Those working to develop and deliver education and training have access to a number of European tools and frameworks to facilitate the recognition of learning, and learning outcomes, yet, these are often reliant on the use of complex terminology that does not easily cross national or institutional borders, as Paul Guest found out at a recent event in Scotland.
In a two-day Peer Learning Event (Glasgow, Scotland, 18-19 September 2018), professionals and practitioners from 15 European countries explored complementarities among National Qualifications Frameworks (NQFs), the European Credit system for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET) and the European Commission’s Upskilling Pathways initiative.
Upskilling Pathways: through a series of three key steps - skills assessment; provision of a tailored flexible and quality learning offer; and validation and recognition of the skills acquired - the Upskilling Pathways initiative aims to provide adults who have low levels of knowledge, skills and competence with opportunities for acquiring and improving literacy, numeracy and digital skills as well as for acquiring skills relevant to the labour market and for active participation in society.
Specifically, participants considered the mechanisms adopted in different European countries for aligning units, modules or partial qualifications with specific levels on national qualifications frameworks. There was also a need to consider if and how the principles and components of ECVET (qualifications based on units of learning outcomes; assessment, validation and recognition steps; mechanisms for the transfer and accumulation of learning) might help in successfully delivering the Upskilling Pathways initiative. Examples of policy and practice were provided from five different countries (Hungary, Ireland, Norway, Poland and Scotland) with a view to prompting a wider discussion.
Making the terminology meaningful for practitioners
Workshop discussions centred on the practicalities of learning delivery and learning recognition for adults. Whilst acknowledging the benefits of banking or accumulating learning achievement, participants found the use of differing terminology a challenge, referring ultimately to qualifications and components (rather than units, modules and partial qualifications) and to learner achievements (rather than credits or credit values).
The value of learning outcomes
In terms of complementarity among the different European policy tools and frameworks, it was positive to see how participants from different countries, and with differing professional backgrounds, came to agree on how the use of learning outcomes – statements of what a learner knows, understands and is able to do at the end of a learning process – might facilitate the delivery of skills assessments or skills audits (Upskilling Pathways: Step One). It was also recognised how learning outcomes might facilitate the development and delivery of tailored learning provision for adults (Step Two).
Validation can be complex
Discussions on validation and recognition (Step Three) were rather more complex. Persistent terminological discussions led to some questioning of the point at which a component becomes a qualification in itself. This was compounded by references to component-based assessment being resource-intensive and by references to what national qualifications and credit systems and frameworks might allow in terms of recognising adult learner achievement.
Putting the learner at the centre
Having been invited to provide some final observations, I chose to highlight the importance of having a learner focus at the heart of all future discussions. After all, whilst it might take time for professionals and practitioners to arrive at the same place, the upskilling of adults in basic and wider skills is a common goal.
I also took the opportunity to underline the fact that, irrespective of the initial learning ambition, be this basic skills or something more vocation-oriented, learner engagement is key, as is the terminology that we use to engage learners. In this respect, it is important to ensure that we talk of the value and benefits of learning for specific stakeholder audiences, including learners and prospective employers, avoiding more complex systems-level language.
Better exchanges are needed between policy actors and practitioners
It was also acknowledged by many participants, especially during the final day, that, whilst a meeting of peers might prompt active and valuable discussion and debate during a two-day event in Glasgow, more needs to be done to ensure a cross-fertilisation of information and ideas among policy actors and practitioners, working in adult, community and wider education, at both national and European levels.
Paul Guest has worked in the fields of education, training and guidance for much of the last 30 years, both nationally and internationally. Residing in Scotland, Paul now provides training, research and consultancy services to a broad range of clients across Europe, including Scottish Government and the European Commission, operating predominantly in the fields of education, training and guidance. Paul is an active member of the UK ECVET Expert Team and an affiliated expert to the ECVET Secretariat. All views and opinions are his own.