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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

Use of learning outcomes
Learning outcomes are used where AP(E)L is related to specific modules or courses, with the expectation in some cases that applicants will meet all the learning outcomes to a specified sufficiency. Some respondents stressed that the use of learning outcomes for AP(E)L is conceptually difficult in a higher-education context where knowledge is not generally pegged to measurable occupational competence standards. Curriculum design, syllabus content and assessment in higher education generally operate from a different philosophy in this regard, and the university preference is for assessment of experiential learning in-the-round, drawing on the teaching experience of academic staff and panels of experts closest to the field of learning in each case. Additionally the assessment of work-based learning is regarded as problematic since the requirement to prove transferability of learning is both conceptually and procedurally difficult. The contextual situatedness of experiential learning proves challenging, especially where applicants are required to provide evidence of both practical and theoretical knowledge. Assessment therefore may need to involve interviews, reflective accounts, analysis of theoretical document, essays and research assignments.

Numbers of applications
Numbers of AP(E)L applications range from over 100 per annum in one college down to single numbers in others. Rejection of claims is rare, and not all colleges have an appeal system.

AP(E)L tools
Tools for AP(E)L include portfolios, reflective logs, performance tests, written tests, essays and interviews, as appropriate to the particular context. Colleges do not generally consider claims processed in other colleges, and only two offer bridging studies.

Contact and mentoring support by the Access or AP(E)L officer are regarded as an essential strength of a successful system. AP(E)L allows for consideration of a range of intelligences in a claim rather than the narrow range in traditional assessment. A developmental or transformative AP(E)L model stresses the capabilities and potential of the applicant rather than current competencies. AP(E)L tools encourage more reflective thinking than taught course tools, with the expectation of sustainable independent learning as a result. Accelerated progress through exemptions and credit accumulation are regarded as a strength for mature students, offering them greater flexibility and accessibility.

Generally, the data indicated that AP(E)L is experienced as hugely time-consuming and sometimes over-cumbersome for both staff and students. AP(E)L claims require sophisticated conceptual skills that are not always required of traditional learning and teaching modes, exposing a possible contradiction with schemas of learning levels such as is elaborated in the NQAI framework of qualifications. Staff may not be appropriately trained in AP(E)L, and where training is available it may not be learner-needs driven. Thus the emphasis may be on the technical and procedural rather than on the epistemological and developmental. Methods of presenting individual experiential learning on a case-by-case basis may not be acceptable to traditional academics, especially in context where norm referencing is used in relation to cohorts of learners. The lack of fixed assessment criteria, lack of grading, and apparent lack of uniformity are regarded as weaknesses of AP(E)L in higher education.

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