Validation of prior learning (VPL) is possible in all sectors of education and training in Norway (Hawley & Ure, Cedefop 2014). Central education authorities and social partners have played an important role in the development of validation of prior learning in Norway, which was initially developed during a project period in 1999–2002.
The Norwegian concept of prior learning (“realkompetanse”) refers to all formal, non-formal and informal learning acquired. In reality, this means the sum of the overall skills and knowledge individuals have acquired through the education system, paid and unpaid work, organizational work, family life and life in society. The national curricula from primary and secondary education and study plans in the vocational colleges and the higher education institutions are being used as criteria for validation. Certification from validation may lead to reduced study time within formal education, or it may be used in working life as proof of formal competence. Adults who have the right to primary or upper secondary education and training have the right to validation of prior learning and a certificate of competence.
VPL in primary and upper secondary education, including vocational training (VET), is regulated by law in The Education Act (Paragraph 4A). In short, the right to upper secondary education is limited to persons older than 25 years and without prior upper secondary education. The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training is the national entity responsible for laws and regulations in VPL in primary and upper secondary education. The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training published National guidelines for validation in primary and upper secondary education in 2014. In tertiary vocational education, the validation for admission was introduced in The Act on Vocational Colleges from 2003. The possibility to give exemption from parts of programmes based on validation was introduced at this level in 2013.
Since 2001, adults without enough formal qualifications can have their prior learning assessed to gain admission to higher education. At the same time, the higher education institutions were authorised to give exemption from parts of study programmes based on an assessment of prior learning. In 2015/2016, there were carried out 3,085 validations at the upper secondary level. In 2016, 6,076 adults applied to higher education studies based on validation of prior learning and 46 per cent were assessed as qualified. In 2018, 29 inmates in Norwegian prisons had their prior competence validated.
Validation of prior learning has been on the political agenda in Norway for many years. As part of the Competence Reform (1998–2003), skills centres (formal adult education) were established in Norwegian municipalities and counties to assess and document the formal, non-formal and informal skills with national curricula as criteria for validation. Dialogue-based methods were combined with portfolio assessment, self-assessment and possibly vocational testing. The National Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (NQF) was agreed upon in 2011 and was referred to EQF in 2014. NQF describes qualifications from the formal education system only, but by emphasising the importance of learning outcomes the framework can be a help in opening up education systems to recognition of prior learning and credit transfer arrangements. Validation of prior learning will not directly place a person’s skills acquired at work or in other activities in the NQF, but it may indirectly do so, as a part of the requirements for obtaining a qualification in the education system.