VPL is about empowerment, employability and lifelong learning
Ruud Duvekot, Dermot Coughlan, Greg Scanlon & Ruud Klarus
In the current knowledge society, interest is slowly but surely shifting from ‘hard’ production factors such as machines and instruments to ‘soft’ factors, human capital and the “knowledge society”. (Brinkley & Lee, 2004) Of primary interest are human learning potential, capacity and flexibility, i.e. the individual employability-potential. It makes no difference whether one is working, learning or seeking work. Employability is about getting or keeping the opportunity to perform, to contribute to society, by having a paid job, being a valued volunteer or contributing in other ways to society; in short, employability is about getting or keeping a job. Learning is at the heart of being employable as an individual, while working encompasses all kinds of activity, from paid work to voluntary work and active citizenship. In this way learning is also strongly linked to employability, or the many ways to empower people in order to be a socially and economically active member of society.
In order to be empowered and employable you have to define all your competencies such as knowledge, ambition, skills and attitude. A competence is actually to know how to act in a certain way. Whether someone is competent becomes clear from his or her actions. The modern knowledge society has a major interest in capitalising on this, whether through formal learning pathways in the school system during certain periods in life or through non-formal and informal pathways in other periods.
The knowledge society, with its increasing speed of change, needs besides the validation of the competencies, a process of valuation and a market place that supports the changing needs in the flexible market, contexts, and the social-psychological changes of the human beings. Therefore, lifelong learning is about making use of personal competencies. Everyone should be aware that people are always learning everywhere, and above all, not always in a conscious or self-chosen learning situation. The degree in which individuals and the knowledge society consciously build on this is still strongly underexposed and under-utilised. In the knowledge society, the focus is or should be on the individual learning process.
A complicating factor in dealing with this focus is that the formal procedures of teaching, training and assessment describe only a very limited part of the individual learning potential or competencies. Competencies acquired in informal and non-formal situations are also essential for optimal performance on the labour market or in social functions.
This complexity of individual learning and the opportunities it offers for the knowledge society were recognised in Europe in 1995 in the White Paper of the European Commission: Towards the Learning Society (1995). While learning within the formal systems for education and training is a distinguishing factor of a modern society, learning that takes place outside this sphere is much more difficult to identify and value. The proposals of the White Paper used “Lifelong Learning” as a central organising concept. These proposals provided the base for “Valuing Learning” which became one of the Key Messages of the Communication on Lifelong Learning. (European Commission 2001) Since this Communication, the invisibility of all sorts of learning processes has been problematised. This problem was related to all levels of the individual (different employability-potential, knowledge and application levels) and society (all levels: international, national, regional, local, sectoral and organisation).
With that, the focus in Lifelong Learning policy slowly shifted from the traditional approach of ‘learning in the classroom’ to the wish to utilise ‘other learning environments’ such as work environment, independent learning, remote learning, implicit learning and leisure activities. This actually meant making use of non-formal and informal learning. This started up the general process of identification, assessment, valuation and accreditation of all formal, non-formal and informal learning. But still the valuing itself is pulled into the formal accreditation system, mainly directed to the formal job descriptions, instead of becoming an individual means to personal ends focusing on one’s career-opportunities. Lately, for instance in the European Common Principles on the Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning (2004), we see a shift to the valuation of competencies developed in all possible learning environments. We refer to this as the process of Valuation of Prior Learning. ‘ Valuing learning’ is in a way dealing with half-filled glasses instead of the traditional half-empty ones! Other terms used to describe the process are Accreditation of Prior (Experiential) Learning, Recognition of Prior Learning or (in French) Validation des Acquis de l’Expérience.
‘Valuing learning’ has two main paths, a summative and a formative one. The summative approach aims at an overview of competencies, recognition and valuation. Its goal is certification, where individuals seek this goal.
When ‘valuing learning’ goes one step further and includes practical learning and/or personal competence-development, we call this the formative approach of ‘valuing learning’. This approach is pro-active and aims at development by designing a personal learning, career and development path. ‘Valuing learning’ is a practical strategy that demonstrates and develops employability-potential for many purposes, that bridges individual learning processes and any kind of their social-economic utilisation of individual competencies.
