Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning (RPEL) on Entry to STEM Degree Apprenticeship Programmes: Challenges and Opportunities

Gardner, Christine (2022). Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning (RPEL) on Entry to STEM Degree Apprenticeship Programmes: Challenges and Opportunities. In: Horizons in STEM Higher Education Conference Making Connections, Innovating and Sharing Pedagogy, 29-30 Jun 2022, London.


Recent legislation demands that Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning (RPEL) is available for apprentices (IfATE,2020), and the starting premise is that RPEL offers an opportunity to bridge the gap between what has already been learned in the workplace prior to applying for a degree apprenticeship, and what is required for accreditation. However, evidence suggests that offering RPEL has enduring and ongoing issues across HE (Higher Education) and is far from simple to accomplish (Peters, 2006; Singh and Ehlers, 2019), especially when compared to Recognition of Prior Credited Learning (RPCL). The promise of RPEL is not fulfilling expectations in terms offering recognition for work-based skills. As higher education institutions have an enduring tradition relating to established definitions of knowledge, and what is valued in learning (Valk, 2009), questions arise regarding how RPEL is offered, and whether there is sufficient incentive and support for apprentices to consider an RPEL route.

This research examined the process of RPEL for STEM apprentices at the Open University (OU). The approach taken to the research was an ethnographic case study, focusing on the OU as a large degree apprentice provider in the UK, with the researcher central to the process. Initial data collection took the form of review of UK-wide policy documentation, and RPEL guides produced by the institution, alongside those from other universities who offer RPEL. The following data collection phase comprised of interviews with academic and academic-related staff in order to give an insight into their perceptions of the opportunities and challenges that RPEL offers.

Data were analysed using thematic analysis, to build a rich narrative from multiple perspectives. Initial findings suggest that there are concerns, as RPEL can be more problematic than RPCL to implement. Verification for RPEL can be a challenge and it is also difficult to determine the most appropriate module/s for RPEL to be accredited against due to potential mismatches between theory-based and work-based learning. Considering benefits of RPEL, there are opportunities to build in RPEL from the start of module design, as adding on retrospectively can create additional work. RPEL has the potential to save apprentices, and other HE students, time, money and effort by appreciating the skills they have already developed in the workplace. The next stage of research will be to interview apprentices, in order to gather their views of the opportunities and challenges relating to RPEL.

Ultimately, the aim is to create opportunities to move towards an inclusive model of recognising prior experiential learning in the arena of degree apprenticeships.

IfATE (Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education) (2020). Available online: (Accessed: 30 January 2022).
Peters, H. (2006). 'Using critical discourse analysis to illuminate power and knowledge in RPL' in Andersson, P. and Harris, J. (2006) Re-theorising the recognition of prior learning. Leicester: NIACE.
Singh, S. and Ehlers, S. (2019). ‘Recognition of Prior Learning’, Andragoška spoznanja, 25(1), pp. 69–87.
Valk, A. (2009). ‘Recognition of prior and experiential learning in European universities’, Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, 16(1), pp. 83–95. doi: 10.1080/09695940802704146.

Viewing alternatives

Download history

Item Actions