Introduction Validation of non-formal and informal learning has relatively long and established roots in Finland and the legislation and policies are well developed and detailed. However, there is no one single law regarding validation of non-formal and informal learning, but laws and regulations for each field of education define validation separately. These fields include general upper secondary education, vocational education and training (including adult VET), and higher education. The core message of the legislation is that validation of non-formal and informal learning is a subjective right of the individual and the competences of an individual should be validated regardless of when and where they have been acquired.
- Non-formal learning can be acquired in, for example, continuing education, training organised by workplaces and liberal adult education.
- Informal learning can be acquired in everyday situations such as work, hobbies and elected positions.
In 2018, validation of non-formal and informal learning has gone some elaborate changes. The legislation was transformed, and the Act on Vocational Education (630/1998) and The Vocational Adult Education Act (631/1998) was combined to single Act: Vocational Education and Training Act (531/2017). The reasons for the changes were to simplify the system in terms of legislation and give more freedom and flexibility to meet competence needs.
The very basic idea: previously acquired competence of adults should be identified
In adult education the competence-based vocational qualifications system offers an opportunity for adults to obtain upper secondary, further and specialist vocational qualifications based on the principle that full and partial competence-based qualifications can be awarded regardless of how and where the competences and knowledge have been acquired. Recognition of prior learning is at the very core of this system and, in principle, candidates can obtain such qualifications without any formal training at all. This means that there are no requirements to complete a certain amount of studies and the requirements are described in terms of learning outcomes. A personal competence development plan is now drawn up for each VET learner at the beginning of the VET programme (both in initial and continuing), usually within the first weeks. The plan is drawn up by the teacher or guidance counsellor together with the learner and, when applicable, a representative from the world of work. It must be updated during studies, as needed. This plan includes information on various aspects: identification and recognition of prior learning; how and which missing skills are acquired based on the learner’s current competence and the qualification requirements; how competence demonstrations and other demonstrations of skills are organised; and what guidance and support may be needed. Based on this approach, learners only study what they do not yet know. Their prior learning and work experience is assessed at the beginning of studies by the teacher and/or the guidance counsellor. Training providers are responsible for guiding candidates through this process.
Legislation grants a subjective right for validation of non-formal and informal learning in the different fields of formal education. In general, in upper secondary education, in higher education and in vocational education and training; validation procedures are constantly being developed and they are becoming more widespread and popular.
Validation in Higher Education Institutions
In Finland the most extensive developments in validation over the past few years have taken place in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Prior to 2010, first steps towards establishing validation procedures and raising awareness were taken in HEIs. After 2010, however, the development seemed to gain more momentum through realisation of concrete, more systematic approaches to validation in HEIs. New guidelines to validation in Higher Education (HE) have been developed. Those include prior learning from formal, non-formal and informal contexts.
The University of Applied Sciences Decree (352/2003 §14) (Valtioneuvoston asetus ammattikorkeakouluista) states that a student may - according to the decision of the University of Applied Sciences - accredit or substitute studies linked to the degree in question, also through competences gained in non-formal or informal contexts.
The Universities Act (558/2009 §44)(EN) (Yliopistolaki) states that: “The student may, as determined by the university, have knowledge and skills attested in some other manner counted towards the degree or substitute studies in the degree syllabus with knowledge and skills attested in some other manner.”
Validation and the third sector
In Finland, only formal education providers can give a formal certificate or diploma a qualification through validation in the Finnish system. The third sector (for example adult education centres) organisations provide their own certificates. One good example from this is Open Badges. These badges are designed to recognise and acknowledge the valuable informal learning.
Many organisations in the third sector are active in developing Open Badges for validating the competences learners have gained in associations, voluntary work, skills and attitudes. With Open Badges learners can set goals and build learning paths more easily and organisations can use badges to engage learners. Examples for Open Badges titles are following: “Dream Team Worker”, “Fair Coach”, “Enthusiastic Reader”.
Read more about validation of non-formal and informal learning in Finland from Cedefop’s report. The report can be founded from here.