Cedefop’s second policy learning forum on learning outcomes for vocational education and training (VET) qualifications, on 13 and 14 October in Thessaloniki, provided a follow up to last year’s first such event.

The forum explored the way forward, which will involve the setting up of a practitioner network and the development of a handbook, the first draft of which was presented to participants.

In her opening speech, Cedefop Deputy Director Mara Brugia pointed out that there is a 'strong political commitment about learning outcomes across Europe’, but warned that this 'does not guarantee that they are written and applied in a way which benefits end-users, be these teachers, learners or employers.'

She added: ‘Learning outcomes are widely used in VET, but exchange of experience between institutions and countries and mutual learning are still rather limited, as opposed to higher education.’

Ms Brugia said that the feedback received after the first forum singled out the need for a ‘more permanent community of practitioners,’ adding that Cedefop ‘certainly wants to support such mutual learning in a more systematic way.’

European Commission’s Koen Nomden argued that making learning outcomes mainstream will define qualification standards.

Cedefop Head of Department for VET Systems and Institutions Loukas Zahilas mentioned that following last year’s forum we have come closer to a much-needed community of practice, supported by Cedefop research.

Comparing countries

More Cedefop research in the field was also discussed at the forum, including two comparative studies: one on learning outcome application in 33 European countries, carried out in 2014-15, and another of 10 learning outcomes-based VET qualifications currently being carried out in 25 countries across the world (13 in Europe and 12 in the rest of the world).

Cedefop expert Slava Pevec Grm said that learning outcomes are increasingly embedded in policies and practices across Europe, noting that all European countries have significantly progressed on defining and using them.

Prior to the event, which was part of the European vocational skills week, national representatives had been asked to submit written input summarising the way learning outcomes have been implemented in their country. During the event, participants exchanged experiences in the plenary sessions and in the working groups.

'GPS for qualifications'

Cedefop expert Jens Bjørnåvold presented the first draft of the handbook for defining and writing learning outcomes and invited stakeholders to contribute as it needs to reflect a wide approach.

In his closing remarks, Cedefop Director James Calleja highlighted further this work by saying that ‘a handbook in evolution’ will become the ‘GPS for qualifications.’

He argued that learning outcomes are more than a technical exercise: ‘We must create a culture in schools and institutions to define, write and implement learning outcomes; we need to have leaders, well-trained teachers and stimulating learning environments where learning outcomes are accepted as enriching qualifications.’

Mr Calleja concluded: ‘Learning outcomes are at the heart of the journey from education to employment and give providers and employers the chance to step into one another’s shoes.’ He called for social partners and students to get more involved, and stressed the need for all actors to continue to talk to one another.