Defining and Assessing College-Level Learning: Perceptions from Faculty Assessors of Prior Learning Assessment Portfolios

Publication data:

  • Author(s):
    • Stevens, Cynthia Rae
  • Date:
  • Country:
    United States of America
  • Document Type:
  • Keywords:
    evaluation methods, qualitative, assessors, Higher Education


Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, Northern Illinois, Univeristy

Link to ProQuest document retrieved August 4, 2017:

Prior learning assessment (PLA) is a non-traditional component of higher education that recognizes that life experiences and learning from outside of academia can be deemed valid and awarded college credit. This qualitative study explored the perceptions of faculty assessors of PLA portfolios. This study sought to understand, through a constructivist framework, the experience of assessing prior learning and definitions of college-level learning by faculty assessors. Twenty faculty assessors of PLA, who also taught in the traditional classroom and had been teaching at least six months, were interviewed for this study. They were affiliated with 11 different schools. Semistructured interviews were done with each participant. Interviews were digitally recorded, transcribed, and coded using the constant comparative method. The overall finding of this study was that college-level learning is not a clearly defined concept. Study participants struggled to articulate what it meant to them. Three themes emerged from the study. The first theme was participants described finding academic knowledge in multiple ways and utilized many approaches in their assessment processes. Some assessment methods were dependent on the model of PLA being done in their schools. These methods included the use of external outcomes, competency-based approaches to assessment, explicit theory-based assessment use, or implicit evaluation done with the use of tacit knowledge of the faculty. Second, participants attempted to articulate definitions of college-level learning. Three categories in defining college-level learning emerged. The third theme focused on participant's perception of training to learn the assessment process of PLA. A challenge that some participants acknowledged was the feeling of isolation they felt as faculty assessors. Another challenge related to ambivalent feelings of confidence in assessment by some participants. In summary, this studyfound that the study participants were not systematic in determining what students know, although much good faith and a strong belief in PLA were shown. It seems that much of the assessment process relies on tacit knowledge that cannot be clearly articulated. This study raises questions not only about the process of PLA, but about how colleges and universities think about knowledge. [Author Abstract]