Questions & Answers
Learning outcomes are statements of what a learner knows, understands and is able to do on completion of a learning process (see the 2008 Recommendation on the European Qualifications Framework - EQF).
Usually, qualifications frameworks indicate the overall level of learning outcomes in a qualification. For ECVET purposes the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) is used as a reference for levels.
Learning outcomes can be used for various purposes such as to establish descriptors of qualifications frameworks, define qualifications, design curricula, assessment, etc. Learning outcomes are set out in various levels of detail depending on their purpose and context.
Learning outcomes are developed in the process of designing qualifications. There are different approaches to identifying and describing learning outcomes depending on the qualifications system.
Learning outcomes may be acquired through a variety of learning pathways, modes of delivery (school-based, in-company, workplaces etc.), in different learning contexts (formal, non-formal and informal) or settings (i.e. country, education and training system ...).
Learning outcomes are described using the terminology and descriptors existing in the different qualifications systems.
The European definition of learning outcomes, which uses the terms of knowledge, skills and competence (see the EQF Recommendation), is the common denominator that fits with the diversity of approaches to describing learning outcomes.
ECVET does not provide a template or a taxonomy concerning the format of learning outcomes descriptions. Such templates or classifications may exist at national, regional or system level (for example as part of a national qualifications framework).
However, it is essential in implementing ECVET, to ensure that learning outcomes for qualifications and units are clearly identified and described to enable mutual understanding of qualifications and judgments on:
- Whether the qualifications covered in the framework of an partnership for mobility lead to the same or similar occupation;
- Whether learning outcomes as described in one setting or context are comparable with those in another setting or context.
For further information about the description of units in terms of learning outcomes (see the sections on units).
For partnerships using ECVET in the framework of transnational mobility it may be useful to devise tools such as grids or templates to identify which learning outcomes can be addressed by mobility and to describe them in a consistent manner, in order to:
- Compare qualifications across the different qualifications systems.
- Highlight the similarities between qualifications and learning outcomes among the partner institutions.
- Identify which learning outcomes are not foreseen as part of the qualifications awarded by the partner institutions.
However the use of such tools depends on the needs of the partnerships.
To implement ECVET it is necessary that qualifications are described using learning outcomes. Learning outcomes are grouped to create units (see the Section on Units).
Assessed learning outcomes constitute credit. Credit is the basis for enabling the transfer between learning contexts and for the accumulation of learning outcomes (see the section on Credit Transfer and Accumulation).
In ECVET, learning outcomes are used as a basis for credit transfer and accumulation. Learning outcomes are not dependent on the learning process or the learning context in which they have been achieved and therefore it is possible to use them to identify whether what the learner has achieved in one learning setting or context is comparable to what s/he is expected to have achieved in another setting or context.
A unit is a component of a qualification, consisting of a coherent set of knowledge, skills and competence that can be assessed and validated (for this and all following quotes in italics see the ECVET Recommendation 2009).
Units enable progressive achievement of qualifications through transfer and accumulation of learning outcomes. They are subject to assessment and validation which verify and record that the learner has achieved the learning outcomes expected.
Depending on the existing regulations, units may be common to several qualifications or specific to one particular qualification. Units are accumulated based on the requirements to achieve qualifications. These requirements may be more or less restrictive depending on the tradition and practice of the qualifications system and the way qualification standards are designed.
Units can also be used to structure the formal education and training programme.
In countries where qualifications are not designed in terms of units or where they do not allow for the accumulation of units, it is possible to use ECVET for mobility purposes by creating units used only for mobility. The credit achieved for these units can then be transferred. The learning outcomes will be validated by exempting the learner from the corresponding part of the education and training pathway in the home institution (meaning s/he will not have to undergo the learning process again). However, these learning outcomes will only be recognised when the final assessment, leading to the award of the qualification, is successfully completed by the learner.
Units should be constructed and organised in a coherent way with regard to the overall qualification.
