A step-by-step description of the 3 RPL stages
RPL systems vary vastly. However there are some common features. The following sections detail the main steps characterizing the three stages.
STAGE 1 – Step 1: Initial Enquiry/Call for Application
The RPL process starts with an initial enquiry by :
- either from a prospective RPL candidate to your institution
- or in the form of a Call for applications by the specific organization.
At this point, the first contact between RPL applicants and your organization is established. As you can see in the flowchart, a support and information system regarding RPL should be in place to guide prospective applicants in the application for RPL consideration.
STAGE 2 – Step 2: Confirmation of Eligibility
After the application, the applicants needs to be informed by your organization whether they
- are eligible for RPL on multiple qualifications including the one s/he applied for;
- are eligible for RPL on qualifications other than the one s/he applied for;
- are not be eligible for RPL.
Once again, the role of your guidance is vital in this section in order to help the applicant make an informed choice regarding their future educational pathway in your institution.
STAGE 3 – Step 3: Portfolio/Repository of Qualifications / Certifications
As stated above, RPL claims are built upon the Prior Learning of an individual. This learning can obtained either formally, informally or non-formally.
These types of learning are defined as follows:
- Formal Learning: Formal learning is organized learning, achieved in formal education. It is built upon a structured curriculum, delivered by qualified teachers and leads to a formal certificate which is, most of the time, recognized by multiple organizations both locally and internationally. It is usually valued in terms of credits, which can be transferred between qualifications, institutions and countries.
- Non-Formal Learning: Is the type of learning which occurs outside of compulsory education, for example continuing professional education. It can be either organized or not, is intentional and it is usually flexible, hands-on, learner-centered and led by a teacher or a leader. This form of learning does usually not result in a formal degree or certificate.
- Informal Learning: Is the learning obtained in everyday life, often from persons with more experience in a certain area without the role of a qualified teacher (parents, friends, etc.). There is no set curriculum and no credits. This form of learning is gradual, passive and accumulated through time.
In order to prove the RPL claim, the applicant will have to provide evidence of his/her qualifications and prior learning experiences. A portfolio of competences – a more detailed extension to the CV - is usually ideal for this.
STAGE 3 – Step 4: Submission of evidence
In this phase, you will take a look at the evidence provided by the applicant and select the evidence relevant for the RPL claim. Not all Prior Learning will be relevant to every RPL claim. You will need to select and determine which experiences are best suited as evidence for the RPL being claimed. Most institutions will offer guidance to applicants in the process of building and presenting their evidence (Stage 2).
Evidence for an RPL claim needs to be:
- Valid – All evidence submitted by an applicant must be related to the content of the Unit or qualification being claimed by RPL.
- Authentic: All evidence submitted by an applicant should clearly relate to his/her own effort and achievements. They should ideally also bear clear information on the level and/or the breakdown of the course followed.
- Current: the date in which the presented evidence was obtained is important to determine its relevance towards the RPL claim. In the case of formal certification the date in which it was obtained is the most relevant detail for demonstrating currency. For non-formal and/or informal evidence, the applicant would need to find other ways to demonstrate the currency (e.g. the number of years in which the activity was performed and when it was performed last.)
- Sufficient – It is important that any evidence submitted covers most if not all of the aspects related to the RPL claim. Therefore, if an applicant is making a claim to achieve a specific unit by RPL, any evidence submitted needs to cover all or a majority of the criteria related to the said unit.
NB: Evidence for RPL can take different forms. It can consist of a combination of documents, multimedia files (photos and videos) and tangible artefacts (although these are the least popular). Once again, organizations will guide applicants on what is acceptable as evidence and what is not. The most common form of evidence is documents, and there are various types, which can be presented.
