Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-17, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 7 January, 2017 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2017.


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Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL)

core definition

APEL is the formal acknowledgement (based on professional assessment) of learning acquired from previous experience, usually from experience unrelated to an academic context.

explanatory context

APEL is similar to APL in as much as it is recognition of prior learning but is broader as it allows, in theory, for learning from any prior experience. Often APEL and APL are used synonymously and the terms overlap. They are probably most clearly distinguished in the UK context, although, even here, differential usage is not systematic.

analytical review

In the UK, APEL is defined as:

APEL is the accreditation of prior experiential learning, that is, the award of credit for learning based on prior experience -- from work, community or volunteer experience -- which has not previously been assessed and/or awarded credit. By converting informal learning into certificated learning, APEL provides cost-effective routes to qualifications. It has potential significance for people who, through life and work experience, have learned knowledge, skills and analytical abilities that are comparable to those in a higher education award. APEL offers the possibility for what learners know to be recognised, assessed with the same rigour as any other learning would be at HE level, and awarded credit. (Learning from Experience Trust, 2000, p. 1)


London Metroplitan University (2004) stated that credit can be gained through:

the Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL) in which credit is awarded for learning and capabilities gained through your experiences in a work, voluntary, home or leisure environment. A wide range of life experiences could provide appropriate learning opportunities, although it is the ability to state and demonstrate your learning, rather than simply having had the experience that is the basis for credit. Since this learning will not have been previously assessed, a claim for APEL credit involves the submission of piece of work (such as a report or portfolio) which is assessed by the University. Applying for APEL credit involves an initial agreement about the learning and how it is to be demonstrated followed by the submission of the work itself by an agreed deadline. To make a successful claim for APEL the learning you have achieved must be at the same level as the learning you would have been expected to achieve as part of your programme of study.

London Metroplitan University (2007) states:

APEL denotes the Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning i.e. learning derived from experience which is uncertificated (not previously assessed) e.g. un/paid work, community activities, leisure pursuits and other informal learning experiences.

Anglia Polytechnic University (2004) notes:

The Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning recognises learning that results from work or life experience, as opposed to a taught course. Once authenticated this is treated no differently to any other academic credit. To be valid, the experiential learning being claimed must be equivalent to learning which would normally be included in the proposed award programme. This means it must be at an appropriate higher education level, be directly relevant, and in a cognate area. For example, prior experience of working in an office environment may be relevant to a Business Information Systems degree, but not to Software Engineering.Quality assurance processes also assure that the experiential learning was current, in the sense of whether the learning was recent enough to still be valid learning. Some subjects 'age' much more quickly than others. For example, working in the computer industry five years previously would probably be judged to be out of date, whereas some of the experiential learning gained within a library for instance might still be valid after 4 or 5 years. Subject experts within the field of study of the proposed learning will be asked to make a judgement as to the specific value of the prior learning in relation to the proposed award. A claim for credit via APEL is by means of a portfolio, containing both commentary and evidence, (samples of your work, and an accompanying explanation) and in some instances testimonials from previous employers. The portfolio is examined by an Independent Assessor, and final approval of the credit claimed is via the Accreditation & Approvals Committee. (APU, 2004)


The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA, undated) in the UK states:

Accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL): The identification, assessment and formal acknowledgement of learning and achievement that occurred at some time in the past prior to entry to a course of study, but not in the context of formal education or training.

Accreditation of prior experiential learning is established in some other countries, especially in some vocational areas such as nursing. It can be found in Australia (e.g., Fahy et al., 1999), Ireland and Malaysia.

APEL is the generic term used for the award of credit on the basis of demonstrated learning that has occurred at some time in the past. This learning may have come about as the result of a course, or self-directed study, or as the result of experience either at work or in leisure pursuits. The latter is usually referred to as Prior Experiential Learning. The credit that may be awarded on the basis of prior learning may take the form of entry into a programme of study, advanced standing within a programme of study, or credit towards an award. Decisions about the type and amount of credit may be based on certificates the learner has gained which demonstrate that learning has been assessed, or may take into account learning from experience which is considered worthy of credit. In all cases, credit is awarded for learning, which can be demonstrated, not for the experience itself. The resulting credit is of equal standing to that awarded to learners following a more traditional route to an award. (IPFM Centre, 2003–4)

It is also emerging in some other countries:

The Flemish Government has introduced an enactment which outlines the accreditation of prior learning (APEL). Competences gained through formal or informal vocational training, but also through experience from previous employment, social or even everyday life can be officially accredited.  This should allow people to obtain a certificate of competence for a given occupation without actually holding the proper diploma. According to the Flemish Government, the advantages are numerous: social promotion according to seniority can be achieved, the skills of unqualified school-leavers can be reassessed, unemployed persons can complement their curriculum vitae, and labour market entrants can more clearly state their abilities. (Stevens, 2004, p.1)

In the US, the term is used in some settings. For example, Revans University (2004) notes:

Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning: A maximum of 50 per cent of the 60 required credits for the Associate degree may be earned by transfer or a combination of transfer and validated experiential credits. No more than 25 per cent of the required credits may be for documented workplace experience. This document must be formally presented for its learning outcomes and evaluated for credit by the University.

