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“Diplomas are based on old standards that no longer apply to rapidly changing working life.”

Learning & teaching

The notion of validation dominates the way we recognise learning – and this is why it is a problem

Authors: Tuomas MacGilleon Published:

“Diplomas are based on old standards that no longer apply to rapidly changing working life.”

French learning technology expert challenges the monopoly of institutional validation and shares his view on how learning should be recognised.

In today’s world, institutional validation sets targets and thresholds for students and jobseekers as well as educational establishments and industries.

Without a degree, you are less likely to get the job you want. Universities have targets for producing a certain amount of degrees every year, and a corporation without a quality assurance framework in place is regarded as inefficient.

While many view these competency frameworks as a normal part of a functioning society, Serge Ravet, a learning technology expert and consultant from France, sees a flawed system.

“Validation is only one way to recognise people, and it is far too dominant. We should shift our focus from validation to the importance of recognition,” he says.

Ravet has spent most of his professional life exploring the contribution of digital technologies to the empowerment of individuals and communities and their impact on educational and social innovation. He is a founder of several non-profit organisations and consults European projects on learning and knowledge technologies, integrating individual, community and organisational learning.

Being a keen advocate of open societies and strong communities, Ravet opposes the dominance of institutional validation and shares some provocative ideas on how we should recognise learning.

Competency frameworks lag behind the real world

Serge Ravet says that the way we validate learning has become outdated. Diplomas are based on old standards that no longer apply to rapidly changing working life.

He gives an example of hiring an IT professional.

“If you are recruiting a new programmer, diplomas are obsolete. The curriculum might include learning Pascal, which is nonsense. Instead, you go to Github and see what kind of projects the candidate has been working on.”

Ravet uses the metaphor of the tail wagging the dog to describe our current approach to validation. A competency framework should be a reflection of the real world, not the other way around.

“Institutional validation makes people slavish. If there’s no competency framework in place, people feel lost. And instead of imagining new ways to do things, they just copy old ideas”.

“A competency framework should be a reflection of the real world, not the other way around.”

He reminds us that societies have not always been like this. Competency frameworks were not in wide use before the 20th century.

“People built cathedrals and railways nevertheless. Apprentices were taught by their masters and individual recognition was done by peers and sponsors. Society was an ecosystem of recognition, and this is what we should go back to,” he says.

From disciplinary-based diplomas to open diplomas

According to Serge Ravet, the problem of educational validation could be fixed by replacing the current competency framework with a more flexible one.

Instead of traditional, discipline-based diplomas, he would rather see universities using the idea of a blank diploma and ratings from 1 to 8 based on the European Qualification Framework (EQF). 

“This would encourage the educational institute to recognise prior learning and learn what is going on in the real world, and the students would be able to pick studies from different domains instead of following a strict curriculum.”

Another way to encourage and recognise learning, especially in working life, is by using Open Badges, Ravet says.

An Open Badge is essentially a digital image that displays a specific achievement – which can be anything – and contains metadata about both the recipient and issuer together with the supporting evidence.

Ravet explains that digital badges are useful for companies, because they allow them to become more agile by identifying the skills and competencies within their organisation.

“IBM, for example, is making a big thing about Open Badges. When you need a new competency for a specific task, you can look at your own organisation and identify people who already have it, or create a new badge and provide the training,” he says.

Adult education and civil society

One problem with validation, according to Serge Ravet, is that it is something that happens in the end, as a result of learning. He believes that this is the wrong approach.

“Instead, recognition should begin when the learning begins. Imagine a teenager who wants to become a doctor. The person could claim a badge that states this, and begin to build a visible learning path towards that goal”.

Talking about lifelong learning and validation, Ravet stresses the importance of individual initiative and informal recognition:

“If learning is validated by an institution, people feel like they are back in school. It is important that validation is initiated by the people themselves. Recognition precedes knowledge, and learning centres should be places where we are recognised and also learn how to do it.”

The reciprocal nature of recognition is one of its key strengths, says Ravet.

“If you take the initiative to recognise someone else, and this person accepts it, it is also a recognition for you. It is an extremely empowering and emancipating tool”.

In the end, moving from validation to recognition is all about building a better society.

“A society based on recognition is an invitation to move from ego-recognition (me) to eco-recognition (us) – to build a society which is peaceful, civil and free,” he says.

Serge Ravet

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Tuomas MacGilleon is a freelance journalist based in Tampere, Finland. Interested in science and how it affects our everyday lives. Contact: Show all articles by Tuomas MacGilleon
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