Certification of knowledge and experience

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Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) means validation and confirmation, among others, by earning a certificate of competences (knowledge, abilities and social skills) acquired by adults in the course of learning outside of academic institutions or while gaining professional experience. How can various international solutions related to the recognition of learning outcomes be applied in Polish reality? Scientists involved in the project carried out at the Faculty of Management and Social Communication at the Jagiellonian University are attempting to find an answer to this question.

The main idea of RPL is the recognition of all learning outcomes, regardless of where and when the learning process took place. This refers to formal learning (classes at school or at an academic institution), non-formal learning (e.g., training courses), or informal learning (e.g., self-learning process).

An answer to challenges of modern times

RPL is an essential solution that is being intensely developed throughout the world as part of the activities related to lifelong learning. Unfortunately, this method has remained unknown in Polish universities so far. Without recognizing the results achieved outside the formal education system, so-called lifelong learning (i.e., learning throughout one's whole life), is just an empty idea. RPL is what enables people to access formal education upon recognizing the results of education achieved outside this system. It is an essential tool both from the point of view of each member of society and for the labor market itself, as it provides individuals with an opportunity to return to the educational path.

However, the main advantage of this method is the fact that it allows people to model their own development processes and career paths in a flexible way. People, who have worked in a given profession successfully for several years although they do not have a formal education in the area, may receive a formal confirmation of their competences. RPL also relieves them from the necessity to follow traditional curricula, providing them with an opportunity to participate in a modular form of education. It also allows for the certification of competences for the purposes of the labor market. Formal confirmation of acquired knowledge and skills is particularly important for so-called excluded groups, as it prevents young people from "falling through the cracks" of the education system and provides them with a "second chance" – an opportunity to obtain qualifications.

Polish reality

The adaptation of the principles of Recognition of Prior Learning to the reality of Polish universities is the task of the Jagiellonian University team. Polish scientists are supported by partners from the United Kingdom (Edinburgh Napier University), France (Université Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne), and Croatia (Institute for the Development of Education). "Our work consisted mainly of analyzing RPL solutions existing throughout Europe, and then in the adaptation thereof to Polish and, partly, Croatian conditions, based on the experiences of our Scottish partner," explained Professor Grażyna Prawelska-Skrzypek, Project Manager. "As project leader, the Jagiellonian University undertook the task consisting of the execution of the first Polish venture concerning the creation of RPL solutions," Professor Prawelska-Skrzypek added. The developed solution also takes into account the status of legal regulations in Poland, as well as the experience from the functioning of RPL centers dealing with recognizing competences from various countries.

As the experiences of the Edinburgh Napier University prove, RPL is also beneficial for the universities that implement it. The application of this system allows for an improvement of the fulfillment of expectations imposed on universities both by national authorities and by the labor market. It influences, among others, increased access to higher education, which enables the education of adaptable and highly competent workers and to strengthen the cooperation between the university and business. RPL offers an opportunity to focus on the need to change the role performed by academic institutions so far. This refers both to the transfer of knowledge and to the acquisition of specific skills. The common application of RPL leads to the transformation of the anachronistic belief that learning is inseparably linked to staying inside the walls of an academic institution.

RPL essentials

Within the project, the team of researchers created and tested procedures guaranteeing transparency, which may constitute guidelines for the Recognition of Prior Learning processes in Polish universities. These included the development of a step-by-step guide explaining to those interested what they should do in order to obtain a formal confirmation of their acquired knowledge and skills. On the other hand, a publication was prepared for universities, which contained practical guidelines developed by the project team focused on a way of establishing a recognition center at the university, as well as the its organization and management.

Additionally, the scientists published a scientific book that presents an outline of the main issues and challenges of RPL, particularly including those in Poland and Croatia. What is important is the fact that all of the studies, reports, forms and guides are available online and free of charge, on the Creative Commons license (in Polish and English language versions with portions in French and Croatian). This will enable universities to use the developed solutions based on the best global practices, free of charge.

RPL people

The project also involved the training of the first Recognition of Prior Learning assessors. They are members of academic staff whose task will be to assess the applications for the recognition of learning outcomes obtained outside the formal education system. "Our assessors took part in a pilot project, during which we assessed competences obtained in areas such as: strategic management, project management and human resources management. Applications were filled by a geologist, a sociologist and a chemist, among others – people who manage projects and teams on a daily basis, who are involved in strategic management on regional level, and who at the same time do not have any formal confirmation of their qualifications in these areas," Professor Prawelska-Skrzypek explained. First, the applicants participated in a meeting with an RPL advisor who helped them compare the self-learning results obtained by them with the learning results defined in the syllabi of the courses at the Jagiellonian University. Then the applicants prepared their portfolios. They contained evidence confirming the obtaining of certain learning outcomes in the course of nonformal and informal learning process (training course certificates, opinions of supervisors, scopes of duties in the positions held, etc.). The materials were then analyzed by the assessors and were followed by an oral exam.

The regulation that is currently subject to proceedings in the Parliament will allow for the legal sanctioning of the RPL in higher education. This will mean that applicants whose learning outcomes have been assessed as equivalent to the learning outcomes of academic education will not have to take classes in the subjects when starting a studies program, as they have already mastered those results. These learning outcomes will be recognized and awarded a passing grade pursuant to the RPL procedure.

Research team: Professor Grażyna Prawelska-Skrzypek – Project Manager; Beata Jałocha, PhD – Head of the Project Office; Professor Barbara Kożuch; Roman Batko, PhD; Grzegorz Baran, PhD – RPL Assessors