In the development of lifelong learning, the link between formal and non-formal learning is surely one of the most difficult. In many countries, the formal education systems have become more flexible in recognising non-formal learning. However, most individuals still lack access to a life-long and life-wide learning continuum. The crux therefore is to discuss the way lifelong learning is inevitably moving towards a process steered by the individuals. This ‘individual element’ is surely a revolutionary breakthrough, overlooking more than 500 years of vocational training where the learner had little influence over formal learning, while social partners and authorities historically controlled vocational training.
The goal of this book is to show the diversity in lifelong learning across Europe indicating where the common features prevail and where one learning culture can learn from another. The road to more self-steered lifelong learning is visible in many different ways across Europe. So, in order to be able to manage lifelong learning it is important to show that lifelong learning is possible in any context, country and culture; and that there are always shared elements that make it possible to make a manageable tool for lifelong learning out of the valuation-principles. And that’s just what this book and the project “Managing European diversity in lifelong learning” are about.
Europe’s Learning cultures
Each country has its own culture, identity, history and practices on education and training and also has its own approach and system for education and training. We describe this specific approach as the learning culture in a certain country. Since the learning cultures – and therefore, also the policy on ‘valuing learning’, which is based on this learning culture – can vary widely within Europe, the systems for ‘valuing learning’ also vary. Many countries have been involved with ‘valuing learning’ in one way or another, and it is interesting to study the various approaches in more detail. The concept and process of ‘valuing learning’ provides a perspective with which to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of each country’s systems and frameworks. This facilitates mutual knowledge exchange in which all countries can have an interest. It can be called bench learning (Karlöf 2001) since the active learning of each other’s strong points takes place based on benchmarking.
A cluster model was used in Making Learning Visible (Bjornavold 2000) to describe the various learning cultures. Mutual learning takes place through geographic proximity and institutional similarities of the countries within each cluster. This has led to the observation that, overall, ‘valuing learning’ approaches within each cluster often resemble one another.
In The Unfinished story of ‘VPL in Europe (Duvekot et al 2005) this model was adjusted in order to reflect the current situation in Europe. For example, Switzerland was added to the dual system. Furthermore, the French, Belgian and Dutch systems were added as three separate learning cultures, all three of them characterised by different types of top-down steering on implementing VPL. In the Leonardo-project Managing European diversity in lifelong learning this cluster-approach has been updated and used to analyse the variety of VPL-usage in Europe. The cluster model at present focuses on seven learning cultures. In the course of this project these learning cultures might be described in an even greater variety in order to catch (and respect) Europe’s diversity for the sake of embedding VPL on the levels of the learning individual, organisation and system.
Figure 1: Europe’s main learning cultures
The dual system
Learning while working; social pacts; VET-levels
Germany, Austria, Switzerland
The Mediterranean approach
Regional; flexible and implicit
Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal
The North European model
Government-driven; regional; VET-levels
Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden
The Atlantic model
Demand-steered, portfolio-based vocational training
England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland
The French System
Top-down; legislation; incl. higher education
The Low Countries model
Supply-driven; shared responsibilities; bottom-up implementation
The East European model
Top-down; in transition due to entering EU
Bulgaria, Rumania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, Baltic States, Slovakia
The Leonardo-project worked along this European pattern, asking many questions, such as:
- What are the features and essential system elements of learning in this cluster?
- Does the cluster primarily focus on academic education or on vocational education?
- How is adult education organised and are concepts such as ‘life-long learning’ translated into practice?
- What status does a completed vocational training course or an academic education provide?
- Is the policy focused more on individual development, on strengthening sectors or on consolidating the educational concept?
The description of these elements leads us to the nature and content of ‘valuing learning’ approaches that are developed within various clusters or are still largely in development. Between and within the clusters there is a lot of variation on the ‘valuing learning’ need, realisation and methods. Together these learning cultures present us a view on the transition that is taking from the present knowledge society towards the learning society. In the next paragraph, we will indicate the critical success factors and learning issues derived from these two projects for the ‘transition-debate’.
The project “Managing European diversity in lifelong learning (VPL2)”
The project aimed at strengthening the use of valuation of non-formal and informal learning for both summative and formative purposes in a qualitative and quantitative sense: more use of the validation of non-formal and informal learning by individuals and organisations, supported by a more demand-driven and customer-oriented learning system. More than 200 case studies were analysed in 11 EU-member states (Czech Republic, Cyprus, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and the UK). The analysis showed that this goal was served by working both top-down as well as bottom-up. The bottom-up approach made visible the specific needs for lifelong learning on the labour market in different sectors. The ‘top-down’ data showed the various services national and sectoral learning systems are already offering to or designing for the potential users, i.e. the modern, lifelong learning workers. Both approaches were used simultaneously on three sectoral levels (profit, non-profit and voluntary sector) and in the six different European learning cultures.
