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Where does AP(E)L fit in Higher Education?

Author - Anne Murphy

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Summary of questionnaire data continued

Academic problems encountered
In many cases, academic resistance to AP(E)L is related to fears about standards and quality assurance. This leads to over-caution with documentation. Restrictions on the type of evidence of learning permitted sometimes results from academic unease about the ‘difference’ of AP(E)L. Some academic arguments centre on acceptance of the proposition that non-formal and informal learning could be ‘valorised’ as legitimate relative to learning guided by academia. In some cases there was resistance from the fields of science and engineering, yet in other cases leadership was from these fields. In some cases there was unease about the assessment processes involved, especially in theoretical aspects of learning.

Procedural problems
In all cases the lack of resources was a problem for colleges. The fact that AP(E)L was available for a limited number and type of modules/courses was a problem for applicants. The system did not necessarily allow for transfer of approved AP(E)L claims between courses within a college. The fact that all claims have to be individually negotiated for exemptions was seen as procedurally difficult for staff and applicants, in terms of both time and structures.

Origin of AP(E)L
In a number of cases AP(E)L resulted from EU funded, or nationally initiated, research projects which became mainstreamed into practice for particular occupational sectors or social groups. The promotion of recognition of experiential learning by HETAC (formerly NCEA – National Council of Educational Awards) through its accumulation of credits scheme during the 1990s led to structures and expertise being developed in the institutes of technology in particular. In some cases the drive came from professional bodies with staff-development needs, particularly from nursing and related social care occupations. In other cases, models of AP(E)L were brought to Irish colleges from newly recruited staff who had experienced it in UK universities. Consequently the models of AP(E)L which developed did not follow any particular blue-print or philosophy. They were variously influenced by literature from the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), Learning from Experience Trust (LETS), Making Your Experience Count, and the existential model developed in the University of Ulster at Jordanstown. The Waterford Institute of Technology literacy-training model and the Cork Institute of Technology whole-college model were noted as influential in some later cases. The DIT OMNA project for early childhood care and education was also known. No case mentioned taking examples from FAS, City & Guilds, Cedefop, or the French and Norwegian models of national statutory provision.

Why some colleges do not use AP(E)L
The universities have not traditionally accepted experiential learning as a basis for entry or credits, except in cases where it is used in support of applications for mature student entry or non-standard entry to postgraduate studies. However, this is changing, with one university currently processing the necessary policy and procedural changes required for AP(E)L and seeking resources for its implementation. Other universities are currently preparing for such changes. At least three colleges indicated that there was no demand for AP(E)L, and one provider had ceased to offer it, as it had become too cumbersome and time-consuming relative to the benefits for learners.

Colleges which have discussed, but not used, AP(E)L, considered that it raised a number of academic challenges especially around the forms of assessment used, and their comparability with traditional modes which lead to grades and awards. The restriction of AP(E)L portfolios assessment to non-graded status was considered problematic. Colleges which opted not to introduce AP(E)L had concerns about the expertise of staff to use it successfully without on-going training.

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