Recognition of prior learning should be a human right
Kirsten Aagaard, head of the Programme for Prior Learning (Program for Realkompetence, or NVR) retired in May 2017. Kirsten has been a major influence in the field of prior learning, always focused on solutions and international experiences and with a willingness to test, research and disseminate knowledge and challenge the prevailing paradigms.
By Joan Rask
There are some people whose need for a prior learning assessment will never be spotted - not even after meeting with guidance counsellors who ought to be familiar with the rules, says Kirsten Aagaard, who up until May 2017 was the head of the VIA University College Programme for Prior Learning, formerly known as the National Knowledge Centre for Validation of Prior Learning (NVR).
Ever since the recognition of prior learning was introduced in Denmark approximately 15 years ago, Aagaard has fought tirelessly to ensure that people who possess competences they cannot document with a degree get their knowledge and experience on paper.
“Unfortunately, the quality of the guidance varies too much. If everyone encountered the same high standards that the best counsellors offer, we as a nation would get so much more out of these people,” Aagaard said.
Good guidance in connection with a prior learning assessment can amount to a new start for a person.
“Some people find themselves at a crossroads, and a prior learning assessment can be the eye-opener that shows them what their strengths are, allowing them to make use of everything they’ve learned through life,” said Aagaard.
Quality on several levels
A strong area of focus for Aagaard and the Programme for Prior Learning is delivering quality guidance. Specifically, the guidance takes place at schools, job centres, unions, organisations, companies and educational institutions, etc.
“There is a huge gap between those who provide guidance and those who assess a person. Integrity is key, and unfortunately, this area still suffers from a lack of professional competences,” she noted.
One of the Programme for Prior Learning’s core work areas is to develop methods, tools, knowledge and competences so that counsellors and assessors can provide the service that people need - and are entitled to.“There are many [counsellors and assessors] who are bad at seeing the potential in an individual,” said Aagaard.
She points to the fact that institutions and employers play an immensely important role. If they fail to prioritise continuing training and education and make time and opportunities for counsellors and assessors, they have no real possibility of providing the guidance people are entitled to. Changing that state of affairs will require new attitudes and long processes of change in the labour market, but there are several instruments that can be utilised in this regard. Legislation and research & development projects also play a major role.
A legislative requirement in France
The European map of prior learning assessments shows Denmark as lagging slightly behind. Many years of countless conferences, EU projects and Nordic cooperation forums have given Aagaard a good overview of the situation. She finds that the area is given high priority in the EU, typically through development funds where practitioners focus on quality, methods and competence development.
“Denmark is probably a bit behind the best when we compare ourselves to other nations in Europe,” said Aagaard.
France, for instance, has a long history of approving non-formal and informal competences. In fact, the right to formal guidance with the opportunity to have one’s competences documented is enshrined by law. According to Aagaard, this could also become the case in Denmark, but it will require an increased effort at the political level. And she has one piece of advice in that regard.
“Denmark must adapt its efforts so that they become cross-sectoral. This will require funding for research and specific experiments, but we can see that it works, both in economic and human terms, and we should therefore definitely continue these efforts,” she said.
She argues that it especially has to do with cooperation between job centres, unemployment insurance funds (a-kasser), guidance institutions, companies and educational institutions, allowing people to progress through a continuous cycle of education and work.
“After all, that’s what lifelong learning is all about,” she said.
Are the educational programmes ready?
“The question is also whether the educational institutions see the potential inherent in recognising all the competences each student brings to the table,” said Aagaard.
Recent studies in the field have shown that many schools and educational institutions completely fail to take advantage of their students’ experience-based knowledge, but fortunately there are also others that have an admirable track record in this regard.
“For example, there are some vocational schools that are really making strides and taking advantage of the extra experience these students possess. It’s important that we consider the use of prior learning as part of a lifelong learning process,” said Aagaard.
She notes that there are also studies which have indicated that students who are admitted into an educational programme through a prior learning assessment have lower drop-out rates than ordinary students.
“I think they’re more focused and have a clearer picture of what they want,” she said.
About prior learning
Prior learning comprises an individual’s overall knowledge, skills and competences, regardless of where and how they were obtained. This includes formal learning, non-formal learning and informal learning.
Prior learning includes competences obtained in both the formal education system in working life, e.g. when we learn on the job or participate in a competence-developing process at a place of employment. It also includes competences acquired in the third sector, e.g. through studying at a folk high school, participating in activities in recreational associations or actively volunteering in a voluntary organisation, network, etc.
About the recognition of prior learning
Recognition of prior learning is a continuous process that primarily entails clarification/mapping, documentation, assessment and recognition.
Prior learning assessments are conducted by educational institutions. The assessments are conducted in relation to the educational standards, admission requirements and competence goals that have been established for the programme that the individual wishes to be assessed against. The educational institutions are responsible for the specific guidance and advice about the prior learning assessment process once a person has identified one or several educational goals or admission requirements that they wish to be assessed against.