To group the learning outcomes into units it is necessary to identify those outcomes that relate to each other. There are different criteria according to which learning outcomes can be grouped into units and the choice of which criteria to use depends on the qualifications system. Examples include:
- The fact that the learning outcomes relate to the same set of occupational activities/tasks (for example the learning outcomes in a unit entitled “shampooing and hair treatment”);
- The fact that they are related to the same product or production technique (such as the learning outcomes in a unit entitled “prepare grilled dishes”);
- They can also be grouped according to the stages in the production process or process of performing a service (for example the learning outcomes in a unit called “informing the client about the nature of maintenance intervention”); or
- They can be grouped in a unit because they relate to the same field of knowledge, skills or competence (for example the competence in foreign language can form a separate unit).
VET qualifications can contain learning outcomes that are clearly linked to the capacity of a person to carry out a specific activity on the workplace but they often also contain learning outcomes referring to the key competences. It is up to the qualification system to decide whether the learning outcomes directly related to a specific occupational activity are grouped into units together with the key competences or whether (some of) the learning outcomes related to key competences form separate units.
Finally, as a general rule, the learning outcomes in a qualification should be assessed only once (unless the expected level of the learner’s performance is higher). Therefore the same learning outcome is normally not integrated into several different units. However, in some cases it may be necessary to define some knowledge, skills and competence that are related to all or a group of units - for example, those concerning health and safety; environmental protection; hygiene; or in some cases key competences. Even if these learning outcomes are common or transversal to the whole qualification, they should be clearly identified in the unit description.
Units should be described in legible and understandable terms by referring to the knowledge, skills and competence contained in them.
Unit descriptions are crucial for the success of ECVET processes because they are the basis for the transparency of qualifications. The unit description enables competent institutions and VET providers from different qualifications systems as well as the employers to understand the characteristics of units and of the assessment which has taken place in another context. Two aspects are important: the clarity of the terminology used as well as the way the text is organised in a user-friendly manner.
Unit specifications should include:
- the generic title of the unit;
In case of units concerning learning outcomes directly related to the exercise of specific activities/tasks or processes on the workplace, the title should be meaningful from the point of view of the labour market. It should also indicate the learning outcomes-based approach of the unit, in other words be encompassing of knowledge, skills and competence (rather than being related to a taught subject).
The clarity of units’ titles is particularly crucial for communication to employers.
- the generic title of the qualification (or qualifications) to which the unit relates, where applicable,
- the reference of the qualification according to the EQF level and, where appropriate, the national qualifications framework level, with the ECVET credit points associated with the qualification,
- the learning outcomes contained in the unit,
The amount of detail contained in the unit description should suit the purpose for which the description is being used and for whom it is intended. If the description is used to communicate about the content to the learners or employers, less detail will be needed than if the same description is also used to guide the assessment process.
It can be envisaged that a unit description has two levels: an abstract (used for general communication) and the detailed description (used by the teaching staff, assessors, etc.).
- the procedures and criteria for assessment of these learning outcomes,
- the ECVET points associated with the unit (for more information see the section about ECVET points),
- the validity in time of the unit, where relevant.
If the national standards specify additional requirements or restrictions for units and their description, for example restricted validity in time, these will also be contained in the unit specification.
ECVET points are a numerical representation of the overall weight of learning outcomes in a qualification and of the relative weight of units in relation to the qualification.
Together with units, descriptions of learning outcomes and information about the level of qualifications, ECVET points can support the understanding of a qualification. The number of ECVET points allocated to a qualification, together with other specifications, can indicate for example, that the scope of the qualification is narrow or broad.
The number of ECVET points allocated to a unit provides the learner with information concerning the relative weight of what s/he has accumulated already. It also provides the learner with information concerning what remains to be achieved.
Allocation of ECVET points to a qualification is based on using a convention according to which 60 points are allocated to the learning outcomes expected to be achieved in a year of formal full time VET.
For a given qualification, one formal learning context is taken as a reference and on the basis of 60 points per year of formal full time VET, the total number of points is assigned to that qualification.
In a number of European countries qualifications’ descriptions are independent of the education and training programme preparing for these qualifications. Furthermore, it is also possible that the same qualification can be prepared through various programmes. Therefore ECVET allocates points to qualifications and not to education and training programmes. However, to decide on the number of ECVET points allocated to a qualification, one formal learning programme is chosen as a point of reference. It is up to the competent institutions in charge of designing qualifications to decide which specific programme will be chosen as a point of reference (e.g. the initial VET or the most common programme). The duration of the selected reference programme together with the ECVET convention on ECVET points will give the number of ECVET points allocated to the qualification.
