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Recognition of students' informal learning gains ground as a response to societal challenges

In a fast-evolving technology-rich environment, people are expected to update their knowledge and skills through activities that may not always be acquired through formal learning. These informal activities are now more and more recognised as pre-requisites to enter higher education institutions. 

prior learning
© giulia forsythe 2012
Prior informal and non-formal learning includes demonstrated on the job and private learning experiences.

What matters more in today's labour market: having a qualification or having the knowledge, skills and competences to work? The answer isn't easy: most people probably think that relevant knowledge, skills and competences should matter more, but that very often it's qualifications that count.

A similar question can be asked for higher education programmes: is it more important to meet formal entry requirements, or to demonstrate the potential to benefit from the programme? The problem is that, until recently, there has been little alternative to formal qualifications as a means for higher education institutions to assess students' potential. So the message was: if you haven't got these qualifications, don't apply.

However, Eurydice evidence shows that higher education is changing to respond to new societal demands. In a fast-evolving technology-rich environment, people expect to develop their knowledge and skills through learning activities which may, or may not, be explicitly designed as formal learning. There is also an increasing demand from adults at different stages of their working lives to benefit from higher education programmes. Institutions wishing to meet this demand need to find ways of recognising and validating relevant learning achievements regardless of where the learning has taken place.

Since 2004, European institutions have supported national developments in this field through various initiatives. These efforts resulted, in December 2012, in the adoption of the Council Recommendation.The theme of recognition of prior learning in higher education has also been addressed in several Eurydice reports produced in relation to the Bologna Process and the Modernisation Agenda (namely Adults in Formal Education: Policies and Practices in Europe; Modernisation of Higher Education in Europe: Funding and the Social Dimension 2011; The European Higher Education Area in 2012: Bologna Process Implementation Report).

An overview document, Recognition of Prior Non-Formal and Informal Learning in Higher Education , brings together the information published in these reports in summary form for policy makers, practitioners and all those with an interest in the topic. The main focus is on the extent to which recognition of prior learning opens alternative access routes to higher education, and allows those who already possess relevant knowledge and skills to progress more rapidly in their studies. While countries are moving at different speeds, the evidence shows that reality is changing faster than is often acknowledged.


Authors:  David Crosier and Andrea Puhl

Last update: 12/12/2013  Print | Top of page