The partners worked on the analysis of case studies in the main European learning cultures by:
- gathering, analysing & comparing the practices,
- identifying critical success factors,
- knowledge exchange on weaknesses and strengths,
- formulating a general approach to implement validation-principles in any learning culture,
- showing specific forms of implementation through role models,
- disseminating the results within all learning cultures.
By working in this way (two approaches, three key-sectors and seven European learning cultures) the project enforced the empowerment of individuals and organisations in Europe’s knowledge-society as well as making the learning system itself more demand-driven and customer-oriented. In a sense, evidence showed that top-down and bottom-up met each other halfway, empowering individuals and organisations to serve their summative and formative purposes by defining and creating zones of mutual trust for the use of validation-principles on a sectoral level in the variety of European learning cultures. Furthermore, analysis of the case studies showed the opportunities for designing individual learning-routes to qualification, certification and career-steps that could be generated by individuals themselves on the basis of their non-formal & informal learning, using portfolios and other available `valuation-services’. In this way, practice showed the potential in the European knowledge-society for:
- citizens to get a better grip on their careers,
- organisations (profit, non-profit, volunteer, communities and citizenship) to develop better articulation for their need for competencies and
- the learning-system ( VET, HE, etc) to become more customer-oriented and demand-driven.
In this way, the empirical data from the case studies contribute to closing the gap between VET and the labour market with respect to different European cultures. Each case study consists of the description of the validation-process between individuals and organisations and the support that the learning system is giving (or not). In effect, the case studies stress the fact that RPL isn’t good enough – it doesn’t go far enough. We need to focus on VPL. The benefits to the individual citizen as well as those for the national labour market can be enhanced through the Valuation of Prior Learning (VPL).
VPL can be explained in the following statements:
- Valuation shows the real human potential on the basis of the analysis and valuation of personal competencies.
- Valuation of Prior Learning is the process of assessing and validating personal competencies within a specific socio-economic context and offering a personal development strategy.
- VPL focuses on the individual perspective and makes the (public and private) system customer-driven for the sake of personal development.
- Organisations benefit from VPL since individuals develop within their context.
- The VPL process in general consists of five phases:
- commitment and awareness of the value of one’s competencies
- recognition of personal competencies
- valuation and/or validation of these competencies
- (advice on the) development of one’s competencies
- structurally embedding this competence-based development process into a personal or organisation steered and owned policy.
The VPL-evidence in this project shows the diversity in lifelong learning across Europe indicating where the common features prevail and where one learning culture could learn from another. The main result of the project is the creation of role models in the workplace; showing that lifelong learning is possible in any context, country and culture; and that there are always shared elements that make it possible to make out of the validation-principles a manageable tool for lifelong learning.
Transition towards the Learning Society
The general message from this Leonardo-project is that ‘valuing learning’ is a strong concept giving true evidence of the transition that’s going on from the present knowledge society towards the (near) future learning society. Society changes from a knowledge-economy into a learning society where the need for a good balance between the powers of learning individuals, organisations and knowledge infrastructure will be recreated and the learner gets a real say in lifelong learning. The change is reflected on three levels: economically (employability), socially (empowerment) and educationally ( real lifelong learning). A fourth level on which the change is having its impact, can also be distinguished, the civil society.
‘Valuing learning’ as a learning strategy therefore reflects the change towards a learning society in which the individual learner takes more responsibility for his/her own lifelong learning process. It also means that the individual learner changes the existing ‘balance of power’ in learning processes themselves because he/she will be guiding lifelong learning with his/her own portfolio. In this portfolio, the learning outcomes that he/she has achieved are documented together with the relevant evidence. These portfolios will create a new balance within learning as a process and contribute a positive change in the individual’s social identity.
The goals of ‘valuing learning’ for the main stakeholders are as follows:
- the individual: stimulating self-investment in learning, showing learning outcomes,
- the organisation: facilitating employees’ self-investment and articulation of competencies,
- society: matching learning to needs; steering learning outcomes.