ECVET points are not to be confused with credit. While credit designates the learning outcomes the learner has achieved (see section below on Credit Transfer and Accumulation), ECVET points provide information about the qualification and the units. In other words while credit is related to a person and his/her personal achievement (credit does not exist on its own without someone having achieved it), ECVET points are linked to the qualification structure and description (independent of whether someone has achieved the qualification or not).
Credit can be transferred and accumulated if the competent institution recognises that the credit the learner has achieved is relevant and can be taken into account as part of the qualification the learner is preparing (or seeks recognition for). ECVET points provide information about the credit the learner has transferred and accumulated (e.g. what is the relative weight of units the learner has already achieved).
CREDIT TRANSFER AND ACCUMULATION
Credit for learning outcomes (i.e. credit) designates individuals' learning outcomes which have been assessed and which can be accumulated towards a qualification or transferred to other learning programmes or qualifications.
Credit refers to the fact that the learner has achieved the expected learning outcomes which have been assessed positively and the outcome of the assessment was documented in a personal transcript. Based on this documentation, other institutions can recognise learners’ credit.
Credit is a different concept than ECVET points. For the distinction between credit and ECVET points see the section on ECVET points.
Credit transfer is the process through which learning outcomes achieved in one context can be taken into account in another context. Credit transfer is based on the processes of assessment, validation and recognition.
In order to be transferred, learning outcomes have to be assessed. The outcome of the assessment is recorded in a learners’ personal transcript and constitutes credit. On the basis of the assessed outcomes the credit can be validated and recognised by another competent institution.
Two cases of credit transfer exist:
- Transfer in the framework of partnerships
- Transfer outside partnerships
When the credit transfer takes place in the framework of organised mobility, underpinned by a learning agreement, if the assessment is positive, credit should be validated and recognised automatically.
Credit accumulation is a process through which learners can acquire qualifications progressively by successive assessments and validation of learning outcomes.
Accumulation of credit is decided by the competent institution responsible for the award of the qualification. When the learner has accumulated the credit required and when all the conditions for the award of the qualification are fulfilled, the learner is awarded the qualification.
In ECVET accumulation is enabled by the use of units of learning outcomes that can be progressively assessed, validated and recognised. It is based on qualification systems’ rules and requirements on accumulation. These rules define which learning outcomes are accumulated towards which qualification and how they are assessed and validated.
In the framework of ECVET partnerships, credit transfer is foreseen in the learning agreement (see Section Learning Agreement). This agreement specifies which learning outcomes are to be achieved during the mobility and how these will be assessed.
If the learner has been positively assessed by the hosting institution it implies that the learning outcomes expected for units concerned have been achieved. This is recorded in the learners’ personal transcript. The home institution validates and automatically recognises the learner’s credit, as specified in the learning agreement.
In the case of learning outcomes achieved in other settings and contexts and that are only corresponding to part of the unit in the home system, it is possible to validate and recognise the assessment results as part of the continuing assessment (if it exists). In any case, the learner should be exempted from the part of the programme that corresponds to the learning outcomes concerned.
Yes it is possible, depending on the rules concerning assessment, validation and/or recognition in the qualifications system.
Especially in the case of geographical mobility it may be difficult to achieve learning outcomes that correspond to a full unit.
Some ECVET pilot projects have envisaged solutions to transfer learning outcomes that do not correspond to a full unit. However, the way in which these parts of units can be validated and recognised in the home system differs from one qualifications system to another.
ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING OUTCOMES
The hosting institution organises the assessment of learning outcomes as specified in the Learning agreement. The assessment can be done by teachers, trainers, employers, etc. depending on the education and training and assessment arrangements and procedures that are used in the host context.
However, it is important that the hosting and home institutions discuss, prior to the mobility, the assessment methods used and the profile of assessors to make sure that these meet the quality assurance requirements expected by the home institution which will validate the credit (note that this does not mean that the assessment methods and profile of assessors should be the same between the home and the hosting institution).
