Valuation of prior competencies – VPL bridging the gap between emotions and formal recognition


One of the cornerstones of the JOY methodology is based on the valorisation of previously acquired skills. The basic idea is that in order to embark on a path of personal and professional growth, one should not only rely on knowledge acquired in the formal environment but also on life experiences gained independently. JOY approaches therefore tend to lead participants to rediscover themselves also by virtue of what they have learnt during their lives. Here, specifically, we will take a closer look at what the VPL method and the valorisation of previously acquired skills consist of.

We are continuously being valued for what we know, what we do or who we are. We are valuated in education, at work, socially and by ourselves. People’s perspective is made of a combination of different valuation systems. Each system and each ´level´ has its own set of norms and values. The competencies must be made visible and understandable to oneself and to others to make a valuation possible. People have to become aware of their own competencies and understand the power of each of those combinations of competencies. 

The result of a positive valuation makes people feel more satisfied, proud, and confident. This leads to greater creativity, productivity, and motivation. This state also helps people feel happier and more interested in improving themselves. Research has found a link between an upbeat mental state and improved health, including lower blood pressure, reduced risk for heart disease, healthier weight, better blood sugar levels, and longer life. However, it is not clear whether positive emotions lead to better health or being healthy causes positive emotions.

Through valuation, we evaluate/estimate the nature, quality, ability, extent, or significance, of the meaningfulness of our competencies. The valuation shows the real human potential based on the analysis (by oneself and by others) of personal, social, methodological, and functional competencies. Being positively valued strengthens our self-esteem, well-being, and identity, which consequently can increase our participation in life and work. It gives meaning to our lives; as we become stronger, we have less fear of failure, fewer worries and better self-control and self-management of the use and development of our competencies.

The European Council encourages Member States to put in place national arrangements for validation. These arrangements often contain the formal Validation/recognition of Prior Learning (VPL) “to identify, document, assess and certify (=validate) all forms of learning to use this learning for advancing their career and for further education and training.” Validation is defined as the process of confirmation by an authorised body that an individual has acquired learning outcomes measured against a relevant standard (e.g. NQF). Participation in VPL is limited, mainly because the formal standards don’t connect well with the personality traits, individual motivations, emotional competencies, and meaningfulness of a person.

The JOY methodology adds valuable exercises from different methods to the prior learning assessment process using the VPL approach. To a certain extent, these exercises provide special insight and support for the assessment of prior learning. 

  1. Becoming aware
  2. Making competencies visible
  3. Develop a competence-biography and peer-valuation
  4. Systematically self-valuation
  5. Presentation of competencies
  6. Plan for the future: action plan

Competence assessment in the JOY methodologies is in addition to the VPL method and is partly overlapping. The benefits of combining the two approaches are listed below.

  1. Competence development. JOY methods and exercises can develop several types of competencies, such as creativity, communication, sensitivity, group work.
  2. Connecting the awareness of specific competencies with underlying emotions, motivations, and personality traits.
  3. Making competencies better or in other valuation systems visible and valued.
  4. Indirect positive impact on the valuation of other competencies.
  5. Strengthening the use of personality traits and increasing self-esteem.
  6. Effective use and control of emotions opens hidden and unexpressed positive emotions and understand how they contribute to well-being and how they affect negative emotions.
  7. Increased motivation to participate, persist, or work to achieve.
  8. Strengthening the identity.
  9. Experiencing new contexts, which can increase the understanding of competencies.
  10. Discovering/recognising cultural and contextual meaning and planning appropriate actions and behaviours.

Let’s take a deeper look into the valuation systems in the life of a person. A person is generally confronted with valuations at three different levels. In the overall assessment system, from the person’s point of view, these three levels are linked to different normative approaches (ranging from self-assessment to National Qualification Framework validation and outcomes from self-esteem to graduation).

There are two main approaches to valuation:

  1. Bottom-up (VPL + JOY-methods)
  2. Top-down (NQF + Validation of Prior Learning)

In the following, different ways of valuation will be considered, starting with individual one and ending with the VPL method. When combined, these valuations can lead to a good overall assessment of the person.

