Student-Directed Learning Options

Students can learn university-level knowledge and skills through many resources and settings outside the university, such as work-based training and learning from work experience, community-based experiential learning, military training or service, or a student's own independent study. 

  • Credit for Prior Learning
  • Student Designed Independent Study (SDIS)

Credit for prior learning

Credit for Prior Learning (CPL) or Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is a systematic process to identify experiential learning gained through life or work and assess it for college credit.

Students who have achieved university-level learning and competence through independent study, work- or community-based training or experiences may propose assessment for credit through the Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) process. The process includes developing a proposal and clearly defining what has been learned, and then documenting and demonstrating your learning for a faculty evaluator who is a subject-area expert.

Prior Learning Criteria

Experiential learning may be acquired in connection with careers, community, family, travel, military service or non-college-sponsored educational opportunities. The following list of criteria defines acceptable prior learning.

  1. Prior learning must be related to students' educational goals.
  2. A competence must have a subject area in which theoretical and practical elements can be identified and verified.
  3. Recognition for prior learning does not encompass experience alone.
  4. Prior learning outcomes must be current.
  5. Prior learning must have a general applicability outside the specific situation in which it was acquired.
  6. Prior learning must be publicly verifiable.
  7. Prior learning must be independent from credits previously transcripted at other institutions of higher education.
  8. Prior learning should be college level.
    To determine whether prior learning experiences are equivalent to learning results associated with colleges or universities, use the following techniques:
    • relate prior learning to subject areas taught in colleges and universities;
    • compare prior learning to individual courses listed in college or university catalogs;
    • compare learning to individuals or groups who have completed college-level studies in the identified subject area; and
    • determine if the learning is uniquely distinguished from learning that everyone gains through common life experiences.

Students are encouraged to discuss their prior learning experiences with their advisors to obtain advice on the appropriateness of any prior competence they plan to have assessed.

Certain prior and future competences fall into categories for which Metropolitan State has established uniform rules of evidence gathering and measurement techniques. For example, students with a prior competence in public speaking are advised to attend the Public Speaking Proficiency Test Assessment. Other standardized tests and workshops to assess competences have been established in subject fields. Also, the university has constructed a number of pre-tests or screening devices, including theory seminars, for students who wish to demonstrate prior learning competences in certain areas. These assessment tools enable students to run a preliminary check on the appropriateness of their prior learning within Metropolitan State standards.

Prior Learning Assessment Process

  1. Choose a Topic and an Evaluator
    • Please note that some departments do not do PLA because of external accrediting requirements. Please contact your academic department or college for their policies.
    • If you already know the topic of your PLA, check with your department Prior Evaluators lists in the current class schedule to find the name of a faculty evaluator in your topic area. If there is no evaluator or topic listed, you may call or email the department chair in the area of your interest for further advice.
  2. Review Prior Learning Criteria
  3. Contact the Evaluator
  4. Complete Prior Learning Evaluation Proposal Form
    • If the faculty evaluator and you both conclude that you are ready to demonstrate prior knowledge of the specified subject, you will complete a Prior Learning Evaluation Proposal form.
    • The form requires the signature of the department chair in which you do the prior. You submit this completed form with all of the signatures required to the Registrar at the time of registration.
  5. Register
    • Submit your completed and signed Prior Learning Evaluation Proposal to the registrar. (Registrar's Office: Founder's Hall, Room 142)
    • The registration deadline for PLA and SDIS for students using financial aid is before the date of disbursement for each semester. Students not using financial aid may register later in the semester; see the academic calendar for the date under "Last day to register for alternative learning strategies."
  6. Submit work for assessment
    • Once you are registered, the evaluator will receive a learning evaluation. You are responsible for submitting work or scheduling meetings for assessment with the evaluator. The evaluator completes the learning evaluation when all of the assessments are finished. Please note that learning evaluations have expiration dates. It is important to make every effort to complete the work in the semester in which you are registered.


Student-Designed Independent Study (SDIS)

Student-Designed Independent Study (SDIS) if you are interested in new learning in a subject area of your choice, and/or to use individualized learning methods to achieve the learning--with a faculty member as a guide.  Resources could include independent reading and online study, work/community/professionally-based training and experiences, and/or non-credit educational programs/continuing education.  You also can work with a faculty member to build new learning upon prior knowledge to prepare for assessment, either through an independent study or through a combined format of prior and new learning called a Theory Seminar (see Faculty-Led section).


    How to Plan Student-Directed Learning (SDL) Strategies - College of Individualized Studies Students

    Individualized B.A. students will plan how to use such alternative strategies for learning and assessment in the required educational planning course to launch their programs: Perspectives 301: Educational Philosophy and Planning.

    The one-credit course METR 100: Getting Credit for What You Know is offered every semester for students who want to learn more about student-directed options. The course will help you plan how to use prior learning assessment (PLA) or new student-directed learning in your program for credit--and/or for lifelong learning after graduation.  It will also help you learn how to successfully propose and complete such study and assessment.

    The student-directed learning (SDL) process is proposal-based. Each student develops an individualized proposal using a questionnaire form and working with a faculty member who is a subject-matter expert.  The questionnaire builds into a document that works as a student-directed "syllabus" to follow for study and/or assessment. When the proposal is completed and approved, it is registered through the sponsoring college; these individualized strategies cannot be registered through eService online.

    Assessment and evaluation of PLA and SDIS must be done by approved university faculty evaluators. Students also may ask faculty to serve as consultants in developing proposals for student-directed learning (SDL). Get a referral to a faculty evaluator by contacting a department chairperson related to your subject area, or by contacting SDL advisor Marcia Anderson.