Recognition of prior learning of English: Test or assess?

Diane Pilkinton-Pihko*, Jaana Suviniitty, Tomi Kauppinen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Living in learning societies encourages learning outside the classroom. Alongside this reality, higher education institutions have been incorporating policies and procedures that support recognition of prior learning (RPL). This development means establishing adequate RPL assessment practices. Our empirical study at the Aalto University Language Centre investigates the networked nature of prior learning among RPL seekers as a means to inform the RPL of English assessment. To examine this, we gathered anonymous data on the type and range of prior learning among 273 students seeking RPL of English. This preliminary study showed three elementary prior learning types: work experience, self-study and leisure activities - which primarily involved using English as a lingua franca. To discover and visualise frequently co-occurring activities, we employed data mining. The analysis revealed the networked nature of prior learning of English. Moreover, the common working-life tasks that emerged from the data differ greatly from those in the RPL of English test. The difference implies that a learner-centred assessment, such as a portfolio, would be a better alternative for RPL than formal testing. It also implies that the English curriculum needs to be updated to align it better with industry needs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241-262
Number of pages22
JournalLanguage Learning in Higher Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Educational policy
  • Learning assessment
  • Portfolio
  • Recognition of prior learning
  • University practices


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