RPL Glossary

Here you'll find an explanation of relevant terms and acronyms associated with RPL.

Recognition of Prior Learning has a significant number of terms and acronyms that can confuse members of the education sector, let alone the learner and those from the enterprise sector. We've put together a list of the most prominent terms which we hope you find useful.

An instructor is providing insight into how a robotic arm works to two students. All are wearing white lab coats.

Formal learning takes place through programmes or courses of study that are delivered in an organised, formal way by education providers and that attract awards or credits. Formal learning is sometimes referred to as certified or accredited learning.

Informal learning takes place through life and work experience. Typically, it does not lead to certification.

A learning outcome is a statement of what a learner should know, understand and be able to demonstrate at the end of a process of learning, e.g. after completing a module.

The term lifelong learning encompasses all purposeful learning activity, whether formal, non-formal or informal, undertaken on an ongoing basis with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competence.

Micro-credentials are small, accredited courses designed to meet the demands of learners, enterprise and organisations. Micro-credentials offer a highly flexible, bite-sized and accessible way of upskilling and reskilling.

Non-formal learning takes place alongside or outside the mainstream systems of education and training. It may be assessed but does not normally lead to formal certification. Examples of non-formal learning are planned learning and training activities undertaken in the workplace, voluntary sector, or in community-based settings.

The Irish NFQ is a 10-level system used to describe qualifications in the Irish education and training system.  The NFQ shows how General Education Awards, Further Education and Training and Higher Education Awards are mapped against the 10 levels of the framework. It describes what learners need to know, understand and be able to do to achieve a qualification. 

Prior learning is learning that has taken place before starting a programme or a module. Some prior learning – for example formal learning, may already have been assessed, measured and assigned credit whereas other learning may not have – for example informal learning.

Programme entry requirements are formal criteria which must be met in order to be considered for entry into year 1 of a programme of study.

Recognition is a process by which prior learning is given a value by being formally identified, assessed, and acknowledged. Recognition makes people aware of their existing knowledge, skills and competences and better able to take the next step in their learning journey.

RPL may be used to gain entry to an advanced stage of a programme (for example year 2) following a process of assessment where the applicant is deemed to have learning equivalent to the overall learning of the previous stage(s).

RPL for Enterprise is where a higher education institution and an employer work together to utilise RPL to support higher education access and/or progression for employees. RPL for Enterprise can occur where an employer has an organisational need like a skills shortage or where they wish to retain talent. An example of RPL for Enterprise activity is when a higher education institution integrates the non-formal and informal learning gained by employees in the workplace into the content and learning outcomes of an existing or new programme. This means that employees can avoid unnecessary repetition of learning and access learning opportunities at an appropriate level, sensitive to their knowledge and skills. A number of higher education institutions deploy a ‘cohort’ approach to RPL for Enterprise, working with groups of employees to ensure feasibility and sustainability. 

RPL may be used as an alternative means for applicants to satisfy programme entry requirements, which are usually expressed in leaving certificate subjects, levels and grades.

Learners with relevant prior formal learning may receive recognition of their learning in the form of exemptions. As credit can only be awarded once, prior formal learning is recognised, rather than accredited. With prior non-formal and informal learning, the learning can be assessed and accreditation granted where the learning presented satisfactorily meets the learning outcomes of the relevant module. Awarding of exemptions and credit are for complete modules (rather than part of a module).

In some HEIs, RPL may be used to gain a full academic award. The availability of this type of RPL is at the discretion of each HEI. Further information on the types of RPL on offer is available on institutional webpages and associated RPL policies.