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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Validation of non-formal and informal learning


8.Adult education and training

8.5Validation of non-formal and informal learning

Last update: 15 February 2024

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

The main route to first cycle (bachelor) degree programmes in Finland is through an upper secondary qualification and to second cycle (master’s) degree programmes is through a bachelor qualification. However, according to Universities Act and Universities of Applied Sciences Act, a person is eligible for studies leading to higher education degree also if the university or the university of applied sciences (UAS) deems otherwise the person to have sufficient knowledge and skills for the studies.

The Universities of Applied Sciences Act (932/2014, 37 §) (Ammattikorkeakoululaki) and the Universities Act (558/2009, 44 §) (Yliopistolaki) state that a student may - in accordance with the decision of the higher education institution - have his/her prior studies credited for, when studying for a degree or specialisation studies. 

In addition, a student may have prior learning demonstrated in some other manner substituted for studies belonging to a degree or specialisation studies syllabus or counted towards a degree or specialisation studies. In universities, there is no upper limit for the number of credits that can be gained through validation. However, the final thesis cannot be replaced by validation.

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 organisations (for example adult education centres) provide their own certificates. One good example 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 “Dream Team Worker”, “Fair Coach”, and “Enthusiastic Reader”.

More information 

Read more about validation of non-formal and informal learning in Finland from Cedefop’s report. The report can be founded from here.