The recognition of prior learning represents an important way to connect higher education institutions (HEI) and the organisational world. Therefore HEI are invited by institutions such as the European Union to develop a system to assess and recognise all forms of prior learning experiences.
This paper presents an exploratory study carried out in the context of the European Erasmus+ project Developing All-Round Education (DARE+), coordinated by the University of Granada and developed by a consortium of nine partners, both HEIs and network of residences hosting university students. The consortium explored and experimented ways in which university students can develop generic competences thanks to integrating formal learning with experiences outside the classroom in informal and non-formal contexts, by developing a process and a tool to identify learning that occurs outside the classroom. In line with the Cedefop guidelines (2015) and with several practices in the field, the portfolio has been chosen as a key instrument to support narrative reflection and the evidence seeking and collection.
The opportunity of reflecting and transforming implicit learning into knowledge transferable to new experiences and new challenges for the future leads to a process of change (Feutrie, 2000). Learning how to recognise and to express competences and how to use a language that can be understood by other stakeholders can allow better employability and better balance among different aspects of life.
According to Kolb’s (1984) learning cycle and experiential-reflective model, the concrete experience is “grasped” by doing practice, generating abstract conceptualization, observation/reflection, and active experimentation. This reflection has a transformative learning value and the opportunity to make tacit knowledge explicit (Vermersch, 1994) allows people to develop awareness of competences.
The autobiographic reflective process has the transformative power (Mezirow, 1991; Taylor & Cranton, 2012) to identify and to explore real life moments or past experiences and to create new connections between these, generating new coherences among previous informal and non-formal learning and new perspectives for personal and professional growth.
The portfolio has been widely inspired by the European portfolio for youth leaders and youth workers. The DARE+ version, adapted from the original one, reproduces the structure and some of the tools of the instrument, although it uses as framework the competences, indicators and descriptors produced by the project to critically analyse the following competences: leadership, teamwork, communication, conflict transformation, intercultural competence, social entrepreneurship, project development and management. The instrument is structured in 2 sections:
- Self-assessment grid filled by each participant for each DARE+ competence in relation to the framework of competences prepared by the project (indicators and levels of mastery);
- Evidence based narrative of each competence and evidences seeking.
Within this frame, the present study focuses on a group of 8 university students attending the Galilean School of Higher Education at the University of Padova who have been using the portfolio as a mean to foster reflection and to seek evidence of learning developed in informal and non-formal settings. The aims of the research were:
- To map what students learnt in doing the portfolio and possible ways for further improvement.
- To understand what kind of (peer) support was/would it be useful in drafting and producing the portfolio.
- To explore the relevance and difficulties of collecting evidences for the competences towards possible recognition of them.
Cedefop (2015). European guidelines for validating non-formal and informal learning. Luxembourg: Publications Office. Cedefop reference series; No 104. http://dx.doi.org/10.2801/008370 Feutrie, M. (2000). France: the story of La Validation des acquis/recognition of prior experiential learning. In Evans, N. (Ed). Experiential learning around the world. Employability and the global economy, London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley. Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning, Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs. Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative Dimension of Adult learning. Melbourne: John Wiley & sons. Taylor, E. W. & Cranton, P. (2012). Handbook of transformative learning: Theory, research, and practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Publication. Vermersch, P. (1994). L’entretien d’explicitation. Issy-les-Moulineaux: Esf Editeur.
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