Marylhurst University - Oregon

This week we are celebrating the 35th anniversary of the PLA program at Marylhurst. In 1976, the first Marylhurst student was awarded college credit for learning he obtained from his work and life experience, and ever since then, the program has been a key to acknowledging the learning our adult students bring with them.

I’ve been with the program for the last six years, and I am so honored and grateful to be in a “teaching” position where I get to learn so much from my students.  Each and every day I am reminded about just how much knowledge, skills, and experience our adult learners bring with them. They are truly an inspiration to me. (To hear directly from them about their experiences in the program, check out the new PrattleNog page I just posted — it’s all about PLA and why it’s such a special kind of program.)

Happy Anniversary PLA! May you continue to serve Marylhurst’s adult learners in the very special way that you do. Thank you for including me on this magical, meaningful journey.


Informed By Life Experience

Hey everyone! Helen Fern just completed her 18 credit PLA Portfolio at Marylhurst!


Helen is a Human Studies major, and she earned credit through the PLA program for the following courses:

  • Introduction to Photography
  • Mushroom Identification and Taxonomy
  • Anasazi Archeology
  • Conflict Management
  • Effective Listening
  • Psychology of Loss and Grief

Three of these topics were grounded in her hobbies and avocations (she has some great mushroom recipes and some amazing photographs!); all were deeply informed by her LIFE experience.

Helen talks about her experiences with PLA and tips for PLA students here:

An Open Letter Of Thanks To My Colleague

Last night I had the honor of attending the lecture of Mary Catherine Bateson, a lovely event orchestrated by Dr. Jenny Sasser. Students, alumni, community guests, faculty, and staff filled Flavia Salon to hear Bateson speak about her experiences and perspectives, her books, and her ideas about the importance of engaging and supporting elders in our society.  Oh – and an organization she founded,

Bateson’s ideas truly resonated with Marylhurst’s mission of providing access to learning for adults (as she herself pointed out – in fact, she had studied us!). Though I hate to just provide sound-bites and take such lovely ideas out of the significant contexts in which they were presented, she did say some really neat things, including:

  • “Experience is the best teacher – but only if you do your homework.”
  • “We are not what we know, but what we are willing to learn.”
  • “I’m still me. I’m the person I’ve been becoming my whole life.”

I was reminded once again about the very special work we get to do each day here, together, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Thank you, thank you, Jenny, for your work in bringing her here – I am grateful for the gift, and I hope she can come back soon!

PS, Readers: For a good sense of Bateson’s work and what we experienced last night with her, check out some posts from her blog, such as Learning to teach, Teaching to learn

Credit for Experience or Learning? Learning, Please!

I have written already about Walmart’s PLA program, so I am not going to get my knickers in a twist again about *that* topic.

  • My first 2 cents Here
  • My next 2 cents Here

My 2 cents: Thanks for Kiribati on Picasa for making this image available.

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning announced that Pam Tate, the President of CAEL, was interviewed on NPR´s show Here and Now about the use of prior learning assessment nationwide. According to the announcement, “She also commented on the new relationship between the for-profit online school, American Public University, and Walmart to offer academic credit to employees based on what they learn on the job.” Listen Here:

Here and Now

Here at Marylhurst, we intentionally keep our PLA program pretty darn rigorous. Students have to demonstrate that they have the college-level learning, based on specific course outcomes. It’s not an “easier” way to earn credits; it is often, however, a very rewarding way to earn credit.  As I’ve mentioned previously, it’s about so much more than credit. (It also saves our students time and money — both pretty valuable resources for busy adult learners!)

So again, here are links to Marylhurst’s PLA students talking about their experiences — as you will hear from them, the credit is quite often the icing on the cake:

I Don’t Like To Be The Skeptic

As a follow-up to my recent post about Walmart’s educational program for employees, let me share this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education:

News Analysis: Is ‘Wal-Mart U.’ a Good Bargain for Students?

Here’s what it says about the Prior Learning Assessment issue that was making me quiver:

“We feel very strongly that any university academic credit that’s given for training needs to be training or experience at the university level,” Ms. Aldridge said. “And we have some very set standards in that regard. And I’m not certain that we would have been able to offer a significant amount of university credit for some of the on-the-job training that was provided there.”

Awarding credit for college-level learning gained outside the classroom is a long-standing practice, one embraced by about 60 percent of higher-education institutions, according to the most recent survey by the Council for Adult And Experiential Learning. A student might translate any number of experiences into credit: job training, military service, hobbies, volunteer service, travel, civic activities.

Pamela J. Tate, president and chief executive of the council, said what’s important isn’t the percentage of credits students get from prior learning—a number that can vary widely. What’s important, she said, is that students can demonstrate knowledge. Workers might know how they keep the books at a company, she explained. But that doesn’t automatically mean they’ve learned the material of a college accounting course.

Karan Powell, senior vice president and academic dean at American Public University system, said credit evaluation at her institution “is a serious, rigorous, and conservative process.” But will the credits transfer? “Every college or university establishes its own transfer-credit policies as they apply to experiential learning as well as credit from other institutions,” she said in an e-mail. “Therefore, it would depend on the school to which a Wal-Mart employee wanted to transfer.”

Whether or not PLA credits will transfer is not specific to this situation; we always inform our students that transfer policies are set by incoming institutions in accordance with their own policies and accreditation requirements, and sometimes PLA credits will and sometimes they won’t transfer.

Really cool image from ""

My concern is still about the details of the “serious, rigorous, and conservative process” — it should be, and I’d like to believe that it is.  Providing details might help satisfy skeptics like me.

The Walmart website says this:

Through a partnership with American Public University (APU), associates will be eligible for college credit for their formal training and job experience at Walmart.

The APU website says this:

Associates will be awarded job learning credit in current degree offerings in programs such as Management, Transportation and Logistics, and Security Management. APU plans to offer new concentrations in retail management and other related disciplines.

And their “Life Experience” website says this:

APUS is pleased to offer our students a variety of options when it comes to granting college credit for equivalent life education, experience and/or learning.

The rest of the website talks about credit for learning, and I guess the Walmart program would be “sponsored experiential learning. ” So I guess I feel a bit better.

I guess.

The irony here is that PLA folks like me have been fighting skeptics for years about the validity of assessing prior learning. And now, I find myself the skeptic, which is not a comfortable chair to be seated in.