Document Type

Theses, Ph.D


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


Social sciences

Publication Details

Successfully submitted for the award of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) to the Technological University Dublin, June, 2011.


This thesis explored the topic of recognition of prior learning (RPL) in companies and organisations in Ireland against a backdrop of global, European, and national policy initiatives on the recognition of all forms of formal, non-formal and informal learning. The immediate context was coloured by shifts in employment, in labour markets, and in education and training policies because of increasing economic difficulties globally, and the greater levels of attention being paid to the role of education and training in the economic and social development of a country. The primary research question for the thesis was: Is there a return on investment from the recognition of prior learning (RPL) to companies and organisations that use RPL in their learning and development strategies? Return on investment in this research was conceived as achievement of impact at a societal, organisational, and individual level. The research approach was broadly social constructionist and interpretative. It took a multiperspective approach to explore past, current, and future perspectives of RPL in companies and organisations. There were three methodological strands of inquiry employed in the thesis. The first was an historical study to analyse previous RPL projects using a framework of valorisation. The second was a comparative analysis of RPL case studies in sixteen companies, professional bodies, training bodies, and community organisations. The third and final was a Delphi Future-Oriented Survey with experts in the areas of higher education, further education, workplace learning, vocational education, educational policy, and industry. The research findings indicated that initially RPL suffered from efforts to reconcile perceptions of ‘traditional’ learning as the sole route to achieve a qualification with the RPL route. In current practice RPL in companies and organisations is concerned with engaging with, rewarding and recognising the services of its employees. RPL is also considered a means to address continuing professional development needs without recourse to ‘training’. Finally, RPL is a means to link national, sectoral, and organisational training and qualifications systems to validate and professionalise company training and provide the potential for occupational mobility. From a policy perspective return on investment from RPL is concerned with labour mobility, social inclusion, improved individual career prospects, employee morale, and alternate pathways to qualifications. In practice labour mobility and social inclusion were not high on company or organisational agendas. This thesis finds that drives for economic competitiveness and up-skilling of the labour force in conjunction with economic difficulties have prioritised accredited employee development initiatives which are tied to national and sectoral qualifications frameworks. RPL development in companies and organisations is linked to these drives particularly as a means of employee engagement within the context of continuing professional development (CPD) rather than the annual evaluation process. It is therefore suggested, on the basis of the research findings, that companies and organisations should consider re-conceptualising CPD using RPL to achieve employee engagement.