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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.4 Validation of non-formal and informal learning

Last update: 25 January 2021
On this page
  1. Arrangements for the validation of non-formal and informal learning
  2. Information and guidance
  3. Quality assurance


Arrangements for the validation of non-formal and informal learning

The general purpose of processes for validating non-formal and informal learning is to widen participation in formal, further and higher education amongst those who lack the relevant formal qualifications, for whatever reason. The recognition arrangements are aimed at ensuring that there are no arbitrary and unnecessary barriers to admission or progression that might disadvantage particular groups, rather than targeting particular groups themselves.

Within regulated (general and vocational) qualifications

The term 'community learning and development' describes a wide range of informal and non-formal learning, provided by different types of institution , including:

  • community-based adult learning, including adult literacies and English for speakers of other languages (ESOL)
  • community development (building the capacity of communities to meet their own needs, engaging with and influencing decision makers)
  • youth work, family learning and other early intervention work with children, young people and families
  • volunteer development
  • learning for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in the community, for example, people with disabilities, care leavers or offenders
  • learning support and guidance in the community.

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is the process for recognising learning that has come from experience and/or previous formal, non-formal and informal learning. This article deals with the recognition of non-formal and informal learning.  The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) demonstrates the relationship between qualifications by assigning a level of difficulty or demand to all mainstream qualifications.

It is a principle of the SCQF that the design and development of qualifications and learning programmes for the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework should facilitate and promote credit recognition for prior informal and non-formal learning and credit transfer. 

See the article ‘National Qualifications Framework’ in the Eurydice national education system description for more about the SCQF.

Schools, colleges, universities, professional bodies and employers may all use RPL processes and they are autonomous in the policies and procedures they adopt, particularly where RPL is used formatively (i.e, as part of continuous assessment) for personal development, career progression etc. Summative (or final) assessment, leading to the award of credits, however, may only be carried out by organisations which have been approved by the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership and they are encouraged to adhere to guidance issued by the partnership, although this is not mandatory. 

The approved organisations are known as Credit Rating Bodies (CRBs) and are education providers who have been authorised to carry out credit rating – i.e. they assign an SCQF Level and SCQF Credit Points to learning so it can be recognised on the SCQF. These bodies include universities, colleges and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). A full list is on the SCQF website.The Credit Points awarded as a result of RPL for informal or non-formal learning are of the same value as credit gained through formal learning.The SCQF is fully compatible with the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS).

Within higher education

For higher education, the UK Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) has developed a Quality Code. QAA Scotland has devolved responsibility for the work of QAA in Scotland. Chapter B6:Assessment of Students and the Recognition of Prior Learning of the Quality Code says  that consideration should be given to the appropriateness of assessment tools for the nature of the prior learning to be assessed. Examples of tools that might be used include:

  • a portfolio of evidence
  • a structured interview
  • completion of a piece of work accompanied by a reflective account of the learning achieved
  • artefacts
  • a performance-based assessment
  • completion of the assessment used to demonstrate learning in the module/programme for which comparability is being claimed.

Other common tools include observation at the workplace, questionnaires and oral interviews.There are no specific qualifications required for staff involved in validation, although The UK Quality Code for Higher Education - Chapter B2: Recruitment, Selection and Admission to Higher Education states):

Higher education providers are vigilant to ensure that all those authorised to make decisions on behalf of the provider about whether or not a place should be offered to a prospective student are fully briefed, and competent to do so. Staff responsible for validation are supported in developing their professional competences by the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) Partnership  which offers free workshops for advisers/trainers in the use of the My Skills, My Future toolkit (see below).

The SCQF Partnership also offers online user guides to recognition of prior learning for both learners and learning providers.

Further information:

The Chapter 'Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning' in the Eurydice education system description for Scotland.

Scott, D. (2016). European inventory on validation of non-formal and informal learning - Country Report UK (Scotland) - 2016

The European Higher Education Area in 2015 2018: Bologna Process Implementation Report.

For information on validation of learning outcomes in formal education, see the subheading 'Certification' in the article 'Assessment in General and Vocational Upper Secondary Education' in the Eurydice national education system description for Scotland.

For validation of learning outcomes from volunteering, see the article ‘Skills recognition’ in the ‘Voluntary Activities’ chapter.


Information and guidance

My Skills, My Future is a suite of resources provided by the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership aimed at supporting individuals in identifying the skills they have gained from sources other than formal qualifications.The resources are aimed primarily at young people who have left, or may be about to leave school with few or no formal qualifications. They can, however, also be used with young people who may have been made redundant from their first job, adult returners or the long term unemployed. The toolkit helps them to develop a set of competency based statements that can be used in a CV, to access further training or to use in job applications. Individuals can then work with advisers to agree a future plan of action based on their strengths.

UCAS (the universities and colleges admissions service) has drawn up structured profiles of some assessed programmes followed by UK students which are not externally accredited to any of the regulatory frameworks. These can be used by higher education providers to inform their admissions decisions, allowing admissions staff to compare less familiar programmes with ones that are more familiar.

Chapter B2: Recruitment, selection and admission to higher education of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education says:

Providers decide what information they will make available and how it can be communicated most effectively to the diverse range of prospective students and their advisers. Such information may include: details of the recognition of prior learning for the purposes of meeting entry requirements...

The chapter on assessment of students and the recognition of prior learning in the UK Quality Code for Higher Education gives, as an indicator of sound practice, that:

Those who might be eligible for the recognition of prior learning are made aware of the opportunities available, and are supported throughout the process of application and assessment for recognition.

Applicants benefit from being engaged in discussion and negotiation about the form(s) of assessment to be used in their case, and from having a shared understanding of the learning that would need to be evidenced as well as the nature of the evidence to be provided.


Quality assurance

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) for the award of SCQF Credit Points must involve a formal assessment or acceptance of evidence of learning which is quality assured. The assessment procedures for RPL, including Credit Transfer, should be consistent with the normal assessment and general quality assurance of the organisation.

A robust quality assurance system is one of the criteria required of organisations by SCQF for approval as a credit rating body (CRB).. Once approved, CRBs are subject to external quality assurance. This is carried out by Education Scotland for colleges; by the Scottish Government and auditors for the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA); by the Quality Assurance Agency (Scotland) (QAA Scotland) for higher education institutions; and by the SCQF Partnership for other CRBs.

For higher education institutions (HEIs), the Quality Assurance Agency’s Quality Code for Higher Education is the definitive reference point.