Other actors may be responsible for providing information, clarification, guidance and advice in a more general sense in the phase preceding a prior learning assessment. These actors include trade unions, job centres, unemployment insurance funds, adult education institutions, regional centres for guidance on higher education and careers, eGuidance and a person’s workplace. This often happens in partnership with educational institutions.
The Programme for Prior Learning
The programme helps collect, develop and disseminate knowledge about the recognition of prior learning. It was established in 2007 by the Ministry of Education and received funding for a 3-year period. The programme is now part of VIA University College, under the VIA Lifelong Learning research centre.
As of 1 May 2017, the head of programme is Bodil Husted, firstname.lastname@example.org
Councils and networks
Kirsten Aagaard has served as a member of:
- The Nordic Network for Adult Learning (NVL) expert network for validation (since 2008) under the Nordic Council of Ministers
- The reference panel for EPALE Denmark
- The reference panel under the Programme for Prior Learning, approx. 24 national actors including the two ministries
- Continuous collaboration with the Central Denmark Region
- Collaboration with Cedefop, e.g. with assignments at their conferences on prior learning (2013 & 2016)
- Member of EUCEN, the European University Continuing Education Network. http://www.eucen.eu/
- Continuous collaboration with Dutch EV-VPL at Ruud Duvekot
- Continuous collaboration with Madhu Singh and Jørgen Carlsen at the Unesco Institute for Life Long Learning.
Ongoing projects at the Programme for Prior Learning:
- Nordic Network for Adult Learning (NVL) R&D project on quality in the work with prior learning in collaboration with Linköping University and Turku University and NVL.
- Knowledge-based implementation of the VET reform, mini funding pool project under the Ministry of Education. Theme 3: How results from prior learning assessments can be incorporated and actively used in the organisation and implementation of adult vocational education and training.
- Knowledge platform on the recognition of prior learning at academies of professional higher education and university colleges (a sector-driven initiative authorised by the Ministry of Higher Education and Sciencehttp://viden-om-realkompetence.via.dk/
- IKV-pro, a R&D project focused on individual prior learning assessments in relation to university college programmes. To be concluded by summer 2017 with the publication of a collection of articles. www.nvr.nu
- Yggdrasil (inter-regional project with Danish, Swedish and Nordic partners). Focused on developing a competence certificate which can be used prior to the actual prior learning assessment.
- VINCE, KA3: The aim of the project is to provide insight into EU countries’ integration of refugees and immigrants through recognition of prior learning. http://vince.eucen.eu/
- EffectVPL, Erasmus+ project. The overall aim of the project is to contribute towards improving the effectiveness of policy and practice in relation to the recognition of prior learning, where effectiveness is defined and assessed on the basis of the benefits an individual achieves through their prior learning assessments and where benefits are characterised by paving the way for an individual’s future education and work.
Key publications by Kirsten Aagaard:
Olesen, H.S. og Aagaard, K. (red.) 2016: IKV, Individuel Kompetencevurdering ved professionsbacheloruddannelserne - Livslang læring i praksis. www.NVR.nu.
European Inventory on Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning, 2010, 2014, 2016: Country Report: Denmark. http://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/events-and-projects/projects/validation-non-formal-and-informal-learning
Aagaard, K., Duvekot, R., Halba, B., Gabrscek, S. & Murray, J. (red.) 2014. The power of VPL: Validation of Prior Learning as a multi-targeted approach for access to learning opportunities for all. European Centre for Valuation of Prior Learning. 271 s. (VPL Biennale; nr. 1)
Aagaard, K. 2013. Denmark: The linkage between RVA-NQF and lifelong learning. Linking Recognition Practices and National Qualifications Frameworks: International benchmarking of experiences and strategies on the recognition, validation and accreditation (RVA) of non-formal and informal learning. Singh, M. & Duvekot, R. (red.). Hamburg: UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning
Aagaard, K. og Ulla Nistrup 2012. Anerkendelse af realkompetencer - sådan gør vi: Eksempelsamling
Aagaard, K. & Dahler, A. M.(red) 2011. Anerkendelse af realkompetencer - en antologi. Århus: ViaSystime.
Aagaard, K. & Dahler, A. M.(red) 2010. Anerkendelse af realkompetencer - en grundbog. Århus: ViaSystime.
Aagaard, K., Nordentoft, A., Karttunen, A., Hardarson, H., Laurusdottir, F. M., Röstad, S., Haddal, O. & Kahlson, A. 2010. Udfordringer i arbejdet med anerkendelse af realkompetence (ARK)/ validering i de nordiske lande
Nistrup, U. & Aagaard, K. 2009 Taler vi samme sprog, når vi taler om IKV, RKV og anerkendelse af realkompetencer? I : Fokus på realkompetencer.