Recognition (non-formal, informal education)

The Recognition of non-formal and informal education and learning, from the European Council in Lisbon in 2000 to the Europe 2020 strategy, is configured as a useful process to make professional practices, which may become socially and culturally recognisable, visible. Recognition as it is, contains a double meaning in terms of identifying and certifying. The identification of the competences acquired by a person becomes crucial because the learning outcomes differ from person to person and can be obtained in different contexts. For many people to discover and become aware of their capacity it is in itself a valuable process to return. The non-standardized identification of non-formal and informal learning poses a considerable methodological challenge (Cedefop, 2015, p. 16). The certification can take different forms, but is commonly the award of a formal qualification (or part-qualification). In enterprises or economic sectors, certification may also involve issuing a licence allowing the individual to carry out specific tasks. Whatever the case, validation reaching the stage of certification requires a summative assessment officially confirming the achievement of learning outcomes against a specified standard. It is crucial that this process is managed by a credible authority or organisation. The value – or the currency – of a certificate or qualification acquired through validation largely depends on the legitimacy of the awarding body or authority. The use of summative approaches (see also Section 5.1) for validating non- formal and informal learning needs to be strongly linked – preferably integrated – into national qualifications systems (Section 3.3). Some countries have chosen to issue separate certificates or qualifications for non-formal and informal learning. While this might be appropriate in some settings, there is risk of creating A and B certificates where those resulting from validation are seen as inferior. Establishing validation of non-formal and informal learning as a normal route to qualifications – in parallel to the traditional route of formal education and training courses and programmes – could imply a legal right to validation. Such a right, as already found in some European countries, would guarantee access to a qualification, but not specify the learning path on which it is based. This might take several forms and will depend on the constraints and opportunities offered by the national legal and political context (Cedefop, 2015, p.18).

In the actual context, work as a social centre of gravity is in crisis and its function to guide individual paths must tackle other guidance criteria and new forms of certification. In this situation, recognition guarantees membership of a professional community and therefore makes one legitimate to exercise, practice and participate in the knowledge on which it feeds. In this perspective, recognition can be an interesting remedy for the fragmentation of personal and professional identity as well as a method to balance social inequalities. As matter of fact, recognition could overcome the old system of formal qualifications placed in first and second class categories, identifying people’s real capacities. It therefore implies a radical reinterpretation of the models of education, training and work, a restructuring of the concept of professionalism and expertise that redistributes the values of the reality of the job and education markets (Giddens 1990; Berger & Luckmann 1966).

Validation is a key aspect of lifelong and life-wide learning policies because the awareness of one’s own skills may be an opportunity to re-plan one’s career in professional and educational terms. In light of continuous changes in the forms of work and professionalism required, this becomes an instrument of growth and continuous improvement.

Validation, according to the European guidelines, is characterized in four phases:

  • identification,
  • documentation,
  • evaluation,
  • certification

through a systematic reflection on significant and relevant learning experiences of the subject regardless of the context in which they occurred. It is based on national standards of qualifications and can be a tool to create new forms of knowledge because it makes more visible transversal knowledge that in traditional paths of formal learning it would be more difficult to detect (Cedefop, 2015, pp. 14-18).

In YOUNG_ADULLLT considering the certification process leads us to reflect on how the validation models can rebuild behavioural regularity in the contemporary turbulence related to life course de-standardization. The process of recognition, validation and certification of skills acquired in formal, non-formal and informal contexts is valuable not only in terms of professional, but also personal development. In light of the constant changes in the forms of work and professionalism required it becomes an instrument of acquisition of awareness of one’s own skills and an opportunity for growth and continuous improvement to re-plan one’s career. Taking into account the political economy approach we can ask to ourselves if the policies and the processes and tools of recognition used in the various countries reflect a specific kind of cultural approach or if they fit well also with the “real” needs of the addressees. Are they proposing old remedies and prescriptions for new needs, or are they really creating a new way to support people’s employability and to fit with their training needs.


Berger, P. L. & Luckmann, T. (1966). The Social Constrution of Reality, New York, Garden City.

Bjornavold, J. (2009). Validation of non-formal and informal learning in Europe: key developments and challenges. The quality of higher education 2009/6, pp. 36-71.

Cedefop (2015). European guidelines for validating non formal and informal learning, Luxembourg: Publications Office.  Cedefop reference series No. 104. Available online:

Council of the European Union (2012). Recommendation of 20th December 2012 on the validation of non-formal and informal learning. Available online:

Giddens, A. (1990). The Consequences of Modernity, Cambridge, Polity Press.

Portwood, D., Garnett, J. & Costley, C. (2004). Bridging rhetoric and reality: accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL) in the UK. Universities Vocational Awards Council, Bolton.

Werquin, P. (2010). Recognising non-Formal and Informal Learning. Outcomes, Policies and Practices, OECD, Paris.

(Mauro Palumbo & Sonia Startari)