Alan Mandell, Nan L. Travers


PLA Inside Out (PLAIO) got its start because we saw the need for a platform to share, discuss, and announce materials relevant to the assessment of prior learning. We were very aware that there were individual practitioners and entire institutions across the world that, perhaps for decades, had been involved with PLA (prior learning assessment). We were also aware that newer practices were evolving, and more and more opportunities were spreading across the globe. We wanted to create a space to hold that work, disseminate, and celebrate it. Much in the spirit of the earliest efforts -- now more than 50 years ago -- to acknowledge myriad forms of learning that take place outside of the academic community, PLAIO has sought to champion and document prior learning assessment and to encourage research, reflection, and critical appraisal of our common endeavors. 

We were particularly cognizant of the fact that many in the PLA world are immersed in the practice, and that while there was some theorizing about PLA as a distinctive arena of learning and the ways of thinking associated with it, there was comparatively little systematic research. We want to encourage such a scholarship on PLA practice. It adds to the quality of what we do; it also serves as a body of work that provides an even stronger rationale to those new to PLA -- or even suspicious of it -- of the deep value of these efforts.

And there is another dimension of PLA that pulls us forward. It goes back to some of the origins of prior learning assessment itself: to provide opportunities for access and new approaches for reflection on learning. That is, in creating PLAIO, we wanted to remind ourselves of some of the core values of adult higher education that, from the start, emphasized the need for academia to rethink its ways, to welcome those who have been unwanted or bypassed, and to create opportunities for learning that attend to people’s personal, academic, and professional needs. As we see it, PLA is still quite revolutionary -- and it continues to be about social change.

Given this context of ideas, values, and possibilities, we were very excited to have the opportunity to present the material gathered here as a special issue of PLAIO. We hope that it will provide you with what we think is needed: the big picture of PLA in the United States right now. Through the briefs collected here by guest co-editors Sarah Leibrandt and Patrick Lane of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), we hope you will gain insight into current practices, into the strengths and limitations of those practices, and into the need to extend our reach and continue to experiment with ways of responding to those who need PLA opportunities. Particularly now, at a time when so much of what we take for granted in all aspects of teaching and learning is on the table and in need of critical scrutiny, when there are myriad efforts to try out new ways, and when transformations in work, home life, and community affect us all, thinking about PLA is vital. We hope this collection will spur us all onward.

Thanks to WICHE for access to this work, to Sarah and Patrick for their huge efforts, and to all the authors whose contributions are included in this Special Issue of PLAIO. Our next issue on the connections between prior learning assessment and competency-based learning is on its way!