The hidden curriculum of the recognition of prior learning: a case study

Harris, Judith Anne (2004). The hidden curriculum of the recognition of prior learning: a case study. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis is a case study of a Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) practice developed in relation to a university post-graduate level diploma course for educators of adults in a South African university.

A review of the literature reveals silences, paradoxes and contradictions around understandings of knowledge, pedagogy, power and identity in RPL. An absence of academic, empirical research at the micro-level of RPL practices is noted. The research foci are concerned with how knowledge(s), pedagogy, power and identity are understood and enacted in and around the case: selected for its intrinsic and atypical qualities and generative interest value.

The research draws theoretical resources from the sociology of education (the work of Bernstein) and from continental philosophy (the work of Foucault). It argues for and adopts a hybrid philosophical position, part social constructionist, part structuralist and part poststructuralist, and an interpretive methodology.

The RPL case in question had a hidden curriculum which rewarded particular ways of thinking and acting. It confirmed prior experiential knowledge that was similar to that valued in the context and in so doing brought the former under the rule of the latter. The RPL pedagogy was ambiguous, presenting an informal style through which power and control were signalled in a disguised way.

'Success' in RPL in this context was dependent on four prior 'affordances': proximity to vertical discourse, being 'schooled' in reflection, a clear pedagogic identity as an educator and a well-developed learner identity. These affordances were socially distributed but not only along race and class lines.

An approach is proposed based on 'knowing the borders and crossing the lines'. This involves theorising relationships between mainstream curricula and pedagogy, RPL curricula and pedagogy, and prior experiential knowledge. It concludes that such approaches might be useful in the broader field of widening participation to higher education.

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