  1. Self-valuation

The centre of valuation, the point where all the valuation systems and types meet, is the INDIVIDUAL. S/He needs to be competent in bringing all the valuations together and matching it with his/her self-valuation results. The challenge is to connect deeply and honestly, by diving into the deeper layers of being, where there are personality traits, emotions, self-image, roles played and motivation.

  • External valuation

By external evaluation, we mean that carried out by colleagues, working place but also friends, and family. In the work environment, it can also turn into salary increases and recognition of various kinds. Important competencies nowadays, in the ever-faster changing society and work environments, are communicating and networking. Often, however, young people struggle to find work in their area of expertise or study, having to accept low-paid jobs. This increases their stress level and lowers their self-esteem. It is also a fact that 65-94% of adult learning is informal. The level of participation in informal learning remains high until retirement. While the level of formal learning (and assessment) declines rapidly after the age of 40. It is therefore moderately unreasonable to place so little emphasis on what is learned in informal or non-formal settings.

  • Validation / Formal Accreditation (VPL, VNIL, APL, APEL, etc.)

The formal approach for recognition (Education, Validation of Prior Learning) is based on the National Qualification Framework or branch standards. The validation is strongly promoted at global, EU and national levels. In 2022, more than 40 % of people aged 25-34 years in the EU had completed tertiary education. In February 2021, the Council of Europe approved a resolution that sets an EU-level target: the share of people aged 25-34 years with tertiary educational attainment should be at least 45 %, by 2030. Therefore, formal accreditation, even at the lowest EQF levels, will need even more formal accreditation in education systems through validation.

The use of VPL in the formal approach to education and work is very limited, despite all the national and international efforts of the last 20 years. Despite the attempt to increase strategies, Cedefop states that we have little information on the level of adoption of this system. Monitoring systems for validation are still limited and little is known about the level of acceptance of validation as a pathway for assessing or certifying competencies.

  • VPL

The VPL, as anticipated, is a bottom-up method, based on the CH-Q approach for sustainable management of competencies, starting with the creation of a safe environment, with assessment at the personal level, then reaching the social level and thus providing a basis for the recognition of competencies at the informal and non-formal level. 

It works like a pyramid. At the bottom, we have a very dynamic process of self-estimation in which emotions play a very important role. Positive emotions will support this process and fear and anxiety will protect us from making wrong decisions or dangers that are on our life pathway.

The VPL approach strengthens the emotional quotient with:

  • Emotional self-awareness
  • Emotional self-control
  • Motivation
  • Adaptability
  • Achievement orientation
  • Positive outlook
  • Empathy
  • Social skills
  • Organizational awareness
  • Influence
  • Coach and mentor
  • Conflict management
  • Teamwork
  • Inspirational Leadership

This bottom-up approach is highly necessary because:

  • Answers the specific needs of a person through a person-centred approach.
  • Provide for quick responses in the evaluation. While the formal (top-down) approach involves lengthy procedures, and strong quality control and is often expensive (or subsidised);
  • Gives special attention to the hidden qualities.
  • It fits in with the reality of society, in which approximately 80 per cent of adult learning takes place informally and it is estimated that up to 80 per cent of competence assessment takes place informally.
  • It pays strong attention to personal motivation, personal traits and positive emotions. 

The VPL method also pays special attention to the competence diagram invented by Spencer &Spencer, in 1993: the competence iceberg. In their book, these authors describe competencies using the metaphor of the iceberg.