Prior to the mobility period the partners discuss and agree the way(s) in which learning outcomes will be assessed during the mobility period. They also agree on who and how the quality of this process is ensured.
The requirements on assessment are described in the learning agreement and may be formalised in a MoU (see sections on Learning Agreement and MoU).
ECVET AND NON-FORMAL AND INFORMAL LEARNING
The validation process for non-formal and informal learning in view of achieving a qualification typically follows these phases:
- Identification of knowledge, skills and competences developed during voluntary activities, in a family or work environment or during leisure.
- Documentation of these learning outcomes through the collection of evidence such as descriptions of previous working activities, development of a portfolio or assessment.
- Validation of these learning outcomes against standards, referential or list of expected learning outcomes.
- Award of a qualification or part of a qualification (recognition of learning outcomes).
ECVET facilitates this process because it:
- Describes the knowledge, skills and competence required for a qualification and the associated units. This makes it easier for the competent institution to identify what learners’ have already achieved in comparison to what is required in view of a qualification.
- Can be used to enable learners to achieve some units through validation of non-formal and informal learning and others through formal learning.
- Facilitates the documentation of learning outcomes achieved through the use of tools such as personal transcripts.
ECVET therefore enables learners to achieve qualifications partly by having non-formal and informal learning validated and recognised and by achieving the remaining units through formal learning.
MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING
A MoU is an agreement between competent institutions which sets the framework for credit transfer. It formalises the ECVET partnership by stating the mutual acceptance of the status and procedures of competent institutions involved. It also establishes partnership’s procedures for cooperation.
Credit transfer is supported by mutual trust between the competent institutions involved. As stated in the ECVET Recommendation, this should be promoted by establishing MoU.
In order to recognise credit, the competent institution in charge needs to be confident that the required learning outcomes have been assessed in a reliable and valid manner. It also needs to trust that learners’ credit does concern the learning outcomes expected and that these are at the appropriate level.
By setting up a MoU, competent institutions should acknowledge their partners’ approaches to designing units, assessment, validation, recognition as well as quality assurance. Through this process, they make informed judgements about the conditions under which they can recognise credit achieved in partner systems.
Recognition of credit achieved during organised mobility is facilitated by the use of learning agreements. These ensure that the hosting and the home institutions as well as the learner, have information about the objectives and conditions of the mobility period as well as their roles. Compliance with the learning agreement enables automatic recognition of credit upon the learner’s return. This is done without additional assessment or examination of the mobility period content.
A learning agreement is an individualised document which sets out the conditions for a specific mobility period. It specifies, for a particular learner, which learning outcomes and units should be achieved together with the associated ECVET points.
The learning agreement also lays down that, if the learner achieves the expected learning outcomes and these are positively assessed by the "hosting" institution, the "home" institution will validate and recognise them as part of the requirements for a qualification. Therefore the learning agreement constitutes a commitment to the learner that his/her achievement, if in line with the expectations, will be recognised.
The personal transcript is a record of learning achievements. It contains information on learners’ assessed learning outcomes, units and ECVET points awarded. It also specifies the identity of the learner and the competent institution(s) that assessed, validated and recognised learners’ credit.
The personal transcript is a document that belongs to the learner.
“Competent institution" means an institution which is responsible for designing and awarding qualifications or recognising units or other functions linked to ECVET, such as allocation of ECVET points to qualifications and units, assessment, validation and recognition of learning outcomes, under the rules and practices of participating countries.
The main challenge for the introduction of a common methodological framework like ECVET in the European VET environment is the broad range of bodies involved with the different functions of qualifications systems. Depending on the system, the same function (e.g. design of qualifications and of units) may be the responsibility of different types of actors (e.g. national or regional ministries, social partners, VET providers).
To overcome this complexity, ECVET refers to the different functions of a qualifications system rather than to the types of institutions involved. Institutions involved in implementing and running ECVET are referred to as competent institutions.
Users of ECVET therefore need to first clarify their role(s) with regard to their own qualifications system. They have to reflect on their competences in their qualifications system and how these relate to the main functions of ECVET.