However, APEL is also is probably better known in the US as equivalency examination:

Equivalency examination: An examination designed to demonstrate knowledge in a subject where the learning was acquired outside a traditional classroom. A person who learned management skills while working at a restaurant, for instance, could take an equivalency exam to earn credit in, say, small business management. (NTNC, 2002).

associated issues

Is APEL taken seriously?

The extent to which APEL is taken seriously in higher education in the UK is a moot point. In 2001, John Konrad quotes a negative view:

Unfortunately, whilst paying lip service to learner-centred learning through the supposed flexibility of modular systems and CATS, universities seem to be moving towards a mass production model where there is little scope for this type of development and where individual students are expected to fit in and conform for the sake of efficiency and for the purposes of 'quality control'. At the same time lecturers are hanging on to old-fashioned ideas of ownership of knowledge and their sole right to dispense it as they see fit. It is not surprising therefore that APEL has made little impact and barely receives a mention in government and institution documents on lifelong learning. If lifelong learning is to be meaningful for those who are expected to participate in it and learners are genuinely to take '...increased ownership of their own learning and its management throughout life.'(Fryer 1997) a different culture needs to be established, one in which the contribution individual learners bring to the group learning situation and to the institution is recognised, valued and accommodated as an integral part of the academic process. (Peters et al. 1999)

However, Konrad (2001) suggests that:

This view may be unduly pessimistic. Over the last ten years some 30 regional accreditation networks (Open College Networks) have developed which provide increasingly accessible community-based assessment of learning at levels that are broadly related to those identified above as NVQ Levels 1 to 3. These activities enable individuals in community groups to accredit their chosen areas of lifelong learning against a nationally recognised framework. (Prescott, 1997)

related areas

See also

Accreditation of Prior Certified Learning (APCL)

Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL)

Recognition of prior learning


Anglia Polytechic Univeristy, 2004, Prior Learning - Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL),, undated page accessed October 2004. [Anglia Polytechnic University is now Anglia Ruskin University]. The page is not avialable 1 February 2011.

Fahy K., Perrin, C. and Ferrer, J., 1999, ‘Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning: reaching a standard or jumping through hoops’, Australian Electronic Journal of Nursing Education 4(2), March,, accessed October 2004. The online page is no longer available at this address 1 February 2011.

International Postgraduate Facilitator Management Centre (IPFM Centre), State of Sarawak, 2003–4, Accreditation of Prior and Experiential Learning (APEL) 2003–4, Accessed October, 2004.

Konrad, J., 2001, ‘Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning in the United Kingdom’, Working paper, School of Education and Professional Development, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, September.

Learning from Experience Trust, 2000, Mapping APEL: Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning in English Higher Education Institutions, London, ISBN No.: 1-870529-30-8

London Metropolitan University, 2004, Accreditation of Prior (Experiential) Learning,, page last updated 25 October 2004. Page not available 1 Februry 2011.

London Metropolitan University, 2007, Glossary of Terminology available at$related-information/apel/apelforstudents/glossary.cfm, last updated 24 September 2007, accessed 18 September 2012, page not available 30 December 2016.

Northeast Texas Network Consortium (NTNC), 2002, Distance Learning College Glossary originally available at , not available at this address 1 February 2011.

Peters, H. et al., 1999, ‘Fitting in: what place is accorded to the experiential learning mature students bring with them to Higher Education’, paper presented at SCUTREA, 29th Annual Conference, 5–7 July 1999, University of Warwick. Available at (Available on-line, October 2004), not available at this address 1 February 2011.

Prescott, N., 1997, ‘The South Tyneside accreditation project: a route to lifelong learning, Education + Training, 39, 2 .

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), undated, Glossary, available at, accessed 7 January 2017.

Revans University, 2004, Degree Programs - Associate Degrees of the University,, undated, accessed, October 2004, not available at this address 1 February 2011.

Stevens, E., 2004, ‘Accreditation of prior learning in the Flemish Community’ Resource Centre for Labour Market Research, May, resources/monthlyupdates0405/belgium_update_may_04.doc, not available at this address 1 February 2011.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2017

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