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Author - Kate Collins


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Content and structure of the article

This article outlines perceptions of the role of RPL in higher education and the labour market. The article is structured into six sections. Section one described the background to the research including the research context. Section two describes RPL policy at national and European levels. Section three presents an overview of the Delphi Survey and reasons for its use. Section four summarises the findings from the three survey rounds, and section five presents a discussion of the findings, highlighting three main points of discussion that emerged. Section six is a short concluding section to summarise the findings.

2. The Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) in this research

RPL is a significant component of skills upgrading initiatives tied to sustainable economic growth (Whittaker, 2009a). This is evident in the recent publication by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (2011) in Ireland entitled "Developing Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) in the context of the National Skills Strategy Up-skilling Objectives". The report also suggests the relevance of RPL for reducing unemployment by recognising and valuing people's skills, and providing relevant and flexible education and training that meets individual and enterprise needs by using resources effectively and avoiding duplication of training (Expert Group on Future Skills Needs [EGFSN], 2011). RPL for employers is also considered relevant for use in recruitment processes, to identify skills, and to effectively target resources for employee learning and development (Whittaker, 2009a). At an individual level the transformative potential of RPL is said to increase a learner's self-confidence and motivation to go on to further learning and development by shaping their identity as a learner (Merrill & Hill, 2003; Whittaker, 2009a; 2009b). It has also been found to impact on an individual's practice in the workplace as they grow in confidence (Whittaker, 2009b).

The National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI) defines the recognition of prior learning (RPL) as:

    Recognition is a process by which prior learning is given a value. It is a means by which prior learning is formally identified, assessed and acknowledged. This makes it possible for an individual to build on learning achieved and be formally rewarded for it. The term 'prior learning' is learning that has taken place, but not necessarily been assessed or measured, prior to entering a programme. Such prior learning may have been acquired through formal, non-formal and informal routes National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, 2005, p.2).
Identification and validation of informal and non-formal learning (VINFL) are the terms used for RPL in European policy rhetoric while the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) has maintained the term 'recognition' of informal and non-formal learning > (Werquin, 2008; 2010). The identification of non-formal and informal learning is about recording and making visible an individual's learning outcomes(Cedefop, 2009).

The validation of learning outcomes concerns the confirmation that learning outcomes acquired by an individual have been assessed against set criteria and are deemed to comply with the requirements by a competent body ((Cedefop, 2009).

Policy-makers at European and international levels have tended to focus on overcoming obstacles to RPL at a technical level, such as how to deal with the entrance of new stakeholders to the formal learning system, assessment methods, standards against which learning outcomes are measured, cost, and take-up (Werquin, 2008). Concerns over assessment relate to the social acceptance of qualifications gained through the recognition of non-formal and informal learning and the potential to undermine formal education (Werquin, 2010a). (see Murphy (2010b) finds that RPL systems trying to mimic formal codified systems exacerbate perceptions that experiential learning outcomes need more rigorous assessment. The issue of the cost of recognition is raised by many commentators (see (Cedefop, 2008; Davidson & Nevala, 2007; Smith, 2004; Werquin, 2008; (2010) as RPL is an individualised process although examples such as in the OMNA project attempted to achieve economies of scale through group APEL (OMNA-DIT/NOW, 2000).

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