The emphasis on learning outcomes is in line with the development of common structures of education and training across Europe and is associated with the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) and the European Qualification Framework (EQF). Thus, valuing learning will contribute to the removal of barriers to the mobility of labour. At national level, learning outcomes are a central part of the modernisation of qualification systems and frameworks in order to stimulate economic development and promote social cohesion (European Council 2006).
The conditions for creating the learning society in which these benefits can come to fruition are:
- A transparent, output-oriented knowledge infrastructure;
- Creating mutual trust by focusing on the available quality-system based on the judgement of existing assessment processes used by colleges and universities;
- A transparently structured education sector that allows a flexible flow of participants from one layer of sector to another, both intra- as well as inter-sectoral;
- Universal, transparent and interchangeable procedures and reports on the competencies that have been valued;
- Close relations between educational institutions and their surroundings (enterprises, government institutions, institutions in the field of (re) integration of unemployed into the labour market);
- Creating possibilities for developing and executing individual tailor made learning paths;
- Facilities for financing flexible tailor made individual learning routes, such as an individual learning account;
- Clear communication to citizens about the technical and financial arrangements for education and ‘valuing learning’.
- Development of an individual right for portfolio-assessment and career-advice.
In the figures below, the present and the expected balance of power between these three levels are reflected. Authorities and social partners are facilitating this balance by laws and regulations that take away problems for creating flexible and dynamic learning processes of the learning society. Society is moving towards a way to deal with lifelong learning by creating a dominant relationship between learner and organisation and a second relationship being the dependency of both ‘players’ on the services rendered by the knowledge infrastructure.
Black arrows point out the dominant relationships in both learning areas. Above you can see the imbalance between the main actors in lifelong learning and the focus on summative goals. Below you see in figure 2 that ‘empowerment’ as the last transition brings balance in the learning-field. The focus can shift now to the formative goals of learning.
Commitment as a key to future implementation
Taking all the lessons into consideration, a successful system for ‘valuing learning’ able to open up the traditional learning system will at least have to comply with three conditions. Assessment standards should aim at ‘civil effect’ for the sake of formative goals; the quality assurance of the assessment procedure has to be efficient, clear and transparent, and, finally, access has to be easy for individuals:
– An assessment standard aiming at ‘civil effect’. Assessment standards must meet the requirements of validity, acceptance, feasibility and functionality. Standards must be the ‘property’ of employer and employee. Correspondence with existing national qualification structures for vocational training should be sought. This offers the best possible assurance of the civil effects of qualifications acquired through prior learning assessment procedures, ranging from admissions to and exemptions from particular training courses, to further steps in the career development path.
This will help education systems to open up and to respond quickly to required changes. For example, the design of standards for assessment is increasingly competence-driven. The standards are linked both to the competence requirements of professional practice and to the content of the supply of education and training. Cross-sector competencies important to employability can also be defined. The capacity to define these assessment standards will also encourage the development of course-independent tests and examinations. The existing tests are rarely course-independent. Finally, the development of a recognition procedure for assessors creates confidence in the value of the accreditation procedure.
An important condition to create such an open situation is that the standards are made more industry-driven. The labour market should preferably decide for itself which competencies are required for accreditation as a practitioner in a particular profession. This relates not only to knowledge but also to skills and attitudes. In this case, the accreditation must be integrated into the corporate strategy. Only by focusing on formative goals does this usage of civil effect act as a means and not an end in itself and can be a powerful tool in turning learning into a lifelong learning-facilitator of one’s employability and empowerment.
– Quality assurances of the assessment procedures. In most countries, the government is directly or indirectly responsible for assuring the quality of the assessment standard. The quality of the standard can be controlled by establishing procedures for standard development and by using a programme of requirements for the design of standards (or qualification structures). The key quality criteria are validity, acceptance, functionality, transparency and comparability of structures.
The quality of prior learning assessment affects various parties with an interest in the assessment results. The government must supervise or regulate the quality (validity, reliability and fairness) of the assessment results. It can delegate these responsibilities to third parties, but remains answerable for quality supervision. The design of the quality assurance system could include an auditing of the assessment centres’ internal quality assurance systems (as in the case of ISO certification), together with a system of random investigations of the validity and reliability of assessment results, conducted by independent research institutes. Criteria for the quality of assessment results can be drawn from the general requirements for assessment: validity and reliability. Naturally, both concepts must be operationalised specifically for prior learning assessment procedures.
