What is RPL?
Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is when a higher education institution recognises what you already know, understand and can do before, for example, starting on a programme or module. This eliminates the duplication of learning, meaning you don’t have to relearn things you already know.
Recognition of Prior Learning
Prior learning is acquired in different ways and can be broken into the following three categories:
- 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. Under the principle that credit should only be awarded once, such prior learning is given recognition rather than accreditation.
- 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 (e.g. ‘on-the-job’) experience. It does not lead to certification.
RPL makes it possible for a person to build on the learning they’ve achieved and to be rewarded for it, for example in the form of access to a programme or exemption/credit on a module(s) in a programme.
With RPL you can get recognition from a higher education institution for the prior learning you've done in work, life and the community which in turn can provide a pathway to and through higher education. RPL is itself a learning process as it involves reflecting on your past experiences and identifying and documenting what you have learnt. Relevant learning can then be assessed and, if it meets the required standard, be recognised by a higher education institution and used by the applicant for:
- Credit towards an award (qualification) or exemptions from some programme modules
- Advanced entry to a programme
- Entry to a programme
In some higher education institutions, RPL may also be used to gain a full academic award. The availability of full awards is at the discretion of each higher education institution.
You can apply for RPL at any level (1 – 10) of the National Framework of Qualifications.
RPL is beneficial for learners, higher education institutions and employers alike. By making visible the valuable skills and learning that people have acquired through work or other life experiences, RPL can enhance a person’s self-esteem and well-being. For higher education institutions, RPL is a critical component of lifelong learning and widening participation as it can make programmes more accessible to learners who may not meet minimum entry requirements but have, for example, relevant prior informal or non-formal learning. It can also expedite a learner’s progress through a programme, for example through advanced entry or exemptions. Research from the higher education sector shows that RPL adds value to an institution’s relationship with industry partners and can be used in the development of customised learning solutions sensitive to existing employee skillsets and organisational needs.
In Ireland and across the world, the urgency of lifelong learning, upskilling and reskilling workers has never been clearer as together we face the fall-out from the climate crisis, digitalisation and automation, migration and displacement and demographic shifts. Nearly every job will change, many quite profoundly, and most of today’s employees will need to develop new skills to participate in the workplaces of the future. People will, therefore, need to upskill or reskill throughout their lives. RPL is an essential tool to support that cycle of entry and re-entry and enhance our collective capabilities to address the complex challenges of today and tomorrow.
Where to study
Find out more about the opportunities available to learners by checking out the RPL webpages available to view on our various education partners' websites.
Find out more about the people working on and supporting the National RPL in Higher Education Project.
Find out more about how RPL works and what is typically required from learners when making an application
Discover the role that RPL can play in upskilling and retaining staff.
Find out more about the positive impact of RPL on higher education institutions and learn about the work to
RPL has allowed me to build on my existing qualifications by recognising what I had learned in the various jobs I had since I first left higher education.
I feel RPL has opened up a number of opportunities and introduced me to different types of writing techniques. It has also given me a renewed passion and interest in writing.