Returning to Learning and the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)

Making the decision to return to formal learning is not an easy one.  Adults, particularly those who have not been in a classroom since their school days, can find the prospect of returning to learning daunting.  People who left school early, especially those who don't have any formal qualifications, can be worried about how they will cope in a classroom environment.

If you are considering enrolling on an adult education course or taking another training opportunity, it is important to consider some issues which will  influence the enjoyment and the learning you are likely to get from the course.

What is your motivation to go back to learning? How many items on this list apply to you?


1.   Further my education
2.   Improve my chances of being reemployed
3.   Gain a qualification
4.   Broaden my career prospects
5.   Learn and develop a new skill
6.   Personal development
7.   Learn a new hobby
8.   Make new friends
9.   Fill in the time
10. Be able to help children with homework
11. Improve my own reading and writing

As well as the motivating factors, the following questions will prompt you to consider other factors which can impact on your future learning.

  • What is your present situation?
  • What is your past learning experience?
  • What learning opportunities are available?
  • What are the problems in returning to learning?
  • What are the likely benefits?

Going back to study - enrolling on a course

So you've decided to look into enrolling on a course, congratulations!  Once you have decided on the subject/area you would like to study, you should contact providers to see where the subject/area is being taught. 

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) as a starting point for returning to learning

One of the major issues for anyone returning to learning is the question of the value placed on whatever learning you have already attained. This is the area of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL).

RPL is a way in which prior learning, whether attained in a formal manner (such as a qualification you hold already) or non-formal manner (including "on the job" learning gained working in a particular occupation) is assessed and given a value.  Providers of courses can use RPL to allow a person entry to a programme of study or give them exemptions from part of the programme.

There is growing awareness that it is necessary to recognise informal, as well as formal, learning if we are to make learning accessible to all.  The use of RPL by education and training providers to allow candidates entry to a programme or exemption from part of a programme has increased over recent years.  However, RPL is not widespread and may not be available from all education and training providers. 


The benefits of recognising prior learning

How RPL is assessed

Terms used in RPL

Colleges with RPL Policies

Reference materials




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