– Accessibility of procedures. Prior learning assessment procedures must be accessible to individuals and companies. Accessibility is determined by the recognition and acceptance of the accreditation. It is also determined by the accessibility of the organisations that implement the assessment procedures and their affordability. Access to competence recognition systems is determined by the features of the system itself and by the availability of financial resources. Decentralised supply of assessments increases the accessibility of the system. ‘Decentralised’ refers to the regional distribution of prior learning assessment and implementation of the procedures at the employee’s place of work or training course.
Another condition for accessibility is that the system is workable and efficient for users. Time-consuming and bureaucratic procedures are disastrous to accessibility. The funding of prior learning assessment procedures is a fundamental condition for the use of the system. A decentralised and workable system that nevertheless costs the users too much will reduce access to the procedures.
To conclude, when these three conditions are met, commitment to transition will develop fully. There will be plenty of space to build strong commitment for new ways of learning, both within circles of government, education sector and social partners. Commitment after all is the most essential precondition for making use of prior learning assessment and thereby changing the ‘look’ of the formal learning system. Commitment means that all parties involved will take up their own responsibility. For the education sector, this will not be very easy since learning is traditionally more supply-oriented than demand-oriented. Competence-based learning and prior learning assessment will however make learning more a matter of fun again, since learning will be made more to measure. The motivation of the learners will therefore be much higher. For teachers and schools, this will then also be very stimulating and inspiring. In this sense one could state that learning will not only be a matter of employability but also of enjoyability!
VPL it is, once again!
In this book we aim at showing the diversity of the use of VPL within the European learning area. The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate the possibilities for designing and implementing a competence-based knowledge-infrastructure in which on national, sectoral and even organisational level all the existing services will be offered in due time in an integral approach to individuals and organisations. All contributions tell their own story, showing the diversity of VPL and its contribution to implementing lifelong learning within Europe. They either tell a more general story or a specific one. The goal is to learn from this diversity.
Experimentations with the Valuation of Prior Learning are numerous in Europe. A first glance at the different countries that took part in the project ‘Managing European diversity in lifelong learning’ shows a diversity of practices not only due to economical differences but also to political and cultural aspects.
In the first chapter the methodology that was developed and used in this project is presented by Anne-Marie Charraud and Ruud Duvekot.
The hypothesis of the project concerned the idea that this diversity of VPL-practices could actually help solving the problems that countries, especially their citizens and organisations, encounter in their efforts to make effective and efficient use of lifelong learning-strategies for the sake of economical and social progress. Collecting many case-studies on VPL together might give ‘bottom-up’ evidence of sharing problems and solutions across the countries present in this project and give a glimpse of solutions regardless of language and culture differences. It might even be the case that within the different learning cultures systems were set up with more common (referential of values, procedures organised, actors involved….) than different issues. This would mean that ‘a half-filled glass’ –as the metaphor for the so-called lifelong learner – can be looked upon form different angles; it might even be filled up with many different kinds of liquid and flavours. But it remains a half-filled glass!
So the aim was to find out what the common grounds for the use of VPL are in the diversity of Europe’s lifelong learning. On the basis of these common grounds we expected to be able to learn from each other and communicate more properly on the major challenges the Learning Society faces: the need for more self-management of competencies, more demand-articulation on the labour market and a stronger focus on learning-made-to-measure in the learning system. And as it turned out, the project-partners ended up with five grids to get a better grip on the VPL-evidence presented in the case-studies.
In the VPL project participants from 19 organisations settled in 11 European countries wrote about 200 case descriptions including a SWOT-analysis on VPL projects or activities. The descriptions concerned VPL projects in profit, not for profit as well as the voluntary sector. A total of 128 of these cases was used in the course of this project for performing an in-depth cross-case analysis. This analysisis presented in the 2nd chapter by Ruud Klarus, Karen van Hoeij and Kees Schuur.
The aim of the cross-case analysis was to answer the question whether the differences between countries would mean that the aim of drawing up a European framework on VPL is possible or stays a mission impossible. We differentiated between profit, not for profit and voluntary sector. This made is possible to answer the question whether sectoral or national differences are more important in creating VPL procedures, pre-requisites for VPL, formal acceptance and public support for VPL.
