Validation of non-formal and informal learning

BIBB project elicits expert assessment of possible scenarios

Katrin Gutschow, Julia Jörgens

Various approaches towards according better recognition to non-formal and informal learning have been tried in Germany over recent years. A BIBB research project is now evaluating how relevant stakeholders assess various options for structuring validation procedures in terms of chances of realisation, expected benefits and risks. The present article outlines the background to the project and the methodological approach adopted.

Validation of non-formal and informal learning

The validation of non-formal and informal learning is a central element of European educational policy alongside the European Qualifications Framework and related national frameworks. The term “validation” is understood to mean “a process of confirmation by an authorised body that an individual has acquired learning outcomes measured against a relevant standard” (Council of the European Union 2012, p. 5). The aim is that validation procedures will provide visibility of competences which have been acquired in the workplace, at home, during leisure time or via voluntary work. One of the things called for in the Council Recommendation of 2012 on the validation of non-formal and informal learning was the introduction of national validation systems by the year 2018. Validation procedures generally comprise four phases, each of which may be structured differently according to context:

  1. Identification,
  2. Documentation ,
  3. Assessment of learning outcomes,
  4. Certification of the results of the assessment (in the form of a qualification, or credits leading to a qualification, or in another form, as appropriate)
    (cf. Council of the European Union 2012, p. 3).

A current publication by CEDEFOP (2016) also indicates the numerous possible ways of designing the validation of non-formal and informal learning.
Validation procedures may have diverse objectives, which differ according to the bindingness of the evaluation criteria and breadth of the competences considered (cf. Figure).

Validation in Germany – a broad and promising pathway

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In Germany, validation of non-formal and informal learning following the four-phase sequence described has not thus far been implemented either for a specific educational area such as vocational education and training or in a cross-cutting manner. However, there have been numerous initiatives and projects to develop instruments in which the main focus is on the identification and documentation of competences. Some of these procedures are linked to certain contexts, regions or target groups. Others, such as the “Profilpass”, are capable of general use in order to summarise a person’s own competences in the form of a personal assessment.

“Admission to the final examination in special cases”, the so-called external regulation (pursuant to § 45 Paragraph 2 of the Vocational Training Act, BBiG/§ 37 Paragraph 2 of the Crafts and Trades Regulation Code, HwO) offers vocational education and training a procedure which facilitates access to the regular final examination via evidence of occupational experience. Although the external regulation accords a high degree of consideration to informal and non-formal learning with regard to access to the examination, it does not provide for credit transfer or for certification of learning outcomes demonstrated.

Within the scope of the Professional Qualifications Assessment Act (BQFG), which entered into force on 1 April 2012, full or partial equivalence with German vocational qualifications can be granted in non-regulated occupations for qualifications acquired abroad. The general emphasis here is on recognition of different formal learning, and the main focus is on a comparison of curricula.

However, these procedures only cover some of the conceivable cases. A uniform national recognition system for Germany is not yet in place. In a current study conducted via the BIBB “Expert Monitor” (cf. VELTEN/HERDIN 2006, p. 13), 70 per cent of respondents are in favour of such a system.

The expert view of possible scenarios

The introduction of a recognition system is associated with questions relating to appropriate reference standards and suitable institutional structures and is equally linked with issues such as the legal framework that may be required, financing models and quality assurance. The aim of the BIBB project “Introduction of procedures for the validation of non-formal and informal learning – requirements and possible options” is to seek evaluation of these aspects from experts. Assessments are acquired via future research methods featuring a combination of scenario planning and Delphi forecasting.

The aim of representing scenarios as possible future situations is to align perception in a targeted manner to certain delineated sections of a potential future picture. The scenarios contain the description of an environment in accordance with conceivable future general conditions and strategy alternatives, i.e. specific action options. The alternative strategies describe how validation procedures could be implemented with different objectives, reference standards, financing regulations and target groups.

Against the background of a culture of competence development as part of lifelong learning, a broadly defined assessment of competence supported by public funding could be a starting point both for continuing training advice and for the validation of competences. A validation procedure could also be designed for a specific target group such as low-skilled persons. One possible outcome of a procedure would be a vocational qualification or documents which describe the status of competences using a vocational qualification as a reference. Another model would be a validation process which operates in an activity-oriented way with a sole focus on integration in the labour market.

Environmental conditions which play a role in the establishment of validation procedures include digitalisation and internationalisation. Will document folders remain widespread in future, or will genuinely digital documentation formats become prevalent? What will be the significance of standardised computer-aided forms of competence assessment?

Six scenarios are described in detail and presented to 350 experts in the form of a Delphi survey. Respondents comprise experts from various areas of the educational and employment system, as well as including representatives from the field of academic research and from institutions which offer or document learning activities on a voluntary basis. The emphasis is on assessments relating to the chances of realisation, expected benefits and risks of the individual scenarios. A second survey phase takes place in which participants receive feedback on the nature of previous responses. The objective is to identify evaluations from the expert group with regard to the desirability, predictability and potential benefit of certain procedures.
The results of the project will be available at the end of 2017 and aim to show necessary developments and areas of potential innovation as well as revealing possible barriers to the introduction of validation procedures. Requirements with regard to the quality of instruments for competence assessment are particularly important within this context. A high degree of trust in the meaningfulness of validation processes is deemed to be a major criterion for their acceptance. The intention is to draw up quality criteria for this purpose. This will create empirical foundations for systematic further development of an aspect of the educational system which continues to grow in importance.


CEDEFOP: European Guidelines on validation of non-formal and informal learning. Luxembourg 2016

COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION: Council Recommendation of 20 December 2012 on the validation of non-formal and informal learning – URL http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-16153-2012-INIT/en/pdf (retrieved: 10.08.2016)

VELTEN, S.; HERDIN, G.: Anerkennung informellen und non-formalen Lernens in Deutschland : Ergebnisse aus dem BIBB-Expertenmonitor Berufliche Bildung 2015 [Recognition of informal and non-formal learning in Germany – results from the 2015 BIBB Expert Monitor]. Bonn 2016

Research Associate in the “Customer Service Occupations, Cross-Cutting Tasks” Division at BIBB
Dr., Research Associate in the “Customer Service Occupations, Cross-Cutting Tasks” Division at BIBB

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 5/2016): Martin Kelsey, Global Sprach Team, Berlin