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PLA Validity and Reliability: A Bibliography of the Work of Tova Stenlund

Tova Stenlund


Tova Stenlund, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Umeå University (Sweden), has done significant research in the area of the validity and reliability of prior learning assessment. The abstracts of four of these essays are included below. The full articles are available from Taylor & Francis.

Stenlund, T. (2010). Assessment of prior learning in higher education: a review from a validity perspective. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(7), 783-797. Retrieved from


The process of giving official acknowledgment to formal, informal and non‐formal prior learning is commonly labelled as assessment, accreditation or recognition of prior learning (APL), representing a practice that is expanding in higher education in many countries. This paper focuses specifically on the assessment part of APL, which undoubtedly is central to the whole process, through a review of research in this area and an analysis of the reviewed studies from a validity perspective. The research reviewed (published 1990–2007) is categorised into empirical as well as more theoretically oriented publications, with a quantitative dominance of the latter. According to the validity analysis, a majority of the studies conducted in this area relate to the evidential basis of test interpretation and use, primarily providing theoretical rationales and theories for a variety of practices. The consequential basis of test interpretation and use has not been studied to any larger extent, resulting in a lack of both theoretical and empirical studies dealing with this aspect of validity.

Stenlund, T. (2012). Threats to the valid use of Assessment of Prior Learning in higher education: claimants’ experiences of the assessment process. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 19(2), 177-192. Retrieved from


Assessment of Prior Learning (APL) refers to a process where adults’ prior learning, formal as well as informal, is assessed and acknowledged. In the first section of this paper, APL and current conceptions of validity in assessments and its evaluation are presented. It is argued that participants in the assessment are an important source of information for the validation of the assessment. In the following section participants’ experiences from a particular APL scheme are evaluated using a questionnaire developed for that purpose. The questionnaire provides data on individuals’ perceptions of the procedure and result of the APL scheme. The results are described, analysed and discussed from a validity perspective. Conclusions drawn from the results are that possible threats to validity can exist in the administration of APL procedures, as well as in consequences of APL.

Stenlund, T. (2013). Validity of admission decisions based on assessment of prior learning in higher education. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 38(1), 1-15. Retrieved from


Assessment of prior learning (APL) refers to the process of validating individuals’ learning in a variety of contexts, representing a relatively new practice in many countries. In higher education, APL is used to receive access and credits based on skills and knowledge acquired mainly outside of formal academic settings. This paper focuses on validity of admission decisions based on this type of assessment in higher education. The study examines decisions made by higher education institutions for approximately 600 applicants who have used APL in order to receive admission to, and credits in the vocational teacher education programme in Sweden. The results are analysed and presented in relation to a validity discussion. A conclusion is that the existing practice of APL needs improvements in order to obtain validity and trustworthiness in the decisions made in relation to APL.

Stenlund, T. (2013). Agreement in assessment of prior learning related to higher education: an examination of interrater and intrarater reliability. International Journal of Lifelong Learning, 32(4). Retrieved from


This article focuses on reliability in assessment of prior learning (APL) related to higher education. APL refers to a process where adults’ prior learning, formal as well as informal, is assessed and acknowledged. In higher education, APL is used for the purpose of gaining admission, advanced standing or credits. In this article, studies investigating reliability in APL are presented. The studies provide data of inter- and intrarater reliability among assessors in a specific APL scheme used in higher education. Percentage of agreement and Cohen’s kappa were used to estimate reliability, and the results show that the agreement between assessors, i.e. interrater reliability, is poorer compared to the agreement on repeated assessment by the same assessor, i.e. intrarater reliability. Further, the results reveal that there are differences in agreement between different aspects of prior learning. A conclusion is that reliability in this type of assessment ought to be further investigated.


Our special thanks to Tova Stenlund for allowing us to share her resources with our PLAIO readers, and to Taylor & Francis ( for allowing us to share these abstracts. For more information on Stenlund’s research projects and publications, please visit