By using the SWOT analyses we were able to compare at least the strengths, the weaknesses, the opportunities and the threats of VPL in the different sectors and countries. This makes it possible to gain a deeper understanding of the factors that play a central role in developing VPL in different contexts. In the analyses a distinction is also made between a systems and an individual point of view. Developing understanding of these contextual factors and using different perspectives may create a common and shared agenda on the next step towards that European framework.
Jens Bjornavold discusses in his contribution the potential impact of the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) on policies and practises in the field of validation of non-formal and informal learning. The main question asked is whether the EQF – and the emerging National Qualifications Frameworks – may facilitate the introduction of permanent, high quality approaches to the identification, assessment and recognition of non-formal and informal learning in all European countries?
The European Parliament when speaking on the EQF, made a particular reference to the link between the EQF and validation of non-formal and informal learning. The Parliament underlined that the EQF should be seen as an instrument for building bridges between formal, non-formal and informal learning, for example by broadening the basis of qualifications and opening up towards the learning taking place outside formal institutions and systems. The emphasis of the European Parliament can thus be seen as indication of the increasing importance attributed to validation all over Europe. But it can also be seen as an indication that the EQF is seen as an instrument for promoting a more comprehensive approach to validation in Europe.
Bjornavold states that whether the EQF actually will function as an instrument for promoting validation of non-formal and informal learning, still is an open question. The strong momentum created around the EQF, based on a general acceptance of the relevance of the framework, may however be seen as an opportunity for pursuing a more systematic policy in this field.
The contribution from John Konrad in the fourth chapter discusses the ways in which the Common European Principles on the Identification and Validation of Non-formal Learning (2004) and the Education and Training 2010 work programme has shaped a UK response to the draft occupational and training standards developed. The selected context is Initial Teacher Education and Training for the Lifelong Learning Sector. There are a number of qualifications proposed as a means of delivering the statutory requirement for Teacher qualification from September 2007. This context will be described in more detail below. The context provided by the EuroguideVAL project is discussed and then the ways in which a pilot Unit was developed and submitted for approval to Lifelong Learning UK. Finally, some possible implications are identified in the context of the European Union Lisbon Objectives.
The Irish case presented by Dermot Coughlan and Greg Scanlon in the 5th chapter gives strong evidence of on the one hand the difficulties of obtaining valuable case-studies for the project and on the other hand the added value for promoting lifelong learning once having described and analysed them. It proves that the real winner is the individual learner.
The Irish contribution firstly describes the difficult process of collecting the case-studies on a national basis. From a starting point of wondering if they could identify sufficient case-studies to be in a position to state that the review was a “national” one the Irish team arrived at the position where they had to take some hard decisions regarding which cases they would eventually include in the report. The overall finding however is that the recognition and validation of prior learning is very much part of the national educational agenda. Through the work of the NQAI, FETAC and HETAC it is clear that there is a commitment from the Irish national bodies to not just support the practice of recognition and validation of prior learning but to put systems and regulations in place to ensure that all educational establishments have policies and procedures in place to facilitate this development. Through the support of the VPL2 Project the efforts of these bodies have been supported in a number of ways but the primary one was the organisation of a national dissemination event at the University of Limerick.
Secondly, the Irish case proves that the real achievement of VPL is not at the institutional level but at the level of the individual learner. For the many individuals who for one reason or another saw the door to the continuum of educational advancement firmly closed in their faces, the recognition and validation of prior learning has opened individual pathways for all learners to achieve their educational goals. The recognition and validation of prior learning is a way to achieve this. More importantly however because of the uniqueness of each individuals own experience, the use of this tool will assist in ensuring that the massification of education retains an element of the individual.
Ruud Duvekot argues in the 6th chapter that the underlying premise of VPL is the principle of valuing learning, or an understanding that most learning takes place both independently of educational programme and on an ongoing basis. VPL is inextricably linked to empowerment, or activation of lifelong learning for the purposes of employability. The developmental process of professional training and the analysis of the developing VPL system can shed light on the changing relationships between actors in current professional training, and may even offer a few glimpses of developments in:
– learning, the transition to lifelong learning strategies;
– working, the transition to employability;
– civic activation/re-activation, the transition to individual empowerment.
