Creating a common language


The qualifications frameworks can facilitate validation. “The frameworks use learning outcome as a reference instead of educational input. That creates a common language between sectors, and it is a condition for validation.” said Jens Bjornavold.

The task of Jens Bjornavold, head of the Brussels office of CEDEFOP (the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) was to establish the link between national qualifications frameworks and validation of non-formal and informal learning. According to Jens Bjornavold potentially there is a very positive link.

Other forms of learning

If anyone should not be convinced already, Jens Bjornavold quoted a 2010 survey to support the point that non-formal and informal learning is a living reality of great importance. 1200 employers all over Europe were asked: “How did you acquire the knowledge and skills to perform your current and last job?”
Among the results was:
• 61 % said “carrying out challenging tasks at work
• 56 % said “self-directed learning”
• 52 % said “learning from others at work”
• 52 % said “additional training at work”
• 48 % said “learning through life experience”, and
• 32 % said “learning from networks, working with clients”

Validation at a crossroad

“The necessity of validating non-formal and informal learning is gradually, but slowly, making its way into the political agenda,” said Jens Bjornavold, and he added:
“That is why Recognition of Prior Learning is part of the national qualifications frameworks in many countries, though not in all countries.”
According to Jens Bjornavold validation in EU is at a crossroad:
“We have gained a lot of experience in terms of methods and practical arrangements. Validation has been introduced into the legal and institutional framework of most countries. But the actual number of individuals using validation is still relatively low.”

European policies

Jens Bjornavold presented a whole list of reasons for this. Among them were problems of access, but also the lack of information both among individuals and employers. Nevertheless, he was optimistic:
“European policies support validation, at it is explicitly a part of the EQF recommendation,” he said, quoting this passage:
“Member countries are recommended to use an approach based on learning outcomes when defining and describing qualifications, and promote the validation of non-formal and informal learning in accordance with Common European principles (2004).”

Crossing qualifications and institutions

“As long as duration, location and institutional setting are the based reference, validation is highly problematic.
The systematic change to learning outcomes is actually a condition for validation. It introduces explicit statements of what a learner is expected to know and be able to do or to understand. It allows us to look for significant equivalences rather than for the perfect fit. In that way it introduces a common language between different sectors,” Jens Bjornavold explained.
That is why he was convinced that the national qualifications frameworks will facilitate validation:
“Validation is about crossing qualifications and institutions. The frameworks can facilitate a more holistic approach where validation is used at all levels and in all sectors to link between formal, non-formal and informal learning,” he said.

A question of trust

Getting validation accepted and integrated into the frameworks is not without problems, Jens Bjornavold admitted:
“The learning outcomes approach requires a quality assurance in way of how learning outcomes are defined, who define them, and how they can be assessed in a reliable and valid way. This is the weak point in many countries. If we do not focus on quality assurance the recognition of prior learning will not be trusted,” he said.
Realising the skepticism on the part of many participants he admitted that there are lots of conflicts and controversy involved in the process of the establishing the frameworks.
“A lot of very different stakeholders are together in same room and on the same platform, trying to create ownership for all of them. That is difficult, but you must remember that these conflicts between stakeholders are there already. They do not erupt because of the qualifications frameworks.”

Jens Bjornavold