The Recognition of Non-Formal Education in Higher Education: Where Are We Now, and Are We Learning from Experience?

By Harris, Judy; Wihak, Christine | International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

The Recognition of Non-Formal Education in Higher Education: Where Are We Now, and Are We Learning from Experience?


Harris, Judy, Wihak, Christine, International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education


Introduction

Prior to the digital revolution, 'non-formal education' was defined as a flexible type of formal education, usually referring to programs offered by employers, community organisations, and other providers of education to adults. Such programs were sometimes formally recognized under the umbrella of Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR), and, more recently, in relation to national or transnational qualification frameworks. The increased availability of non-formal education in the form of Open Education Resources (OERs) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) gives rise to the questions addressed in this research paper: The Recognition of Non-Formal Education in Higher Education: Where are we now, and are we learning from experience?

To address these questions, this study scopes the three literatures and their associated fields of practice. Firstly, Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) where the focus is on recognizing non-formal education rather than informal learning. Secondly, non-formal education in the form of OERs (Open Educational Resources) and MOOCs (Massive Open On-line Courses) and the extent of their formal recognition. Thirdly, qualification frameworks where non-formal education can be recognized either by directly placing it on a framework or doing so indirectly, using thirdparty arrangements. The focus of the study, therefore, goes beyond e-learning and distance education. Where it does address e-learning and distance education it does so only in relation to the recognition of non-formal education.

The Research Design and Methods section discusses our approach in detail. Because our method involves scoping three literatures, there is no separate Literature Review section - this is included in the Findings. Our Research Design and Methods section therefore leads directly into Findings: 1) an overview of the three literatures; and 2) an analysis and classification of exemplars from each associated field of practice. The paper ends with a discussion of findings and concludes with ideas for possible synergies and pointers for future practice in the recognition of non-formal education (RNFE) in higher education.

Research Design and Methods

Peters et al. (2015) argue that scoping is relevant when bodies of literature have not previously been comprehensively reviewed. This is precisely the case in this study where we are bringing three literatures together for the first time. In terms of method, Colquhoun et al. (2014, pp. 1292-94) describe scoping as: "a form of knowledge synthesis that addresses an exploratory research question aimed at mapping key concepts, types of evidence, and gaps in research related to a defined area or field". Again, this statement matches the nature of this enquiry into the recognition of non-formal education (RNFE) across three fields.

Some clear steps, stages and applications have evolved over the last decade or so (Arksey &

O'Malley, 2005; Levac, et al., 2010). Colquhoun et al. (2014) recommend use of the six methodological steps outlined by Arksey and O'Malley (2005) (one of which is optional): identification of research question; identification of relevant research; selection and review of that research; charting the data in a specific way, and summarizing and reporting. The optional step is to consult with stakeholders as a way of increasing the validity of the findings. Our research is a modified scoping review placing greater emphasis than Arksey and O'Malley on iteration and progressive focusing.

In the first stage, our 'geographical scoping', the guiding question was: How is non-formal education recognized outside of North America, particularly in Europe? The second stage, our 'mode scoping', asked: How is non-formal education via OERs and MOOCs recognized? In the third stage, our 'depth scoping', which included the optional consultation, the guiding questions were: How does recognition of non-formal education happen in relation to qualification frameworks? …

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