Informal learning:formal recognition

As a result of using either a sophisticated Learning Management System or a simple spreadsheet, we know how to record the outcomes, assessment results etc of formal learning.  We also know how to use those records for certification or qualification purposes.  Learning records are included on our CVs and in this sense are somewhat precious.  Formal learning is recognisable and recognised.

We are also aware of the value of informal learning; the things we learn from others, through work place and life experiences.  Depending on what research you have confidence in, up to 80% of what we learn comes to us in this informal manner. But it seems to me that what we struggle with is formal recognition of informal learning!  Do we need to collect information about exposure to informal learning?  How can we verify success as a result of exposure to informal learning?  Or is it just the fact that people can perform with the assistance of informal learning interventions (eg. performance support) that is important?  Does anyone care?

Well, if you have pondered these issues you are not alone.  Recognising that informal learning represents a rich source of human capital, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has completed an extensive study within 22 of OECD’s 30 member countries investigating how the recognition of informal learning can generate net benefits to individuals and society at large.

The OECD makes a distinction between formal, non-formal and informal learning.  We know what formal learning is.  OECD suggests that non-formal is learning embedded within planned activities not explicitly designated as learning.  In previous Blog posts I have referred to this as “Engineered Performance Support” – a component of Un-structured Learning (the other component being “Collaborative Performance Support”.  Informal learning is defined by OECD as learning that rfesults from daily activities related to work. family or leisure.

The OECD study deals solely with non-formal and informal learning and is concerned essentially with recognition of the outcomes of this learning rather than recognition as a means of acquiring knowledge, skills and competencies.  It argues that the former kind of recognition requires the latter to be culturally accepted by the public and main stakeholders.  Clarifying exactly what “recognition” means in this context is discussed in length and early in the report three areas are highlighted for debate:

  • recognition of learning – for a host of reasons, including cultural reasons, and while non-formal and informal learning may be recognised it is rarely documented and when it is there are often references to things like “previous experience” which implies the process is not really official.
  • recognition of learning outcomes – the need for recognition to be made with reference to established standards which give currency to the qualification awarded through a certification process.
  • recognition of qualifications – with the focal point being the certificate (or transcript) rather than the learning outcomes and the need to consider if non-formal and informal outcomes formalised in this way have any social value.

Another interesting point to note is that the use of terminology to describe “prior learning” used by various countries suggests that ready acceptance of non-formal and informal learning may be more advanced in some countries over others! Just an observation.

  • Australia – RPL Recognition of prior learning
  • Belguim – Recognition of acquired competencies or knowledge
  • Germany – Recognition of knowledge, skills and competencies acquired by non-formal and informal means
  • Iceland – Recognition of real competencies
  • Norway – Documentation and validation of formal, non-formal and informal competencies
  • United Kingdom (England) – APL – accreditation of prior learning; APEL – assessment of prior and experiential learning; RARPA – recognising and recording progress and achievement in non-accredited learning (which frefers to non-formal learning)
  • United Kingdom (Scotland) – Recognition of prior informal learning

When I looked through the OECD Report, I was surprised (and pleased) that a good deal of activity is underway, across the globe, to break through barriers in formalising the recognision (and value) of informal learning and further that much of the focus is associated with wider economic benefit.

It is not possible to summarise the complete study here but if you feel inclined the following link takes you to the full document (including an Executive Summary).

Acknowledgement of Copywrite: Werquin, Patrick. Recognising Non-Formal and Informal Learning: Outcomes, Policies and Practices, OECD Publishing, (2010)

Informal learning:formal recognition – Learning Cafe