Some examples of evidence are:
- Resume/CV (paper and/or online);
- Covering letter/s;
- Formal Education Certificates;
- On the job training Certificates; CPD Certificates;
- Reference Letters from current and past: employers, peers, supervisors, clients etc.;
- Performance Appraisals, Evaluation forms, letters or appreciation; letters of recommendation;
- Performance Awards;
- Samples of Work Performed: Memos; Reports; Plans; Procedures and Forms; Hand-outs; Marketing plans etc.;
- Photographs and/or videos showing work produced by the applicant and/or the applicant at work;
- Minutes of meetings featuring work/tasks;
- Email communications etc.
Evidence in the Portfolio should be accompanied by the applicants own self-reflection, and thoughts in order to prove his/her strengths and map/explain the relevance of the evidence being presented towards the RPL claim. Such explanation will facilitate the work of the assessor/evaluator when evaluating the documents submitted and will ensure that the evidence is interpreted as intended.
STAGE 3 – Step 5: Verification and assessment of Evidence and RPL Claim
All evidence submitted by applicants will be reviewed by you (= the representative of your institution dealing with RPL), and assessed against the criteria of the Unit of Learning Outcomes of the FCN Curriculum the claim is made for. You will also review the application and the individual descriptions submitted by the applicant claiming Prior Learning on specific tasks, and will decide whether in your professional opinion, the applicants’ claim can be considered as valid or not.
I order to provide a fairer evaluation to the applicant, some organisations might appoint multiple evaluators and/or a board of Evaluators in order to review the same RPL application. The evaluation board may contact the applicant for clarifications. In some cases, they may also decide to put the applicant to the test, asking him/her to perform specific tasks in order to assess his/her skills and competencies.
NB: In ENhANCE the collection of prior learning evidences could be carried out within the Open Online Tool (OOT) that will be developed and provided to VET institutions offering the FCN qualification.
STAGE 3 – Step 6: Award of Certification/Credit (leading to Personalization of Learning Paths)
The final Step of the RPL process is the award of a qualification (fully or partially) /certificate /credits /units / exemptions to the applicant by the legitimate institution. This may lead to individual learning paths as successful RPL applicants will only have to carry out the parts of the FCN qualification they did not acquire through prior learning.
The Personalization could include the following options in FCN training:
- taking elective or optional courses/ units/ modules aside the core, basic ones at the learner’s own choice;
- varying the course order where possible;
- skipping courses ;
- choosing the area of the internship according to learner’s personal interests and attitudes;
- choosing the area of the thesis project, according to learner’s personal interests and attitudes;
- choosing part-time or full-time programmes or being allowed to extend the overall programme duration;
- being allowed to take online or blended courses /programmes.
NB: Please keep in mind that these options for personalization can only be offered and implemented if there is a suitable system in place in your institution that allows for this kind of flexibility.
There are already a lot of manuals and guidelines on how to recognize prior learning (RPL). This manual is strongly based on two very helpful, hands-on documents, and the information provided there has been adjusted for ENhANCE’s purposes:
- Guideline “EMPLOYABILITY_PORTFOLIO_TOOL_6 - RPL- RATIONALE AND GUIDELINES” developed within the Erasmus+ project “Intergenerational Learning Partnership Over 55” (ILPO55, 2017), available at
- Guideline: “Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). Learning Package.” by the International Labour Office (2018), available at
The “European guidelines for validating non-formal and informal learning” (Cedefop , 2nd edition) provide a very valuable input on this subject and should be considered for further reference.
According to the Cedefop guidelines, validation consists of four phases which include the same steps:
- Documentation (STEP 3-4)
- Assessment (STEP 5)
- Certification (STEP 6)
The Cedefop guidelines support each of these phases with a number of Key Questions that can be used to carry out the necessary steps.
Examples for such questions in the phase of implementation of validation are:
- Has the purpose of the validation initiative been clarified? or: Which tools and instruments can be used (and combined) for identification, documentation and assessment of learning?
- An example for questions on assessment is: Are assessment tools adapted to the individual’s needs and characteristics?