The PLAR Basics

What Is PLAR? Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) is a structured method of assessing prior learning through identifying, documenting, assessing and gaining recognition for said prior learning. Prior learning can come from volunteer and paid-work, industry-based training, professional development, and private study. It is important to note that PLAR assesses learning rather than experience, where or how the learning occurred.

What Learning is Assessed? PLAR assess different types of learning including:

  • Informal learning occurs from activities that have no specific learning purpose, objectives, or set goals. It is often self-directed and unplanned. Common examples of informal learning includes, but is not limited to, new hire onboarding, conversations, self-study, reading articles, participating in forums or chat rooms, through coaching/mentoring sessions.
  • Non-formal learning occurs outside of formal learning structures (such as post-secondary institutes), is structured, and is often intentional in that the learner decision to learn a skill or area of knowledge. Samples of non-formal learning includes industry-based training, continuing study courses (for non-credit), conferences, webinars, professional development activities, and much more.
  • Formal learning is typically provided by an accredited education or training institute. Learning is delivered in a systematic, intentional way, leading to formally recognized credentials such as a certificate, diploma or degree.

Who Uses PLAR? Prior learning Assessment is conducted from a variety of organizations and institutes. For post-secondary institutions PLAR is often used to determine credit or advanced standing in a particular program of study. Other organizations use PLAR in their licensing processes, employment, career planning, recruitment, and for self-knowledge generation.

How Is it Done? There are various tools used to assesses prior learning. Some of the more common tools include portfolios, challenge exams, product assessment, demonstration of skills, and oral exam or interview. Assessment methods often require evidence to support learning assertions.

What Else is PLAR Called?

PLAR can go by many names, including:

  • APEL, Assessment of Prior Experiential Learning
  • APL, Accreditation of Prior Learning
  • PLA, Prior Learning Assessment
  • RCC, Recognition of Current Competence
  • RNFIL, Recognition of Non-formal and Informal Learning
  • RPL, Recognition of Prior Learning
  • VAE, Validation des acquis de l’exp√®rience
  • VNFIL, Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning


BC Prior Learning Action Network
Email Address: info@bcplan.ca
Mailing Address: 300 - 722 Cormorant Street Victoria BC V8W 1P8

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