Non-formal and informal learning are an integral and institutionalized part of the education and training system. In addition to recognition procedures in formal education and the labour market, steps are also being undertaken to promote lifelong learning with the long-term aim of providing more effective ways of achieving recognition of competences acquired through non-formal and informal routes in different educational domains.
Challenges and opportunities
With regard to challenges associated with validation of non-formal and informal learning, Germany does not have an overall strategy for validation. The comprehensive nature of education and training system in Germany has resulted in comparatively low levels of demand for the recognition of competences acquired in the non-formal education sector. This is because the dual system rests upon a combination of school and work-based learning, which makes explicit the inclusion of experiential learning within the official models, reducing the need to assess non-formal education acquired outside the formal system (Straka, 2006a). In addition, the formal system is informed by Berufsprofile (vocational profiles) representing a clearly defined set of qualifications and competences, indicating both learning content and learning outcomes. All of these factors contribute to the high value afforded to the formal system. Alternatives such as non-formal education face significant obstacles in systems in which each step is planned in relation to other social partners (Straka, 2006b). However, there is a growing demand for non-formal learning in Germany.
Data from Germany suggests that across the board, individuals who change professions or place of employment more frequently tend to make greater use of non-formal learning to expand their range of competences. There has been a notable increase in non-formal work-related Continuing Vocational Education and Training (CVET) in Germany.
Moreover, self-assessment of continuing learning by adults suggests that learning takes place more often in non-formal ‘lessons’ and informal settings than in formal courses. It is possible that the certification and documentation of informal learning, increasingly favoured in Germany, could contribute towards encouraging individuals with less access to formal and remedial learning to make better use of this form’s potential for future learning (BMBF, 2008).
National standards, policy and framework activity
One of the objectives of the German Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (DQR), launched in May 2013, is to improve opportunities for the validation of results of non-formal and informal learning in order to encourage access to lifelong learning (DQR, 2011). DQR has a holistic approach to the concept of competences, seen as comprehensive ability to act. Moreover, DQR is open to encompassing competences not only acquired through formal but also through non-formal and informal pathways. An eight-level structure, adopted to cover all the main types of German qualifications, aims to make each qualification level accessible via various educational routes. Despite the lack of a uniform legislation on Recognition, Validation and Accreditation (RVA) at the national level, Germany has developed a variety of approaches located in RVA policy and legislation within its education and training system.
VET contains legislation for validation of non-formal and informal learning. This includes an examination for external students under paragraph 45 (2) of the Vocational Training Act and paragraph 37 (2) of the Crafts Code. In VET, individuals with previous work experience can sit an examination (Externenprüfung) following a vocational apprenticeship comprising alternating work and training segments. Admission to this examination must be preceded by a period of employment at least one and a half times the length of the prescribed training period for that particular occupation. This minimum period may be waived if candidates can demonstrate vocational expertise that justifies admission to the examination; The Vocational Qualifications Assessment Law (BQFG), introduced in April 2012, permits individuals to have their foreign-acquired qualifications matched to a German qualification by a competent authority (BMBF, 2012). Although the law focuses on comparing formal qualifications, appropriate work experience can be recognized where formal certificates are missing (see BQFG Paragraph 3, Section 1). Through an external examination (Schulfremdenprüfung, Externenprüfung), candidates can acquire a general education school leaving certificate in all federal states that fulfills the residence and minimum age requirements and satisfies the requirement for evidence of appropriate examination preparation.
Within the higher education system itself, two decisions made by the KMK provide the basis for validation. The first refers to access to higher education for qualified workers and is in place since March 2009. People that hold certain vocational qualifications can be admitted to higher education without a proper upper-secondary qualification. The second decision concerns granting credits for competences acquired at work. Procedures to credit non-formal and informal learning were developed and tested in the ‘Transitions from VET to Higher Education’ (Übergänge von der beruflichen in die hochschulische Bildung). According to these decisions, knowledge and skills acquired outside the higher education system can be recognized up to a maximum of 50 per cent if the content and level are equal to those of the equivalent formal qualifications. Individual institutions of higher education and study programmes have implemented the practice of awarding credits for vocational competences towards higher education study programmes (ANKOM).
Although traditional assessment methods such as tests and examinations are used to assess outcomes from non-formal and informal learning against standards in vocational education and training, examinations are designed in such a way as to take into account active learning processes (Frank, 2011), so that competences from non-formal and informal learning can be assessed in an authentic and holistic manner. In fact, the concerned parties undertake structural and content-related changes in relation to training regulations regularly, with the aim of making assessments more authentic, particularly at the level of initial and continuing education and training. There are also several initiatives below the legislative level, in form of projects or stakeholder programmes. These relate mainly to identification and documentation of learning outcomes and are not generally linked to NQF developments. One of the most successful initiatives is the ProfilPASS system. It is a system of counselling and documentation of learning outcomes based on biographical methods. A working group was set up by the BMBF to explore ways of creating a systematic approach to validation, including further development of ProfilPASS into a validation instrument. The German Federal Council (Bundesrat) has yet to decide whether, when and how to implement arrangements for validation.
As Germany lacks a national system for validation, stakeholders’ roles are differentiated by the educational system’s sub-sectors. Below the legislative level, different stakeholders are involved in every sub-sector.
Representatives of all relevant stakeholders were involved in the development of the DQR, mainly through working groups and expert workshops: these include ministries of education, cultural affairs and economy, social partners, higher education institutions, vocational education and training organizations, general continuing education organizations and research institutes. The federal states define the parameters of higher education and the universities define the procedures. The federal government and social partners have equal roles in decision-making regarding vocational education, with decisions made by consensus.
BMBF (2008) highlights a series of legal, social and individual conditions that must be met to realize the vision of an open learning system:
- a social and legal foundation for RVA must exist;
- existing recognition procedures must be improved and new procedures developed with facilitated admission to courses or examinations;
- the system of documentation, recording and recognition with its intermeshing procedures must be transparent;
- a culture of trust with respect to self-evaluation procedures must be maintained; and
- the motivation and ability to perform and reflect upon self-evaluation, as well as a willingness and ability to continue learning must be preconditions for recognizing all forms of learning.
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CEDEFOP. 2014. European Inventory on Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning 2014: Country Report Germany. http://libserver.cedefop.europa.eu/vetelib/2014/87053_DE.pdf (Accessed 20 January 2016).
DQR. 2011. The German Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning. Adopted by the ‘German Qualifications Framework Working Group’. http://empleo.ugr.es/unilo/documentos/dqr_document_en_110322.pdf (Accessed 18 January 2016).
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Straka, G. A. 2006b. Zertifizierung informell erworbener Kompetenzen - neu für die bundesdeutsche Berufsbildung? In: M. Eckert and A. Zöller, eds. Der europäische Berufsbildungsraum - Beiträge der Berufsbildungsforschung. Bielefeld, Bertelsmann, pp. 205–216.
Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training