Prior Learning Assessment

You’re a mature student. You’ve had extensive formal and non-formal education and life experience in ministry. Maybe you’ve done numerous units of Clinical Pastoral Education. Maybe you’ve got a Masters in Divinity from another school. Maybe you’ve done practical ministry in another denomination. And maybe you’re wondering, “Can any of my prior experience and learning be counted toward a CCS diploma in diaconal ministry?  Can I be exempted from, say, a learning circle, or a field placement, or an assignment?”

The short answer is yes, but before we get into the how, let me try to dissuade you:  Have you ever re-read a book that you read years ago, but now, with more experience and wisdom behind you, you’re able to read it on a deeper level with insights you missed the first time around? Education can be like that too. The kind of education we do at CCS isn’t just about content, but also about reflection, integration, and community. A “shortcut” might get you through the program faster, but you risk missing out on part of the journey.

That said, there are lots of good reasons a person might want their prior learning recognized.  That’s why we’ve developed a Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) process.

What parts of the CCS Diploma in Diaconal Ministry are eligible for PLAR?

You can apply to have your prior learning and experience recognized as equivalent to component parts of the Diaconal Ministries program (eg. learning circles, field placement, external courses, Global Perspectives Experience, individual assignments)

NOT eligible for PLAR consideration:

No more than 50% of the requirements for the Diploma may be recognized as completed through the PLAR process, and because learning in community is considered an essential component of the CCS Diploma, applicants are required to experience a certain percentage of learning circles at CCS including Learning on Purpose.

How Does PLAR Work?

Step 1: Apply

Apply for the diaconal ministries program and indicate your interest in a prior learning assessment. Give us a brief description of the prior learning and experience you’d like to have considered, and the parts of the CCS program you’d like to be exempted from. Your application will be evaluated and we’ll let you know if PLAR is worth pursuing.  If so, you can register for a PLAR. (The cost is the same as tuition for a single learning circle.)

Step 2: Prepare

Spend some time preparing.  The following are for your own discernment, and will form the basis for your portfolio (step 3), but they’re not for submission at this point.

Autobiography #1

  • Spend time thinking about your experience and the learning you have done through work and other life situations.
  • Create a timeline which includes significant life events and transitions from your childhood to the present.
  • Use words, drawings, pictures, mementos, symbols. Note insights, knowledge and skills developed in conjunction with these events.

Reflection on how you learn – Components to consider:

  • Formal education
  • Employment History and Descriptions
  • Informal Education (Workshops, Training Sessions, etc.)
  • Hobbies and Interests
  • Volunteer Work
  • Summary of Competencies
  • Other Skills and Learning

Learning Benchmarks – Review:

  • CCS Learning Guidelines
  • CCS Curriculum Outlines
  • Evaluations and Assessments:
    • School
    • Church/denominational involvement
    • Employment
    • Volunteer activities

Self-evaluation – Identify in relation to CCS Guidelines and curriculum:

  • Strengths
  • Skills
  • Knowledge

Ask – “In what program area or areas do I want to seek recognition for prior learning?”

  • One or more component of the program (e.g. certain theme learning circles, field placement, etc.)
  • One or more particular elements of the curriculum (e.g. Group dynamics, Facilitation)
  • One or more sections of the CCS Learning Guidelines (Formation, Christian Heritage, Context and Culture, Ministry Leadership)

Organize Documentation (not for submission)

  • Assemble material that demonstrates, reflects, verifies your learning.  Examples:
    • Workshop outlines
    • Sermons
    • Publications
    • Assignments
    • Performance reviews.

Step 3: Submit Your Portfolio

The portfolio or dossier that you submit will consist of:
A. Autobiography
B. Statement of Prior Learning
C. Your comments
D. Documentation

Autobiography #2 – Develop an autobiography that explains the context of your learning, including:

  • Your current social location – and previous if different. (A reflection on your place in society as influenced by factors such as gender, class, race, ethnicity, physical and intellectual ability, religion, sexual orientation. )
  • •Formative events and experiences
  • Significant moments and themes in your spiritual journey and your vocational journey
  • Education and employment, volunteer activities, etc.

Statement(s) of Prior Learning – For each program area for which you are seeking recognition of prior learning, prepare a statement of learning that demonstrates your knowledge and skills:

  • Identify core convictions, critical insights, central issues and questions
  • You may use words, pictures, drawings, art, video…

Comments, Reflections – Write a brief reflection on your statement of learning which identifies significant contributions that shaped your learning in this area.

Documentation – Assemble items that provide external verification of your learning statements:

  • Transcripts
  • Diplomas
  • Degrees
  • Testimony from people who have experienced your leadership in these areas

(It is acceptable for the documentation for external verification to apply to more than one statement of learning).

Request for Recognition – Prepare a summarizing statement indicating which program component(s) you are hoping to have recognized through PLAR.

Portfolio DOs and DON’Ts

DO reflect on lessons from life that resulted from awareness of your “social location” DON’T describe your life as a chronology of dates and events
DO include actual documents that make tangible what you want to say about yourself – letters, references from people who have seen you in action DON’T write a resume that simply lists your experiences and accomplishments
DO back up your claims with items such as a course certificate, a license to practise, newspaper articles, job descriptions, awards, work samples, bibliographies. DON’T just describe your qualifications.
DO consider “before” and “after” scenarios that demonstrate how something you learned or experienced changed you. DON’T focus on activities, but rather on areas of knowledge or skill that you can demonstrate.

Step 4. Review of Learning

A 2-3 hour interview with CCS Program Staff, in person or by video, similar to an oral exam. Its purpose is to help determine your readiness for the program at the level you are seeking.

This process of reflection on experience and analysing it in writing is a major source of learning. Recognition is given for learning that can be verified, not just experience. The portfolio is the means by which you will present what you have learned for assessment. Therefore take the time to present your learning as effectively as possible.