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Out to Africa: Melanie Booth shares PLA wisdom in Kenya

When you think of Africa, what comes to mind? Gorgeous scenery? A stunning array of wildlife? Prior learning assessment?

Thanks to Melanie Booth, that third item is now very much top of mind for faculty and staff at Tangaza College in Nairobi, Kenya.

Melanie, Marylhurst's dean of learning and assessment and director of the Center for Experiential Learning & Assessment, was invited to spend a week at Tangaza in October 2012 to help the college develop a prior learning assessment program that will be the first of its kind in Kenya to honor the experiential learning of adults returning to school to earn a college degree.

During her time in Nairobi, Melanie delivered an intense multi-day workshop to Tangaza faculty and staff to build their understanding of prior learning assessment, how adults learn, and the capacity they already have and need to build to create a robust PLA model. Like at Marylhurst, Tangaza has programs that attract adults with life and work experience, and the team there, in partnership with the School for New Learning at DePaul University in Chicago, wants to create options for those students to translate their life and work learning into college credit.

Melanie Booth

The invitation to Kenya came in large part due to Marylhurst's strong national reputation as a model university in assessing prior learning well. Our PLA program, which allows students an opportunity to earn college credit for college-level knowledge they've gained through work and life experience, has been cited many times by organizations and publications that promote adult learning pathways such as rigorous prior learning assessment. Colleagues at the School for New Learning at DePaul University, which currently runs an adult degree program at Tangaza, asked Melanie to go to Kenya to share her knowledge of adult learning and different PLA models that might be relevant to Tangaza's students.

"PLA is actually a very powerful force across the world, not just the United States," Melanie said. "Reaching out to adults who haven't finished college is a big deal for Tangaza because there have been many barriers put in the way of Kenyan adults wishing to pursue higher education. Tangaza is working to break those walls down by providing more access to those whom the 'system' has prevented from attending college in the past."

During her African adventure, Melanie developed a deep appreciation for the tenacity of the Tangaza team and their commitment to providing college access to an underserved population. She notes that like Marylhurst and DePaul, Tangaza has a very strong, service-oriented mission.

"The university will literally have to address its country's educational policies to bring this new program to full fruition, but the team there seems quite dedicated to doing that," Melanie said. "They're already looking at how to integrate prior learning practices into existing classes, even before their formal PLA program gets started."

And Melanie will be able to see for herself just what kind of progress the Tangaza team is able to make in the coming months. She's been invited back to Nairobi in 2013 to help the college move to the next steps in its PLA program development.

To learn more about PLA and how it's used at Marylhurst, visit Melanie's blog.

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