What is RPL?

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is when a higher education institution recognises what you already know, understand and can do before, for example, starting on a programme or module. This eliminates the duplication of learning, meaning you don’t have to relearn things you already know.

Colourful lobby area of the IADT main student building with moving objects blurred by slow camera exposure.
Header decoration

Recognition of Prior Learning

Prior learning is acquired in different ways and can be broken into the following three categories:

  • 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. Under the principle that credit should only be awarded once, such prior learning is given recognition rather than accreditation.
  • 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.
  • Informal learning takes place through life and work (e.g. ‘on-the-job’) experience. It does not lead to certification.

RPL makes it possible for a person to build on the learning they’ve achieved and to be rewarded for it, for example in the form of access to a programme or exemption/credit on a module(s) in a programme.

Two people in a white coats are working in a lab. One of them is holding a medical device to apply a sample into a test tube.
Lab work at ATU Donegal

With RPL you can get recognition from a higher education institution for the prior learning you've done in work, life and the community which in turn can provide a pathway to and through higher education. RPL is itself a learning process as it involves reflecting on your past experiences and identifying and documenting what you have learnt. Relevant learning can then be assessed and, if it meets the required standard, be recognised by a higher education institution and used by the applicant for:

  • Credit towards an award (qualification) or exemptions from some programme modules
  • Advanced entry to a programme
  • Entry to a programme

In some higher education institutions, RPL may also be used to gain a full academic award. The availability of full awards is at the discretion of each higher education institution.

You can apply for RPL at any level (1 – 10) of the National Framework of Qualifications.

RPL is beneficial for learners, higher education institutions and employers alike. By making visible the valuable skills and learning that people have acquired through work or other life experiences, RPL can enhance a person’s self-esteem and well-being. For higher education institutions, RPL is a critical component of lifelong learning and widening participation as it can make programmes more accessible to learners who may not meet minimum entry requirements but have, for example, relevant prior informal or non-formal learning. It can also expedite a learner’s progress through a programme, for example through advanced entry or exemptions. Research from the higher education sector shows that RPL adds value to an institution’s relationship with industry partners and can be used in the development of customised learning solutions sensitive to existing employee skillsets and organisational needs.

In Ireland and across the world, the urgency of lifelong learning, upskilling and reskilling workers has never been clearer as together we face the fall-out from the climate crisis, digitalisation and automation, migration and displacement and demographic shifts. Nearly every job will change, many quite profoundly, and most of today’s employees will need to develop new skills to participate in the workplaces of the future. People will, therefore, need to upskill or reskill throughout their lives. RPL is an essential tool to support that cycle of entry and re-entry and enhance our collective capabilities to address the complex challenges of today and tomorrow.

Three students standing on a balcony with a glass railing in a SETU Carlow campus building.

Where to study

Find out more about the opportunities available to learners by checking out the RPL webpages available to view on our various education partners' websites. 

Read more

RPL Project Team and Project Leads in a group photograph in the Quadrangle of the University of Galway.

About us

Find out more about the people working on and supporting the National RPL in Higher Education Project.

Read more

A father in his graduation robes being hugged by his young daughter who is wearing his conferral hat.
Information for Learners

Find out more about how RPL works and what is typically required from learners when making an application

A lab technician places a test sample into a diagnostic machine.
Information for Employers

Discover the role that RPL can play in upskilling and retaining staff.

People walking in Trinity College Dublin's Parliament Square, with some in silhouette as they are in the shadow of a building.
Information for Higher Education Institutions

Find out more about the positive impact of RPL on higher education institutions and learn about the work to

Mature students in a lecture

RPL Application Process

Check out what is involved in applying to do a course in higher education using RPL. 

Read more

An aerial view of Dublin City University campus in Glasnevin with red brick buildings, green space and trees.

RPL Glossary

We've put together a list of the most prominent RPL terms which we hope you find useful

Read more