At the top of the iceberg, rising from the sea level are:

  • knowledge
  • skills,

under the sea level are 

  • self-image (identity and ´value´) 
  • social role (expected attitude and behaviours for a function in a social or job function)
  • emotions 

and at a deeper level

  • personality traits like intelligence, creativity, curiosity, conscientiousness, self-confidence, self-awareness, empathy, optimism, leadership, extra- and introversion, and curiosity.
  • motivations

Making the competencies more visible and the person aware of underlying elements is important. It can lead people to a personal, sustainable management of their competencies. The metaphor of the iceberg also visualises the difference between the top-down VALIDATION approach and the bottom-up VALUATION approach. Validation mainly limits itself to identifying, documenting and validating a specific part of the knowledge, skills and attitudes related to a qualification of the NVQ or branch certifications but the 90% of an iceberg lies below the sea level and is not visible. 

The JOY instruments combined with the VPL approach are fundamental for: 

  1. Becoming aware of all the elements in the iceberg competencies model. 
  2. Connecting all these elements together.
  3. Developing/adapting toward a set of norms and values.
  4. Understanding why these elements are connected and in which way they can influence the well-being.
  5. Using and controlling positive emotions.
  6. Describing competences.
  7. Making competencies more visible, usable and valuable.

The iceberg-competence model shows also certain challenges that JOY and valuation in general must deal with:

  1. The personality traits and motives are mostly hidden deep in a person. The people we work with require cautious and careful interventions.
  2. By working on the self-concept, self-evaluation, and self-esteem, a person has to change existing attitudes and value norms. 
  3. Each person fulfils one or more role models that can strongly be influenced by the environment and often little by a strong self-concept.
  4. The visible state is the hardest and most complex, it should not be destroyed but gently shaped by the person himself, through working with the deepest layers.
  5. In the core of the iceberg, there is a selection of knowledge and skills that are kept hidden for different reasons (personal experiences such as being a refugee, bullying, abuse at home, childcare, school, …).
  6. The unknown size and shape of the submerged part of the iceberg in the sea pose a danger to ships that get too close. Rescue services may damage their ships and as a reaction, a person may be reluctant to co-operate.

Each singular socio-creative method has an impact on specific outcomes (e.g. awareness, specific competencies, handling of emotions) and is mainly directed to personal value and personal well-being. The method of Validation of Non-formal and Informal learning is a way of formal recognition of competencies, measured against external norms (EQF/NVQ, function profiles) with a certain distance to the self-evaluation.

By the fusion of the separate socio-creative approaches and the integration with Validation of Prior Learning, a powerful holistic, modular training has been developed, in which the meaning and mindfulness for the person is most important. The participant learns to take the power of control of their own learning and development, their employability and their participation in society.

Storytelling and narrative techniques are related to the art of narrating thoughts, emotions, and experiences through a process of identification. These methodologies allow the person to undertake a path of interior growth and self-understanding in an environment that cares for the needs of the individual.

Drama therapy is the use of theatre techniques to facilitate personal growth and promote mental health. The participants are immersed in the subject, and their bodies, minds, and emotions are extremely active when they become engrossed in the drama.

Somatics is a field within bodywork and movement studies which emphasizes internal physical perception and experience. The term is used in movement therapy to signify approaches based on the soma, or “the body as perceived from within”.

Nature-based techniques have several other additional features, besides using nature and the connection to nature. The methods here apply specific developing targets (such as social competence, behavioural skill, personal competence, self-knowledge, etc…) and reflection. Human is considered part of nature.

Art is an important tool in making people feel better, find more inspiration and energy, be more creative, have higher productivity and/or increase retention, and make people more resilient.

In JOY the Valuation of Prior Learning values bottom-up against the different valuation standards/systems a person has to deal with:

  • A personal standard, driven by personality traits, emotions, and motivation (like an iceberg, most not visible)
  • Social standards, such as family, friends, colleagues
  • Organisational standards, like volunteers, hobby-clubs.
  • National and EU-standards / function profiles.

The combination of JOY exercises (art, somatics, drama, nature, storytelling) and the bottom-up assessment enable the specific needs of NEETs to be addressed, ranging from the search for meaning and identity to the desire to fit into a pathway within society, e.g. finding a job, linking ongoing informal learning with formal learning and validation opportunities.

Combined intervention could also be applied to younger people (as a preventive intervention) and older people (improvement, reintegration).

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