list simply because I work in a university that is good at this. We’re such experts in minutia, the technical and complex fields of study that we can get caught up in our expertise and forget the purpose of what we’re doing. We obfuscate, er, make things more complicated than they need to be.

We do this for all sorts of reasons: to make ourselves seem important, job security, etc. That’s a topic for some other expert to tackle, but I’m reminded of the writer of the Proverbs who said, “When words are many, sin is not absent.” I want to get to the purpose, and some pitfalls, of recognizing learning – to remind us why we have so many technical terms for what we do. Hopefully I can demystify some of this stuff and help us avoid sinfully long and complicated jargon.

The BC Council of Admission and Transfer has kept the purpose up front. Under the heading Principles and Guidelines for Transfer, the first point says, “The primary purpose for transfer among colleges, universities and institutes is to increase student accessibility to post-secondary education by facilitating student mobility between institutions.”

While this is written from an institutional perspective rather than from a student perspective, it captures what’s important here. When I was in Saskatchewan, we developed some principles of transfer credit articulation that included the idea that no student should have to repeat learning. That just makes sense if you consider that most institutions have policies against getting the same credit twice. It makes even more sense when we consider that students pay for every credit they get (and at my institution, they pay dearly), so why should we ask them to take courses more than once?

It costs more to do things twice.

It costs more to do things twice.*

Ok, if the purpose of transfer credit is to facilitate accessibility, mobility, and learning, while reducing overlap, how do we do this? Warning: acronyms proliferate here!

This is where terms like RPL, TC, LOP, PLAR, AA, Block, and CR get bandied about at your local Registrar haunts. (Contact me privately, if you want insider info on where the best Registrar haunts are 🙂 )

It might help to have a visual.

Under the umbrella of Recognition of Prior Learning, there are five points as I see them:

  1. Transfer Credit (or Credit Transfer);
  2. Prior Learning Assessment & Recognition;
  3. Articulation Agreements;
  4. Block Agreements;
  5. Credential Recognition.

We know Transfer Credit quite well, so I won’t spend much time on it, except to say that it includes the typical course-for-course, letters of permission, and course-to-level transfer. Course-for-course transfer happens when you transfer PSYC 101 as PSYCH 101. Letters of permission happen when you give a student permission to go to another school and take PSYCH 101, which will transfer as PSYC 101. Course-to-level transfer is when you say PSYCH 121 isn’t really offered at my institution, but we recognize it as a PSYC 100 level course and the student can use it as an elective or to waive a particular PSYC requirement.

Prior Learning Assessment & Recognition is relatively new and it’s a hot potato topic that few admit to doing. As such, it’s a topic for a whole other blog post, so I’ll stay out of the controversial stuff and simply say that PLAR is how schools attempt to recognize and give credit for learning that doesn’t show up on a transcript. For example, a student fluent in German or French could get credit for modern languages without having to take the courses. Another example might be the student who already has her Certified General Accountant designation and might get Business Accounting credit. The controversy comes from how institutions recognize this learning. We all want to avoid the appearance of being a degree mill (“Send us a two page letter explaining your life-long learning and we’ll send you a University of Smogaria degree for only $500!”).

Oops, there I go, getting mired in controversy again!

Less controversial, but still under the PLAR heading is Challenge Credit. This happens when students can take the final exam for a course and if they pass it with a minimum grade, they can receive the credit for the course. This is still controversial, as my old VP Academic used to say, “Testing alone is a poor test of learning.” Sometimes it involves writing the final exam and passing an oral comprehensive of the course, but in any case, someone is assessing the learning and assigning credit for it. More controversy: how does one assign grades in these examples? Is one required to indicate that the course was challenged?

Drat! I said I would stay away from the controversy, didn’t I! Sorry.

Now, where were we? What’s the next point under the umbrella? Oh yeah, Articulation Agreements. These happen when your school and the school down the road agree to transfer credits between each other. These can be one-directional or two-way agreements. For example, TWU has an agreement with Mount Royal College that our Human Kinetics students can take a semester at MRC and have all the credit apply towards the Physiotherapy program.

Block Agreements are most common in the U.S. where universities transfer two-year Associate of Arts degrees as the first two years of four-year Bachelor of Arts degrees. They’re less common here in Canada, although degree partnerships utilizing some form of a block of credit are around. For example, Briercrest College has such an agreement with the University of Regina Faculty of Arts, where up to two years of Briercrest College courses will count towards a four-year degree at the U of R.

Credential Recognition is very common in post-secondary, although sometimes people look at me funny when I say that. It’s not often thought of under the umbrella of Recognition of Prior Learning. This most commonly occurs when students with a bachelors degree apply for a masters degree or Ph.D. The program they apply for reviews their application and will recognize (or not) the degree as sufficient preparation for the graduate level. Less common are students who complete a degree at university A and apply to university B to complete a second bachelors degree. Many, but not all, universities and colleges have “After Degree” or “Post-Degree” programs, which allow students to complete a second degree in one or two years, providing they recognize the credential as sufficient preparation for the second degree.

Does this make sense? Can you sense a controversial blog post in the works?Do you really like my photograph of the umbrella on a white board? Stay tuned for more good stuff being hatched in your local (but highly secret) Registrar haunt!

*This is from an SGI advertisement regarding a change in vehicle license plates requirements. Saskatchewan no longer requires a front license plate.


6 thoughts on “Recognition of Learning Part II

  1. So, our agreement with Coastal Pacific Aviation / University of the Fraser Valley is an ARTICULATION AGREEMENT, our Bellingham Adult Degree Completion program utilizes a BLOCK AGREEMENT, and our grad programs use CREDENTIAL RECOGNITION, but we stay away from PLAR (so far at least 😉 ). This is a helpful explanation.

    Would the Summit Pacific 2+2 program be considered an Articulation Agreement or a Block Agreement? I guess I’m a little fuzzy on the difference between those in such a case…


  2. Wow! I had no idea you had a blog. I also had no idea that there were blogs specific to “Registrar-ology.” Come to think of it, though, I guess it makes sense… one could write a dictionary for the acronymns alone!


    1. Hi Dustin! Yes, this blog has been going for just over a year now. I started it precisely because there was only one blog specific to “Registrar-ology” out there, but from a UK perspective. And I’m aiming this one at those people who are new to the profession. I’ll be looking for some contributions from you shortly 🙂


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