Recognition is a process by which prior learning is given a value. It is a means by which prior learning is formally identified, assessed, and acknowledged. This makes it possible for an individual to build on learning achieved and to be rewarded for it (e.g. in the form of acknowledgement or accreditation).
Prior learning is learning that has taken place but has not necessarily been assessed, measured, or assigned credits. It may come from life, School, paid or voluntary work, acquired through formal, nonformal, and/or informal routes.
The concept of lifelong learning indicates that learning encompasses the whole spectrum of formal, non-formal, and informal learning. With the aim of developing a national approach to RPL, these may be defined as follows:
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.
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 experience. Typically, it does not lead to certification.
Non-formal and informal learning are sometimes referred to as experiential learning.
The terms Recognition of Prior Certified Learning (RPCL) and Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning (RPEL) are sometimes used to reflect how the RPL process may differ in accordance with the type of prior learning involved.