APEL.Q Case studiesNorway APEL.Q case study in education

Validation of prior learning in upper secondary and higher education


At the upper secondary school level, Validation of Prior Learning (VPL) is related to the requirements of the national curricula (academic and vocational subjects) and results in a certificate called certificate of competence. The assessment process may result in an exemption from parts of the study programme or a shorter training period in preparation for a full examination.

In higher education, applicants seeking admission as well as exemption based on VPL are assessed by the individual university or college. This implies that the higher education institution accepts the applicant’s competence from prior learning as similar to or of equal worth as the learning outcomes of the course or parts of the programme in question. Skills Norway (former Vox, the Norwegian Agency for Lifelong Learning), has prepared guidelines for professional and administrative staff who are involved in granting exemptions through VPL.

Procedures and processes

In upper secondary education:

  • VPL is carried out within the regional education system; Regional centres provide information and guidance. County administration, which is responsible for upper secondary schools, is also responsible for the quality of the validation process and for training assessors. Since VPL is an individual right, funding is delegated to the 19 counties. It is the responsibility of the county authorities to register all adult candidates who have gone through a validation process at upper secondary level in a national digital registration system;
  • Adults can have their experience and prior learning validated in adult learning centers centres. All 19 counties in Norway have adult learning centres. Adult learning centres may be located at upper secondary schools;
  • Recognition is both formative and summative. The VPL process can lead to an upper secondary certificate, unless the candidate wants a trade certificate. To get a trade certificate the candidate has to pass a trade examination. However, if the candidate’s validated prior learning is assessed as sufficient for a certificate of competence only, he or she has the right to access modular courses to achieve a full certificate;
  • Like the adults seeking upper secondary school certificates, job-seekers may also want their competences validated. In this case, VPL is done through co-operation between local educational providers and the labour and welfare offices.

In higher education:

In the case of exemptions for parts of a study in higher education, the stages of VPL include: (a) An applicant receives information and guidance on how to put together an application; (b) The applicant complete the application. The application must include documentary proof of the applicant’s relevant competences. Some institutions may suggest that the applicant write a specific paper or an essay to prove the ability to reflect on their own work experiences. (c) Applications for exemptions are processed according to normal administrative procedures for applications in the institutions.

The Skills Norway Guidelines for exemptions through VPL have recommended that the administration needs to be supportive of the applicant; it should contact the applicant in case of a problem; it should contact the scientific staff to make sure the relevant competences have been adequately documented; The Skills Norway guidelines recommend that institutions need to develop internal guidelines for validating applications for exemptions based on prior learning to support equal and fair procedures in the institutions.

All levels:

The following methods are widely used at all levels of the education and training system (lower and upper secondary education as well as higher education). Assessment methods may vary according to the level and content of the national curricula and the study programme (academic or vocational). It is generally recommended to use a combination of methods necessary to prove the candidate’s different competences.

  • Oral presentations include dialogue-based methods (discussions between an assessor and the learner, interview and presentations).
  • Assessments based on written documentation include portfolio (most often used), written assignments on a given topic and reflection notes.
  • Assessment based on practice combines observations with simulations. One or more assessors may observe the applicant performing practical tasks in a working simulation.

Outcomes and ways forward

At the upper secondary level:

  • VPL is proving an important tool that is giving adults the chance to obtain an upper secondary education and a certificate that is key to employability and greater flexibility in the labour market – given that upper secondary education is almost the minimum requirement for employment in Norway.
  • Numbers from 2008 show that VPL was most used in vocational subjects, including health and social studies. Within vocational studies in 2008, 62 per cent of candidates had undergone validation, and between 89 and 92 per cent (depending on the vocational subject) received formal recognition of their learning, resulting in an exemption from parts of the training schedule.
  • In the years 2000 to 2005, approximately 60,000 people underwent VPL at upper secondary level (80 per cent in vocational subjects). On the whole, candidates found that the assessment of non-formal and informal learning was a positive experience–around 80 per cent found the experience useful or very useful. There has been a decrease in numbers of VPL candidates in adult education since the large cohort of adults with a lot of work experience were given the opportunity to be validated in the period from 2000 to 2008. In the school year 2013/14, 2200 adults underwent VPL at upper secondary level.

In higher education:

Approximately 5 per cent of all new students in higher education are adults admitted on the basis of recognised formal, non-formal and informal learning. In 2013, 41 per cent of adults applying for enrolment on the basis of prior learning were admitted. This proportion varies significantly between different fields of study. However, only a very small number of students apply for exemption. This indicates that many institutions were uncertain as to how the VPL procedure should be performed with high quality; consequently sufficient information was not provided to the target groups. The guidelines developed by Vox for VPL towards exemptions are certainly an important step forward in aiding participation in higher education.


Alfsen, C. 2014. Experiences with validation of prior learning in higher education in Norway. In: R. Duvekot, B. Halba, K. Aagaard, S. Gabršček and J. Murray. eds. 2014. The Power of VPL – validation of prior learning as a multi-targeted approach for access to learning opportunities for all. Inholland University AS & European Centre Valuation Prior Learning.


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