Validation of non-formal and informal learning

The notion of giving credit in higher education for learning that takes place outside the university was first raised by the European Commission in the Memorandum on Higher Education in the European Community (1991), issued by the then Task Force on Human Resouces, Education, Training, Youth:
‘The mainstreaming of continuing education raises a number of essential academic issues which must be resolved. Foremost among these is the question of access and the basis on which continuing education students and mature students generally are admitted to higher education courses. The positive policies which are to be observed in some institutions and which give credit for maturity and for knowledge and experience gained in the labour market would need to be adopted on a wider scale, as would the provision of preparatory courses which supply the basic preparation relevant to embarking on a particular course of higher education.' (p24)
It next appeared in 1995 in a White paper which stated that the identification and validation were an important part of realising lifelong learning, in particular making visible is learned outside formal education and training, recognising a diversity of learning situations and settings and looking for credibility and authenticity of such learning.
This orientation was confirmed in 2000 in documents launching the lifelong learning perspective. The Memorandum on Lifelong Learning published by the Commission on 30 October 2000 ("Commission Staff Working Document: A Memorandum on Lifelong Learning") states: "lifelong learning sees all learning as a seamless continuum from cradle to grave". It identifies "three basic categories of purposeful learning activities":

  • formal learning takes place in education and training institutions, leading to recognised diplomas and qualifications;
  • non-formal learning takes place alongside the mainstream systems of education and training and does not typically lead to formalised certificates. Non-formal learning may be provided in the workplace and through the activities of civil society organisations and groups;
  • informal learning is a natural accompaniment to everyday life. Unlike formal and non-formal learning, informal learning is not necessarily intentional learning.

These intentions were confirmed by the Communication from the Commission published one year later, on 21 November 2001, "Making a European area of lifelong learning a reality" after a European wide consultation of governments and stakeholders. The Commission gave its definition of lifelong learning "all learning activities undertaken throughout life, with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competences within a personal, civic, social and/or employment related perspective. The breadth of this definition also draws attention to the full range of formal, non formal and informal learning activity". And the Commission announced that initiatives would be taken by the end of 2002 initiating a systematic exchange of experience and good practice in the field of identification, assessment and recognition of non formal learning.
Since then, more or less all documents on Lisbon, Bologna and Copenhagen Processes have referred to this intention, reflecting the increasing political attention given to learning that takes place outside education and training organisations.
In the Copenhagen declaration, the European Ministers of Education and Training stated that there was a need to "develop a set of common principles regarding validation of non formal and informal learning with the aim of ensuring greater comparability between approaches in different countries and at different levels".
In the Berlin Communiqué, Ministers responsible for Higher Education stated that they were taking steps "to enhance the possibilities for lifelong learning at higher education level including the recognition of prior learning. They emphasise that such action must be an integral part of higher education activity".
In the Report from the Education Council to the European Council "on the concrete future objectives of education and training systems" which set out the contribution of education and training to the Lisbon Process, it identified the need for "inclusive and coherent education and training systems, which are attractive both for young people and adults, as well as a strategy which overcomes the traditional barriers between various parts of formal education and training and non-formal and informal learning". And the 10 year workplan stipulated that Member States should "develop ways for the official validation of non formal learning experiences".