This contribution begins by defining some of the most important terms within VPL and follows with an outline of the development in the Netherlands of professional training from the Middle Ages to the present. Thereafter, an elaboration is presented on today’s perspectives on professional training, with a central focus on presenting a general VPL process model.
The 7th chapter by Anne-Marie Charraud describes the French approach in the field of VPL. It explains the different legal and practical issues contributing to the settlement of the “Validation des Acquis d’Expérience – VAE”. After an historical description the contribution presents the state of art of the process set up in 2002. This approach permits to explore the large range of VPL aims and practices which coexist under the term of VPL. The different steps of the French approach can be read as a kind of inventory of practices and problematic related to VPL.
Torild Nilsen-Mohn reflects in her contribution on the need for better linking of formal, non-formal and informal learning in the Noridc countries. This has been a goal of many Nordic initiatives and projects both on national and local levels. Validation of non-formal and informal learning outcomes is believed to open up for more flexible pathways between formal education and training and workplace and institutional learning. Most effort has been made in relation to establishing formal procedures in the education system where the curricula of the formal education system have been the main standard on which basis an individual’s non-formal and informal learning is assessed and recognised. But in all the Nordic countries there is an ongoing discussion about the risk of marginalising or ignoring competencies that have value for employers and the labour market. In all of the Nordic countries the tripartite cooperation between government, the social partners and other stakeholders has formed a shared responsibility and may make it easier to develop unified systems of valuation and validation of non-formal and informal learning outcomes.
The chapter by Bénédicte Halba focuses on the way the VPL2 project has contributed to enhance volunteering as a key issue in Valuing Prior Learning and how far volunteering can bring an added-value to the labour market, social cohesion and active citizenship, in the society of competence. The main challenge lies in the acceptance of voluntary work as an added value to one’s portfolio. After that comes the realisation that these competencies really matter and make a stronger personal case for the sake of employability and further – lifelong – learning. Surely a relevance that needs more acceptance and especially recognition.
Anita Calonder Gerster and Kees Schuur aim in the tenth chapter at describing a framework, including benchmark-tool, for:
- Defining the principles for an open and flexible system of competence-based formal and informal learning
- Creating specific processes, procedures and supporting actions to guarantee access and quality
- Setting up a frame of reference for the application
This framework is intended to become a Charter that sets out to give a major contribution to realzing a society that empowers individuals to act in a autonomous way (individual success) and to participate and integrate in modern society and in the labour market (success for society). The efforts are concentrating on building a sustainable Competence Culture within an active, permanent and wide dissemination of Lifelong Learning.
The questionnaire is an accompanying instrument to the Charter and serves as a benchmark tool by testing the VPL-system / -procedure. It conveys institutions, providers’ insight in the principles essential for an open and flexible system of competence-based formal, non-formal and informal learning. It specifies the processes, procedures and supporting actions, which guarantee access and quality.
In the contribution of Paul Bonsema from the Hogeschool van Amsterdam in the Netherlands a method is presented to value the work experience of industrial employees and to accredit the results in an engineering program at bachelor level. The toolkit developed will be described and explained. This method was used by the Hogeschool in a pilot project with Corus, an international high-quality steel manufacturer in the Netherlands. The results of this pilot project are discussed and evaluated. This case offers many interesting features to be aware of when intending to set up VPL-activities. It shows the necessity to build up cooperation between a company and a school ánd – above all – the worker as the individual learner at the heart of the VPL-process. Apart from this the example of Corus shows that it’s necessary not only to focus on the instrumental dimension but also on the fact that raising awareness and showing the profits of VPL for all concerned parties is crucial for implementing lifelong learning-strategies.
The Italian context for developing and implementing VPL is described in the chapter by Luca Ferrari and Elisa Mancineli. They present a Equal project “Spring Out” coordinated by Enaip foundation of Rimini, set up both in a European and an Italian framework. The analysis of the Italian experience represens the focus of this chapter: after an early overview of the valuation of prior learning in the Italian political framework, a specific action developed within the project by the “Service of students of special needs” of the University of Bologna. In particular a model of “Bilan de competènce” aiming at improving job opportunities at local level, for the groups of individuals (the target of the project) with psychiatric disability is described in detail.
Jos Paulusse argues that many people willing to work do not have a job because they are not able to show their competencies. Characteristics of these groups are that they receive a disability pension or a social security allowance or another financial support and often their willingness to work is not apparent! In this chapter the ‘inverse reality’ for these people is described and emphasized.
