Validation of non-formal learning moves up a gear

A European project “AVA” seeks to improve national validation systems through a set of research-based recommendations. Project staff say validation is moving forward because of an increased recognition of non-formal and informal learning. 


How can you prove that you have a skill? Can you grade democratic competencies?

Validation in non-formal adult learning has been a difficult issue for decades. A well-functioning validation system benefits individuals and society in various ways: recognized learning outcomes pave the way to further education and decrease the skills mismatch. Or to put it the other way: unrecognised learning may lead to lost educational and work opportunities – and loss of motivation -with a great cost to society.

Much of learning takes place in non-formal (e.g. hobby learning) and informal (e.g. everyday life) contexts but these outcomes are often the hardest to validate. This is why this strand of validation must be urgently developed.

Validation systems are developed nationally. In the EU, however, member states should have national validation systems in place by 2018 to pave the way for a future harmonisation of validations systems.

The refugee influx has made validation even more topical: the EU needs to consider validation of prior learning and working experience as an opportunity for integration.

An Erasmus + project AVA “Action plan for validation and non-formal adult education” now seeks to improve validation of non-formal and informal learning through research-based recommendations. These recommendations are based on a survey done among adult education providers and umbrella and stakeholder organizations and will be collected into an Action Plan, unveiled 29th June in Brussels. The project is coordinated by the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA).

Elm got hold of key people behind the AVA Project, researchers Kirsten Aagaard and Bodil Husted, and Antra Carlsen, coordinator of the Nordic Network of Adult Learning.

Kirsten Aagaard (top), and Bodil Husted (bottom) / Photos: Aagaard and Husted’s archives


Elm: The Nordic Network of Adult Learning is a member of the AVA project partnership. What is the project about?

Antra Carlsen: The project intends to provide an Action Plan for the further development of national validation systems through listening to the experiences of adult education providers. The Action Plan itself seeks to create new and update existing tools, initiatives and good practices.

The key target groups of the Plan will be policy makers and adult education providers and its recommendations will concentrate on the two main priorities of the project: access of disadvantaged people to validation (and consequently further learning and/or the labour market) and the permeability of non- and informal learning with the formal system.

Antra Carlsen / Photo: NVL

Elm: An important aspect of the project is that it is research-based. The Action Plan is based on the real experiences of adult education providers, charted in a survey. Education researchers Kirsten Aagaard and Bodil Husted were responsible for setting up the survey.  How did the survey help you formulate the Action Plan and its recommendations?

Bodil Husted:   The survey was meant for adult education organizations stakeholders to get grassroots feedback from the provider level, to find out their experiences and practices and to understand their challenges and fears.

The survey had two sections focusing on 1) the policy and strategic level for validation arrangements and 2) the concrete practice level, concerning the concrete validation arrangements offered by the adult education provider.

The survey was distributed by the AVA Consortium, to respondents in twenty EU countries and answered by representatives from two levels: 1) the Meso level: Umbrella organisations, networks and other organisations working with validation and 2) the Micro level, represented by adult education providers.

We received 50 responses, covering all those 20 countries, though represented quite differently due to the share of total responses.

We then structured and analyzed this data, and reported it in national reports and national summaries. On the basis of these two types of documents, an horizontal analysis was carried out with the aim of identifying potentials and barriers among the overall survey results. Based on this, recommendations for development and solutions for inclusive validation practice were defined.

Elm: Validation has been on the agenda for a long time. Why are we seeing this progress now?

Kirsten Aagaard: There have indeed been a lot of engagements and projects for over a decade focusing on development of validation of prior learning especially in educational institutions, in working life and in adult learning as well.

The challenge is that validation is part of the lifelong learning agenda; it is in reality a new paradigm. Validation is a precondition for recognition of individual competences across borders especially between education and working life, and the process involves many different stakeholders and roles, and includes different phases in the whole validation process. So all in all validation is a complex activity.

If we are seeing progress it is because of policy makers are getting active about it. And maybe we are in a real paradigm shift where non-formal and informal learning are really recognised.

Elm: What concrete solutions are you proposing for validation?

Antra Carlsen: Firstly, top down and bottom up initiatives should complement each other. The top down approach insists that the stakeholders lobby decision makers for the creation of appropriate legal frameworks. The bottom up approach should help create networks between stakeholders and validation practitioners in order to talk together, understand each other’s language better and work together for validation.

There is a general need to improve cooperation between stakeholders. For example in Iceland, the education providers already cooperate with trade unions and employer organisations.

Other recommendations include the following:

-Validation must be part of the stakeholders’ agenda and work plans. Stakeholders should help to spread information about validation and increase knowledge about validation.

-Industries should have skills mapping: they should show what competences are needed now and in the future. Skills plans should be made and continuously updated. The plans should help industries to use the competences people have in the best possible way and help employees to get one step up. Stakeholders can help industries with this.
-“Agents” for validation must be found and educated among the adult education stakeholder organizations – those people who can talk about validation to businesses and employers. They need to have good knowledge related to the field of activity of the company. Grass-root validation professionals need to have or get competence about the business field and culture. This increases trust.

-Stakeholders should help communicate the needs of the local society and individuals to businesses and the other way round.

Read more about the AVA Project.
Read Unesco’s 2015 report on validation of non-formal and informal learning in UNESCO member states.




Did you find this article?
  • Interesting 
  • Useful 
  • Easy to read