Online Teaching Tools for the Adult Learner

Check out my session from the Association for Continuing Higher Education (ACHE) 2015 national annual conference held this year in St. Louis, MO. Thank you to all who attended the session!


Adult learners have unique needs, and the e-learning or online environment presents additional challenges.  Adult students seek return on their investment of time and money for education.  How do we meet these realities?  This workshop presents the unique learning needs of the adult student through the lens of adult learning theory. It addresses using adults’ experiences in a highly applied and meaningful way with e-learning tools to fulfill adult learner’s goals and desired outcomes.

Online Teaching Tools for the Adult Learner ( presentation)


Guest Post: Prior Learning Assessment – Earning Credit for Your Experience

The University of St. Francis has been a leader in providing prior learning credit to students, particularly adult students. The Prior Learning Assessment Program offers a way for earning credit granted for verifiable college–level learning acquired through life or work experiences that can be documented in a portfolio and is equivalent to a college course (experiential learning, training, employment, and certifications). For example, students who have earned the CPLP (Certified Professional in Learning & Performance) designation from ATD (Association for Talent Development) (formerly ASTD) can earn 3 semester hours of credits towards their MS in Training and Development at St. Francis.  This helps students move through the program quicker and provides credit for knowledge they have already achieved.

The following post about prior learning assessment is provided by guest blogger, Pat McClintock, Coordinator of Adult Student Advising and Prior Learning, University of St. Francis

Can prior learning assessment (PLA), recognition of prior learning (RPL), or prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) play a role in your educational and professional endeavors?

Yes, PLA, as it is most commonly known, can play a huge role in attaining credit toward a bachelor’s degree as well as some graduate work. As a trainer, you may have certifications or work experience that could translate into college credit. Or, you may have students who are currently working toward a degree that may have certifications or examinations that may be eligible for college credit.

For many years, higher education institutions have used this process to help adult learners to receive college credit for college-level learning from work and life experience. According to the results of an American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO, 2014) survey, more than two-thirds of responding institutions reported that they accept one type of prior learning credit and most accept more than one.

PLA is assessed in many forms: DSST and CLEP course challenge and oral examinations; standardized tests; credits earned through the American Council of Education’s Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences (ACE Guide, n.d.); and submission of a portfolio that correlates with coursework in a degree program.

Consider checking out the ACE National Guide to College Credit for Workforce Training: . It contains ACE credit recommendations for formal courses or examinations offered by various organizations, from businesses and unions to the government and military. If you are a trainer for a specific course or exam, you can request a credit review at:


American Council on Education. (ACE). (n.d.). National Guide. Retrieved from:

American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO). (Dec. 2014). 60 Second Survey Results: Credit for Prior Learning Practices. Retrieved from:                        Files/aacrao_dec_2014_60_second_survey_credit_for_prior_learning_practices.p   df?sfvrsn=4

University of St. Francis.  (2015).  Credit for work experience. Retrieved from:

University of St. Francis. (2015). MS Training and Development. Retrieved from:

Competency-based Education as a Disruptive Innovator

Summary of presentation to the Association for Continuing Higher Education (ACHE) annual conference. October 28, 2014. Las Vegas, NV

Competency-based education is a current “buzz” topic in higher education due, in part, to large funders such as the Gates and Lumina Foundations supporting research and new models of education. Competency-based education places an emphasis on the assessment of learning outcomes. Learning is broken into individual competencies that students must demonstrate they have mastered. In some models, prior learning is converted from competencies to credit.

The theory of disruptive innovation developed by Harvard University professor Clayton Christensen, “describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors” (Christensen, 2014). Disruptive innovation revolutionizes an expensive, inconvenient and complicated industry to one that is more affordable, convenient and simple (Christensen & Horn, 2013). Is higher education expensive, inconvenient and complicated? Competency-based education can help make the industry more affordable, convenient and simple, if done right. Continuing education units, in particular, have the opportunity to drive the conversation due to the nature of working with non-traditional populations and entrepreneurial systems.

Competency-based education is not a new phenomenon. In the 1970’s, the U.S. Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) put forth grant support for innovators in prior learning assessment (PLA). Initiatives such as student portfolios for credit, College Level Examination Program (CLEP), American Council on Education (ACE) credit equivalents and the Military Assessment of Training for Civilian Hiring (MATCH) programs have been providing competency–based credit at institutions for a long time. Some of the newer models go further by thinking outside the credit box. For example, Western Governors University is exclusively competency-based where students advance based on demonstrating mastery of content rather than credits. Therefore, the student has the ability to progress quickly depending on their prior learning. Southern New Hampshire University also evaluates direct assessment of learning not tied to the credit hour. The University of St. Francis in Joliet converts prior learning to credits using a portfolio process to measure competencies and also provides block credit for credentials such as military training.

There are numerous other examples and best practices in competency-based education. Continuing education managers are encouraged to view the topic through the lens of disruptive innovation and to think differently about how to apply the concept within their unit. For example, is there a technology enabler that can speed up a portfolio process? Is there a business model for prior learning assessment that can revolutionize the institution? Can prior learning assessment be moved from the advising office to the admissions office? How can students quickly advance through the process of education without losing the value and integrity of programs?

Competency-based education has the potential to add value to the adult education field. It is outcomes focused, provides benefits to the adult learner’s emotional and cognitive connection to learning, and has the potential to lower the cost and time to attainment of a degree. Competency-based models also have the potential to disrupt our industry. However, as units of continuing education, we have the opportunity to participate in the disruption by promoting new models on our campuses.


Christensen, C. M. (2014). Disruptive Innovation. Retrieved from:

Christensen, C. M., & Horn, M. B. (2013). How disruption can help colleges thrive.

Chronicle of Higher Education, 60(5), B30-B31.