Flexibility through Learning Outcomes: Implications for Quality
Elpida Keravnou-PapailiouChairperson KYSATSUniversity of Cyprus
Presentation OutlineFlexibility in learningIncremental development
Is a convergence between traditional and non-traditional learning pathways possible?Common learning outcomesAgreed quality standards
Learning and associated effort
Flexibility in Learning(for higher level qualifications)tentative definitionA state of affairs whereby learners can move horizontally or vertically, within and across diverse forms and hence learning pathways (formal, non-formal, informal) transferring and accumulating learning achievements (across or within the different learning routes) where diverse spatio-temporal frames are permitted and the formal accreditation/certification of the learning achievements is possible.
Is the proposition of full flexibility in learning a viable one?This would depend critically on whether
The same or at least comparable learning outcomes could be potentially achievable through diverse learning pathways
The potential means for assessing such learning outcomes could credibly assure quality
open and distance learningcreditsdiscrete cyclesLEARNING OUTCOMESNQFflexibility in learningVETHEIncremental development of learning flexibility
Is a convergence possible?Formal Learning Well established and understood HEIs have major/exclusive role Transfer/accumulation of credits well defined Well established criteria & procedures for recognition of qualifications (LRC) ESG for QA Point of reference for higher level qualifications
Non-formal/Informal Learning Early stage (Bologna Stocktaking 2007) Other actors apart from HEIs No standards for the transfer/accumulation of credits No European quality standards
Role of Qualifications Frameworks?FLILNFLquality standards
Quality StandardsMinimum requirements regardingSpecification of actual learning outcomes for particular qualifications (cycles/disciplines)
Criteria and procedures for the validation and certification of the achieved learning
Criteria and procedures for assessing the assessors
Quality in Learninggrounded on following premisesActual learning outcomes may be specifiedIndependently of learning settings and curricula, andEveryone understands the same thing about them
The means for assessing the learning outcomes are valid and fit for purpose, and the assessors and credible and competent for this task
Learning Outcomesfor higher level qualificationsCannot be confined to practical skills and competenciesDomain knowledge figures as a major component
Learning outcomes (level descriptors) in qualifications frameworks are abstract statements, open to widely different interpretations
Example Scenario:acquiring a PhD degree in an informal learning settingThe person (a researcher) is carrying out self-directed research at workplace
S/he publishes results in scientific journals
An authority that has the right to award PhD degrees assesses the learning outcomes (research results) and awards this person a PhD degree
In the example scenario thetraditional quality standards for PhD degrees are adhered to, namelyContribution to knowledgeThe publications demonstrate this
Publishability of research resultsNot just publishable, they have been published
Potential to do independent researchHas been doing so all along
Thus in the example scenario quality has not been adversely affectedWhat about, though, the more basic Bologna cycles, the Bachelor and Masters degrees
Questions arisingCould the learning experiences from following a formal Bachelor/Masters programme be ever comparable to the learning experiences accruing from an informal work-based context, albeit of many years duration?
Questions arisingCould such comparisons be unfair? But is it fair to grant the same recognition to substantially different learning achievements underpinned by different quality standards?
Questions arisingShould it be acknowledged that within the same level/cycle there could be distinct types of qualifications based on the learning setting, e.g. academic, professional or vocational Bachelor or Masters degrees?
Qualifications FrameworksBologna Stocktaking 2007:
Observation: the procedures for the recognition of prior learning are at an early stage of development in the majority of countries
Recommendation: link recognition of prior learning with the development of NQFs and with systems of credit transfer and accumulation
Qualifications FrameworksDec 2007 issue of European Journal of Education
the concept of a QF is critically analyzed in an evidence-based manner
the ability of QFs to promote and accredit informal learning is questioned
few countries have fully fledged NQFsthese have evolved over a long period and are still evolving
NQFs are not a panacea and a solution to everythingIn parallel with the development of NQFs, flexibility in learning should be grounded on agreed European quality standards for learning settings outside the formal setting
Learning and associated effortLearning is measured
Qualitatively through its (learning) outcomesQuantitatively through the effort leading to the outcomeseffort translates into credits of some kind
ECTS couples outcomes with credits (learner workload)
But there is also ECVET
Learning and associated effortDevelopments call for different time-frames to learning
However the notion of learning effort cannot be abolishedshould be defined in a way applicable to different learning settings
Flexibility in learning should not come to mean that it would be easier to acquire some qualification through non traditional learning pathwaysif anything the effort outside the formal setting for a comparable learning achievement should be highercf the example scenario with the PhD degree
ConclusionsFlexible learning is an acknowledged necessity for a knowledge societyHEIs should have a significant role in flexible learningcf June 2008 supplement of EUA Bologna Handbook
There is an urgent need to agree on European standards for quality, outside the formal learning settingSpecification and validation of learning outcomesQuality assurance of assessorsFormal setting should continue to be the reference point for higher level qualifications
Discussion Question 1Can non-formal/informal learning achieve the same or at least adequately comparable learning outcomes as those obtained through programmes of formal study at the three Bologna cycles?
Discussion Question 2Can qualifications built on, or incorporating non-formal/informal learning have the same or comparable value as those achieved through formal programmes of study? Would it be advisable to introduce a typology of 1st, 2nd and 3rd cycle qualifications based on the learning pathway followed?
Discussion Question 3How can the European standards and guidelines for quality assurance be extended to include quality standards for non-formal/informal learning?