No job and a social security benefit are contradictory to the often quoted phrase ‘the labour markets needs you’ which is nowadays the slogan of employers and governments.
The uncertainty of employers for the social and financial consequences when an employee is not 100% able to do the job is one of the causes. These ‘special’ people or people with talents have a lot of problems to prove their willingness to work, their ability to work and their reliability. He stresses the need to change the practice, up-side down, VPL for the individual! Give these people first of all the possibility to show their competencies in practice, to show their work ability and to prove their reliability by offering them a work place and judge their efficiency afterwards. This will show that individuals in reality are more employable than is now assumed or realised, because of too strict rules and regulations. To make use of this group of people has a lot more advantages for society in social, financial and personal terms than only reduction of social benefits.
The next chapter is about developments in Germany. Anett Walter describes the VPL-context in Eastern Germany. After working on the topic “recognition and valuation of prior learning” for several years, there are some approaches in the German education system, where previously acquired competencies are recognised and valuated. In addition the individual is able to use informally and non-formally acquired skills and knowledge for their further vocational training.
In this chapter Walter describes some good practices of VPL. The focus is not on the educational institutions but on enterprises, authorities, volunteer associations, schools and disadvantaged people. Following the adoption of the concept of lifelong learning by many organisations throughout Europe they are now looking for instruments and methods to recognise and validate it. The objective is to connect learning effectively with the individual’s and organisation’s development. The innovative examples presented in this chapter show the VPL islands coming from ‘the bottom up’.
Hana Čiháková, Mario Stretti, Helena Marinková stress in their chapter that the present concept of lifelong learning focuses on the responsibility of each individual for his/her own job and educational career. The aims of implementing lifelong learning-strategies as well as those of creating the European Area of lifelong learning require developing systems of identification and validation of non-formal and informal learning at the national level in all EU countries. At the level of policy innovation in the CR a number of strategic and programme documents have been adopted the implementation of which should create necessary preconditions for setting up the national VPL system. The need of IVPL has not been primarily caused by situation on the labour market, which is considerably deregulated, but by too rigid circumstances in the field of formal education in the Czech Republic. The VPL shall benefit especially groups of inhabitants at risk of unemployment. These groups comprise people without vocational qualification or with a qualification which does not enable them assertion on the labour market. Another reason for involvement of candidates into the VPL system can be their effort to acquire qualification for the field (branch) of qualified work in which they already have had their own business or been employed.
Five Steps Up is a tool developed and presented by Erica Aalsma, Lex Sanou and Ruud Duvekot. It provides for a practical tool that can be used whenever someone needs to or wants to coach a VPL process. Five Steps Up is designed for advisors who face VPL issues in their work with companies or organisations: what steps to take and how to make sure that you’re not missing important aspects of the process? This guide shows you how to get started with Five Steps Up.
In the final chapter the 2nd contribution on VPL in the German context is presented by Ursel Kreh and Wolfgang Klenk. Their case- description is on the need to rectify the shortage of teachers in schools providing vocational education. The southern German state of Baden-Württemberg introduced a special (temporary) programme enabling a direct entry of university graduates with career and life experience into teaching positions in vocational schools, particularly for engineering science subjects.
Bjornavold J, (2000) Making Learning Visible, Cedefop, Thessaloniki.
Brinkley I and Lee N (2006). The knowledge economy in Europe: A report prepared for the 2007 EU Spring Council, London, The Work Foundation. Note: this study makes no mention of the role of Education and Training as specified by the EU Education Council in 2001
Council of the European Union (2004), Conclusions of the Council and of the representatives of the Governments of the Member States meeting within the Council on Common European Principles for the identification and validation of non-formal and informal learning, Brussels, 9600/04 EDUC 118 SOC 253.
Duvekot, R.C., Schuur, C.C.M. and Paulusse, J. (eds.) (2005) The unfinished story of VPL: Valuation and validation of prior learning in Europe’s learning cultures, Vught, Foundation EC-VPL.
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European Council (2006 Joint Interim report of the Council and the Commission on progress under the Education and Training 2010 Work Programme, Luxembourg, Official Journal, C 79/01.
Karlöf, B. et al (2001), Benchlearning: Good Examples as a Lever for Development, London, John Wiley and Sons Ltd.