RPL should never be a complex process. There are a number of steps (we propose thirteen to fourteen steps) that can be followed in any field of learning and on any level. You should read my book entitled “The Concepts and Procedures Governing the Recognition of Prior Learning” if you wish to offer RPL in occupational and vocational learning or “A Holistic Approach to the Recognition of Prior Learning” if you are involved in RPL on higher education (academic) level.
Different people have such vastly different prior exposure to any field of learning that it is not realistic to mark an RPL portfolio according to a checklist based on a curriculum or other standard. That is why a holistic approach should be followed, meaning, amongst other things, that you should determine if the candidate achieved the purpose of the qualification or part qualification for which recognition is sought. It is a subjective form of assessment and the assessor must be an expert in the field of learning. Keep in mind, however, that RPL is not credit for life experiences if it is not relevant to the qualification or part qualification.
Even when a holistic approach to RPL is followed, you will find that candidates seldom achieve all the requirements for a qualification or part qualification. This can, and should be corrected by means of top-up learning. Top-up learning, in turn, requires that the RPL assessor do a gap analysis while assessing the portfolio of evidence. Top-up learning should be planned to close the gap.
Private learning providers can make a substantial contribution to RPL assessment by TVET colleges and HE universities and colleges by, for example, training lecturers in RPL, providing universities and colleges with RPL assessors and facilitators, doing the administration of RPL projects, and many more. However, TVET and HE institutions must make sure that the private providers are expert in RPL in the field of learning in which assistance is needed before they close agreements with them.
RPL candidates, their parents, sponsors and employers mostly pay for RPL. However, if RPL is regarded as equal in status to formal learning as is suggested in legislation (The NQF Act No 67 of 2008, the Skills Development Act No 97 of 1998 and the Skills Development Amendment Act No 37 of 2008) and the Articulation Draft Policy, then surely funds should be made available from the National Skills Fund for RPL.
RPL should be cheaper than formal learning. However, it is not always the case because RPL often requires lots of preparation, the availability of expensive equipment and is mostly offered to an individual. Even if offered to a group, individuals will still submit different portfolios of evidence which requires special preparation, different marking methods and different top-up learning content.
RPL can make a substantial contribution to transformation and redress, especially because it provides people who were denied access to formal learning or, for whatever other reason, did not receive formal recognition for knowledge and skills, an opportunity to enter lifelong learning.
We are often asked by potential learners if they cannot do RPL rather than formal learning because it is cheaper and faster. Judging from their comments at conferences on RPL one gets the impression that organised labour is often under the impression that people can be issued with certificates and degrees without learning. RPL is not a quick and easy route for an individual to get something for nothing. Also, RPL is not an alternative to formal learning. RPL cannot replace formal learning and an individual can only obtain credits or a certificate if they did gain relevant knowledge and skills previously.
In closing, it is not the individual only who benefits from RPL. Learning institutions, communities, the economy and the country at large can benefit from it. It is, therefore, important for the government, the industry, learning institutions and quality assurance bodies to support and promote RPL.