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Crafting Your Best Prior Learning Assessment Portfolio

Welcome to the world of turning your life experiences into college credits through Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) at the University. Whether you’re a seasoned professional, a military veteran or someone with a diverse range of experiences, PLA offers you a way to earn academic credit for what you’ve learned outside traditional classrooms.

It is a fantastic opportunity for adults to get college credit for the knowledge and skills they’ve gained from life experiences. You get credit for what you know, not just where you’ve been.

The Sections of a Prior Learning Assessment Portfolio

An important part of the PLA program is the requirement to create a portfolio. The PLA portfolio is written in American Psychological Association (APA) format and normally consists of several sections:

  1. Table of contents: The table of contents serves as a roadmap to guide readers through your portfolio.
  2. Prior learning rubric: This section shows how your experiences match up with the objectives of your courses.
  3. Autobiography: In the autobiography, you share your unique learning journey, highlighting its important moments and the lessons you learned.
  4. Resume: The resume is a snapshot of your work history, certifications and skills. The resume format is a combination of the functional- and chronological-style resumes.
  5. Educational goal statement: In this section, you talk about your goals and how the PLA portfolio fits into your academic plans.
  6. Narrative: The narrative provides a deep dive into your experiences, using clear examples and stories to show what you’ve learned.
  7. Documentation: In this section, you bring your experiences to life with either direct or indirect evidence. With direct evidence, you show what you’ve accomplished, like projects, trainings or presentations. Indirect evidence shows others’ perspectives on your knowledge and skills, such as performance reviews or work samples.

How to Make Your Portfolio Stand Out

Crafting the best possible PLA portfolio can be useful as your knowledge and accomplishments are being reviewed. Here are some tips for improving your PLA portfolio:

  • Connect to course objectives: In the portfolio, link your experiences directly to what you’re supposed to learn in your courses.
  • Use action-oriented language: Describe what you’ve done with strong action words that show off your skills. For example, use phrases such as “Led a team in developing a cybersecurity strategy” instead of “Worked on cybersecurity.”
  • Show, don’t just tell: Include information such as real-life examples and stories to show you know your stuff. Share reports, projects or presentations that highlight your achievements.
  • Organize information clearly: Make information easy to find things with clear headings, subheadings and lists.
  • Get feedback and make improvements: Share your work with advisors or friends for helpful suggestions. Be open to making your stories and evidence stronger.

What Happens When You Submit Your Portfolio for Review?

When you turn in your portfolio for review, a PLA faculty member will look at your portfolio drafts and give robust feedback. Ideally, your portfolio’s information should match what you’re supposed to learn in your courses. If changes are needed, you can make them to make your portfolio better and more worthy of academic credit.

Once the final draft is completed, a faculty subject matter expert (SME) will then check your portfolio within four weeks and decide if you get academic credit. The SME will assess your portfolio according to the 10 learning standards of the Council on Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL).

What Happens If You Don’t Get Academic Credit?

if you don’t get college credit for your PLA portfolio, don’t despair. Sometimes, not all portfolios get credit; it depends on how well you show that you have met the learning goals for a course. You might need to show more proof or make changes for another try.

Also, be sure to email pla@apus.edu. We have a handbook that explains how to try again or how to appeal the SME’s decision.

How One Student Used a Prior Learning Assessment Portfolio for Academic Credit

Elena Shirakova prior learning assessment portfolio
Alumna Elena Shirakova. Image courtesy of author.

Elena Shirokova is a current APU student who is pursuing a Master of Education: Student Affairs in Higher Education.

According to Elena, education is powerful because it is the best weapon to fight ignorance. Diversity is what attracted her the most when she came to the United States as an international student from Russia 17 years ago.

One reason Elena decided to pursue a career path in education is because she feels that helping students achieve their goals is an amazing job and a terrific way to make a positive impact in somebody’s life. She strongly believes that everyone deserves equal opportunity. Elena also feels that the University is one of the organizations that promotes equity and success by providing accessible educational programs and services and expanding its diverse community.

Elena explains, “I was introduced to PLA by my program academic advisor, and I was eager to earn credit for my experiences. I chose to seek credit for two courses, ‘Introduction to Academic Advising’ and ‘Academic Advising Theory and Practice.’”

“I aligned my experiences with my advisor roles. For ‘Introduction to Academic Advising,’ I showed how my six years of advising in international and academic settings deepened my understanding of advising practices, cultural competence, and student development theories. For ‘Academic Advising Theory and Practice,’ I indicated how I applied diverse theories daily to support student success, persistence and retention.”

She adds, “The University’s support streamlined the process of creating a Prior Learning Assessment portfolio. The eight-week PLA workshop enabled me to hone my portfolio crafting skills, so that I could create a portfolio of which I’m truly proud.

“Crafting my autobiography and narrative posed significant challenges, yet consolidating six years of advising into a comprehensive portfolio was immensely rewarding. The critical analysis of my experiences revealed profound knowledge gains and shaped my academic path.

“I enthusiastically recommend PLA to peers. It not only saves you time and money but also accelerates your path to graduation.”

Crafting your Prior Learning Assessment portfolio is a journey of growth, recognition and transformation. Embrace your experiences and share your story with passion, and watch your portfolio illuminate your path to academic success! For mentorship and assistance with creating your prior learning assessment portfolio, email us at PLA@apus.edu.

Marsha Metzer is a multifaceted professional with experience in education, psychology, business, ministry, and coaching. As a senior project coordinator and Prior Learning Assessment faculty member at the University, she helps adult learners achieve their academic goals. Marsha also serves as a life coach and chaplain, providing guidance and spiritual support to others. She holds a Regents Bachelor of Arts (RBA) degree with a concentration in elementary education from Shepherd University, a Master of Arts in psychology, and a graduate certificate in life coaching from American Military University. Her educational background also includes an MBA from American Public University and a certificate in chaplaincy. Known for her ministry leadership, volunteering, mission trips, and worship singing, Marsha is dedicated to service and bringing out the best in people. At her core, she is family-oriented and committed to empowering individuals to thrive.

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