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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.

Learning already achieved from “prior” student-directed methods can be assessed for comparability to university-level learning—for credit—that’s called Credit for Prior Learning. The most common method is to work with a faculty member who will assess your learning for credit, through Prior Learning Assessment,” or PLA.

New student-directed learning can also be planned during your program at the university, using the independent, experiential or professional-training methods often found at work or in the community. Such new learning would be planned with and guided by a faculty member, with the student’s subject and learning methods in mind.

For help in developing or planning assessment for student-directed learning, confer with your academic advisor, or the student-directed learning advisor.

You may also attend a PLA/SDL “Get Started” Lab, offered free every few weeks. Request the lab schedule from the student-directed learning advisor.

Find out more about these learning and assessment options:

  • Credit for Prior Learning
  • Student Designed Independent Study

Credit for Prior Learning (CPL)

Credit for Prior Learning or Prior Learning Assessment is a systematic process to identify learning gained through life, work, community or non-credit training settings, and assess it for college credit.

There are multiple ways of being assessed for prior learning, including testing, within or outside the university; group assessments, or Theory Seminars. The most common is a subject or “competence” assessment evaluated through a portfolio of evidence that demonstrates or illustrates a student’s learning. This is called Prior Learning Assessment or PLA, and it can be designed as either a course-equivalency, or an individualized subject unique to the student.

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 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.

Other PLA Options:

Group assessment makes sense for some subjects. For example, students who wish to have prior competence in public speaking assessed are advised to attend the Public Speaking Proficiency Test Assessment, COMM 103-P.

Independent study/exam programs are available outside of the university to prepare students to complete a standardized exam which earns credits for transfer if passed successfully. Well known national testing programs whose results are accepted for transfer credit at Metropolitan State include:

Be sure to work with your academic advisor to plan how test results and credit recommendations would fit into your program. The results count only as transfer credit, and they may or may not count for course equivalencies or requirements.

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.

Prior Learning Assessment Process

  1. Identify the subject area about which you have achieved university-level learning through prior learning methods outside a university setting, or not for credit.
    • If you know the topic of your PLA, you may begin to draft a proposal form for assessment. If you need help to identify a topic to describe, talk with your advisor or the student-directed learning advisor. You may also request a referral for a consultation with a faculty member in the subject area, by checking with the related subject-area department.
    • Please note that some departments do not do PLA because of external accrediting requirements. Please contact your academic department or college for their policies.
  2. Review the Prior Learning Criteria
  3. Contact the prospective faculty evaluator for feedback on the feasibility of your proposed subject, and how it fits in your degree plan.
  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”
  5. Submit the completed form to the department chair of the department that has agreed to “sponsor” the assessment—usually the department of the faculty evaluator. The Department chair will review the proposal, and if approved, forward it to the College Dean, who, if approved, will send the proposal to Registration to be registered.
  6. Each PLA is individualized, so it will be registered for you—not through eServices—and you will receive notice when it is posted to your account. Then it is time to pay tuition or have financial aid allocated, if registered before the allocation deadline.
  7. Deadlines: The final registration deadline for PLA (and SDIS) for students using financial aid is before the date of disbursement for each semester—usually at the end of the second week of the term The proposal must be submitted before that final deadline to the department chair, so plan to submit it at least a week before the deadline. Students not using financial aid may register later in the semester; check the academic calendar for the date under "Last day to register for alternative learning strategies." Again, submit the proposal to the department chair at least a week before the deadline.
  8. Submit work for assessment
    • Once you are registered, the evaluator will receive a notice and a “learning evaluation” form (if a narrative evaluation is requested), or a “course”/grade window for the registration.
    • You are responsible for submitting work or scheduling meetings for assessment with the evaluator. The evaluator completes the learning evaluation/grade 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

Choose Student-Designed Independent Study 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 to use could include independent reading and online study, work/community/professionally-based training and experiential learning, 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 learning strategies).

Support to Plan Student-Directed Learning Strategies

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 in your program for credit, or to plan new student-directed learning in your program. It will also address how to successfully propose and complete such study and assessment, and how to plan for lifelong learning after graduation.

For students in the Individualized BA program or others taking the course Perspectives 301: Educational Philosophy and Planning, student-directed learning will be part of the course and degree planning. The College of Individualized Studies uses a pilot version of the proposal form which contains a questionnaire to guide development of the proposal for either prior learning assessment or Student-Designed Independent Study , using the same form. Request the SDL form from the student-directed learning advisor or the college.

The student-directed learning 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 may ask faculty to serve as consultants in developing proposals for student-directed learning. Get a referral to a faculty evaluator by contacting a department chairperson related to your subject area, or by contacting the SDL advisor.