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Validation of non-formal and informal learning – a holistic approach by Scotland

EPALE’s Thematic Coordinator for Quality, Andrew McCoshan, looks at practices in Scotland and finds there is much that will be of interest to practitioners in other countries.

EPALE’s Thematic Coordinator for Quality, Andrew McCoshan, looks at practices in Scotland and finds there is much that will be of interest to practitioners in other countries.

Compared to many other countries, Scotland has a well-developed approach to validation of non-formal and informal learning (or recognition of prior learning – RPL) that goes back several years.  Three aspects particularly stand out:

  • RPL is embedded in the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF);

  • The use of RPL is encouraged and supported through the provision of guidelines and resources.

  • There is clarity around the type of support learners need – facilitation.


Embedding RPL in the system

RPL is integral to the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF): six of the 25 principles related to the SCQF are dedicated to RPL, as set out in the SCQF Handbook. These include the specification that RPL is to be given for learning and not just experience; that qualifications and learning programmes related to the qualifications framework should facilitate and promote credit recognition for RPL; and that SCQF credit points awarded through RPL have the same value as credits awarded through formal learning. They also specify that RPL assessment and monitoring procedures should be integrated into existing quality procedures.  Core Principles for RPL are also set out, as shown in the box below.


 Core principles of RPL in Scotland

RPL should be …

Learner-focused – a gateway and not a barrier to learning with the learner's needs being paramount.

Accessible – applicable to all learners at all levels, with the availability of appropriate advice and guidance, and processes that are easy to understand and implement, and with RPL being an integral part of learning provision.

Flexible – able to accommodate the range of learning needs, goals and experiences

Reliable, transparent and consistent, so that there is confidence in the outcomes.

Quality-assured, with RPL underpinned by quality assurance mechanisms, and with help being available for learners from facilitators able to help them reflect on their experiences and to draw out what has been learned.

Source: RPL Toolkit, pp 9-10


Supporting the providers of RPL

Alongside these elements, a range of support is available to RPL providers and learners through the SCQF partnership. The SCQF website provides guidance for employers and learners as well as education institutions. An RPL tool directs individuals or organisations to relevant information depending on the type of learning for which recognition is being sought and the type of outcome the RPL applicant desires (e.g. the awarding of a credit towards a qualification or entry to other learning programmes). Along with this online support, regular introductory workshops are offered for learners and practitioners.  There is also an SCQF RPL Network.


Being clear about what the support role means

Support also includes a 58-page Facilitating the Recognition of Prior Learning: Toolkit which contains guidance handouts for learners and ideas for activities to be undertaken with people who want prior learning validated, based on materials developed through a Socrates-funded project. Importantly, the toolkit stresses the role of facilitation in RPL. This is critical because learners have to demonstrate orally and/or through written work the skills and knowledge they have gained outside formal learning. This involves reflecting on their experiences, and drawing out from them what has been learned, which requires the help of a facilitator.

Key roles for facilitators include:

  • providing learners with information and guidance on RPL;
  • helping learners to understand the ways in which they can learn through their experience and the RPL process;
  • helping learners to understand how their non-formal and informal learning relates to learning outcomes of their required qualification/learning programme. 

Facilitators need not only be educators: they can also be line managers, supervisors, mentors, or experienced colleagues.


Secrets of success

A broad approach is clearly taken to validation in Scotland.  Not only is it formally embedded in the qualifications and credit system, but there is a recognition that developing the use of validation processes needs practical support, as well as clarity of thought about how best to support learners.  It is probably no accident that this is underpinned by strong focus on collaboration that involves the full range of stakeholders – another important lesson from Scotland.

Andrew McCoshan has worked in education and training for over 25 years. For more than 10 years he has specialised in policy development studies and evaluations for the EU. Andrew is currently a freelance consultant and an ECVET Expert for the UK. He has also been the expert on quality for the ESF Transnational Learning Network on mobility for disadvantaged youth and young adults.

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