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5 ECTS & lifelong learning

Recognising prior learning

Recognition of prior learning and experience

Higher education institutions should be competent to award credits for learning outcomes acquired outside the formal learning context through work experience, voluntary work, student participation, independent study, provided that these learning outcomes satisfy the requirements of their qualifications or components. The recognition of the learning outcomes gained through non-formal and informal learning should be automatically followed by the award of the same number of ECTS credits attached to the corresponding part of the formal programme.

As with formal education, the award of credits is preceded by an assessment to verify the achievement of learning outcomes. The assessment methods and criteria should be constructed to measure the achievement of the required learning outcomes at the appropriate level, without reference to specific learning activities or workload. For example, ‘participation in classroom discussion’ of the subject matter would no longer be considered in assessment, whereas the corresponding learning outcome of ‘constructing arguments while interacting with a group’ would become relevant. Appropriate staff should be appointed in each department or subject area, who should have the formal authority and training to award credits for learning outcomes acquired outside the formal learning context on the basis of transparent criteria established and published by the Institution. It should be understood that they will be expected to report on, and document, their decisions through regular reports to an appropriate committee (e.g. at departmental, faculty or institutional level).

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Assessment of prior learning

There is a wide range of assessment methods for recognising prior learning and experience. One of the assessment tools is a portfolio method. Portfolios include documents that learners have collected in order to reveal individual skills acquired in various ways.

A portfolio takes into account a collection of materials that verify skills and knowledge acquired through previous experience in non-formal and informal learning. A portfolio includes references from employers and supervisors; it may include a performance appraisal, CV and other documents. By using a portfolio the assessor analyses a range of information that learners have provided. Learners may require help and advice when preparing their portfolios.

Institutions should develop recognition policies for non-formal or informal learning. These policies should include elements such as advice, feedback to learners on the results of the assessment and the possibility for learners to appeal. Institutions should also create facilities for advice, counselling and recognition of non-formal and informal learning. These may take different forms depending on national and institutional practices (e.g. they may exist within single higher education institutions or as joint centres for several institutions). Institutions’ policies and practices should be published prominently on their websites.

Recognising non-formal and informal learning helps make HEIs more socially inclusive. Widening access opportunities for learners from professional life and a range of non-traditional learning environments helps make lifelong learning a reality. Institutions should be particularly open to the recognition of vocational education and training.

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Awarding credit to non-formal or informal learning

The process of awarding credit to non-formal or informal learning has four main stages:

  1. Initial advice and guidance (what does the process involve for the learner, the credit limits for non-formal/informal learning; what are the costs, roles and responsibilities of learner and tutor/advisor; and different learning pathways to a qualification).
  2. Support (reflective process; understanding learning outcomes; identifying own learning outcomes; evidence gathering and selection).
  3. Recognition/assessment (assessment of evidence of achievement of learning outcomes and assessment criteria).
  4. Award of credit (credit awarded through this process is of same value as credit gained through formal learning).
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The European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET) was established through a Recommendation of the European Parliament and the Council in 2009 (2009/C 155/02).

ECVET is intended to facilitate the transfer, accumulation and recognition of assessed learning outcomes of individuals who are aiming to achieve a qualification in vocational education and training (VET).

Like ECTS, ECVET facilitates and supports students in shaping their own learning pathway through accumulation of credits – whether within a certain institution, from institution to institution, from country to country, and between different educational sub-systems and contexts of learning (i.e. formal, non-formal and informal learning), and helping them to build on their individual learning styles and experiences.

Like ECTS, ECVET is based on the notion of 60 credits, but the allocation of credits is a different one. Often ECVET is used to record and accumulate assessed learning outcomes, without a conversion in credit points. Therefore, instead of credit conversion, the recognition of learning from VET should be based on learning outcomes.