College Credit for Your Life Experience

Posted by on Wed, Dec 11, 2013

College Credit for Your Life Experience

Our thought leader interview with lifelong learning expert, Susan Huggins.

Learning is constant. It happens at work, volunteering, traveling, and in many more everyday endeavors. There is a movement in higher education to capture this learning gained outside the traditional classroom and translate it into college credits. The first step in this process is to reflect, recall, and document your life experiences, also called experiential learning, which can then be mapped to theoretical and practical knowledge. By awarding academic credit equivalents for life experience, the assessment of prior learning aims to save learners both money and time toward earning a college degree.

The advantage with this approach is enormous for the 37 million people with some college credits and years of experience but no degree. As more and more jobs require candidates to have degrees, the recognition of prior learning can give professionals an easier, more cost-effective pathway to earning a degree and potentially to better job opportunities.

To learn more and get a better understanding of prior learning assessment (PLA), StudentAdvisor teamed up with Susan Huggins, Director of Prior Learning Assessment at Kaplan University. This year, Kaplan launched the Learning Recognition Course, Documenting Your Experiences for College Credit, which is the first course that helps learners organize and document their prior learning that is also offered free to the public in a massive open online course, or MOOC. (You can find the Documenting Your Experiences for College Credit Learning Recognition Course on We asked Huggins to weigh in on the PLA conversation.

Student Advisor’s Editor-in-Chief, Dean Tsouvalas: Susan, you have been working in higher education for almost 20 years. Are prior learning assessments and MOOCs just fads?

Susan Huggins: I have seen many trends come and go. In fact, years ago I was part of a team that was tasked with delivering education to deployed service members. The Internet was not an option at that time due to security reasons, so our solution was to put courses on a CD. Years ago, that was an innovative idea that resolved a critical issue!

Because colleges began thinking outside the box for more ways to deliver flexible education, other innovative ideas followed, such as the use of other untethered personal devices, then iTunes U, and now massive open online courses, or MOOCs.  To me, the marriage of MOOCs and the recognition of prior learning is one of the most exciting things that have happened in education—definitely not a fad.  Which is one of the reasons why I’m such a big fan of

SA: What is the role of PLA (prior learning assessment) approaches in higher education learning?

SH: While many in higher education are debating the idea of open learning, earning college credit for what you’ve already learned is not a new idea. Some of the more well-known ways to assess learning are through CLEP, DSST, and challenge exams or through ACE-reviewed courses. Even the process of portfolio development and assessment isn’t a new idea; it’s just finally getting the attention of the Department of Education.

There are 37 million people with some college credits and years of experience but no degree. About 90% of these people have thought about returning to school, but barriers of time and money prevent them from taking that step. Wouldn’t earning college credit for learning acquired professionally be a motivator to return to school?

SA: Your Learning Recognition Course is offered as a free MOOC (and I should add you can find the online course on You are the first university to offer this kind of course for free. Why did you decide to do that?

SH: To me, MOOCs are one of the most exciting developments that have happened in education. While they are not for everybody, they do open opportunities and provide solutions that didn’t previously exist. By offering the Learning Recognition Course as a MOOC, we are addressing the two main barriers to education: time and money. The LRC can significantly reduce the cost of learning and the time to earn a degree.

SA: Okay, so how does the Documenting Your Experiences for College Credit Learning Recognition Course help you earn college credit for your life experience? How does it work?

SH: The free online course helps you organize and build a learning portfolio that documents your learning from prior experiences, training, and activities. Building the learning portfolio is both a process and a product. While portfolios can be used for employment opportunities or for personal development, this portfolio will tell the story of the learning that you have acquired with a focus on your knowledge and skills.

The process of building your portfolio begins with reflection. The course helps you reflect and record your past experiences and learning.

[Visit and discover other free courses to advance your career.]

SA: When I think of a portfolio, I imagine a big black case that you can open and display work and carry around from place to place. Is that what you create?

SH: In this case, you are creating an online portfolio. It includes what you’ve accomplished as a professional, and you provide evidence of the skills that you’ve learned.  The completed portfolio includes a detailed résumé, letters of reference, certifications, and evidence of specific skills, such as writing, public speaking, or other work.

SA: This reflection and documentation must also be a great way to remember your past accomplishments, which we often forget. Once you have your completed portfolio, what’s next?

SH: That’s right—the process does help you remember many accomplishments and learning activities that you may not realize are significant. Once the product—the learning portfolio—is completed, it is evaluated by college faculty, who are trained and qualified in the assessment of prior learning, to determine whether it is equivalent to college-level learning.

SA: What kind of results have you seen from students who complete the LRC and have their portfolios evaluated?

SH: Learners on average are petitioning for 11 courses with their portfolios and are receiving a credit recommendation for nine, which translates to an average of 34 quarter credit hours and a savings of $12,600 in tuition at Kaplan per student.

SA: In today’s world of high college costs, just by taking this free course you could save over $12,000.  That is an amazing amount of money to save for your college education.

SH: It is. Unbelievably, for many adult learners, saving the time is almost more important than saving money.

SA: At which college or university can a student receive credit?

SH: Currently, you can only receive college credit at Kaplan University. However, we are in talks with other schools that soon will also be accepting the portfolio and awarding credit.

SA: Thanks so much for all your time and insight. This is a topic we will be discussing much more in the future.

SH: You are most welcome.

Visit to learn more about massive open online courses, discover a free online course to help you advance your career, or find the innovative Documenting Your Experiences for College Credit Learning Recognition Course.

Susan Huggins has nearly 20 years of experience in higher education administration and nontraditional learning strategies working with employers and local workforce development boards to develop and implement customized training leading to certificate and degree programs. Ms. Huggins is currently the Portfolio Assessment Director with Kaplan Higher Education Group.


StudentAdvisor and KU are part of Kaplan Inc., the largest subsidiary of Graham Holdings Company, a diversified education and media company whose principal operations include educational services, television broadcasting, cable television systems, and online, print and local TV news.

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