Glossary of key terms

A glossary of key terms used in the validation of non-formal and informal learning.

Source:  Cedefop (2014). Terminology of European education and training policy: a selection of 130 terms. 2nd ed. Luxembourg: Publications Office.  




Assessment of learning outcomes

Process of appraising knowledge, know-how, skills and/or competences of an individual against predefined criteria (learning expectations, measurement of learning outcomes). Assessment is typically followed by certification.

Comment: in the literature, ‘assessment’ generally refers to appraisal of individuals whereas ‘evaluation’ is more frequently used to describe appraisal of education and training methods or providers.

Source: Cedefop, 2004.

Awarding body

A body issuing qualifications (certificates, diplomas or titles) formally recognising the learning outcomes (knowledge, skills and/or competences) of an individual, following an assessment procedure.

Source: Cedefop, 2008.

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An official document, issued by an awarding body, which records achievements of an individual following an assessment against a predefined standard.

Source: Cedefop, 2008.

Certification of learning outcomes

The process of formally validating knowledge, know-how and/or competences acquired by an individual, following a standard assessment procedure. Certificates or diplomas are issued by accredited awarding bodies.

Source: Cedefop, 2008.

Civil society

A ‘third sector’ of society beside the State and the market, embracing institutions, groups and associations (either structured or informal), which may act as mediator between citizens and public authorities.

Source: Cedefop, 2001 in European Commission.

Comparability of qualifications

Extent to which it is possible to establish equivalence between the level and content of qualifications (certificates, diplomas or titles) at sectoral, regional, national or international levels.

Comment: comparability of qualifications improves individuals’ employability and mobility. This term must not be confused with ‘equivalence of qualifications’ (which refers the similarity of value of certificates or diplomas)..

Source: Cedefop, Bjørnåvold, Tissot, 2000.


Ability to apply learning outcomes adequately in a defined context (education, work, personal or professional development).
Ability to use knowledge, skills and personal, social and/or methodological abilities, in work or study situations and in professional and personal development.

Comment: competence is not limited to cognitive elements (involving the use of theory, concepts or tacit knowledge); it also encompasses functional aspects (including technical skills) as well as interpersonal attributes (e.g. social or organisational skills) and ethical values.

Source: Cedefop; European Parliament and Council of the European Union, 2008.

Continuing education and training

Education or training after initial education and training - or after entry into working life, aimed at helping individuals to:

  • improve or update their knowledge and/or skills;
  • acquire new competences for a career move or retraining;
  • continue their personal or professional development.

Comment: continuing education and training is part of lifelong learning and may encompass any kind of education (general, specialised or vocational, formal or non-formal, etc.). It is crucial for employability of individuals.

Source: Cedefop, 2004

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Withdrawal from an education or training programme before its completion.


  1. this term designates both the process (early school-leaving) and the persons who fail to complete a course (early school leavers)
  2. besides early school-leavers, dropouts may also include learners who have completed education or training but failed the final examinations.

Source: based on Ohlsson, 1994.

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Combination of factors which enable individuals to progress towards or get into employment, to stay in employment and to progress during their careers. Combination of factors which enable individuals to progress towards or get into employment, to stay in employment and to progress during their careers.


Comment: employability of individuals depends on:


  1. personal attributes (including adequacy of knowledge and skills);
  2. how these personal attributes are presented on the labour market;
  3. environmental and social context (incentives and opportunities offered to update and validate their knowledge and skills); and 
  4. the economic context.


  Source: Cedefop, 2008, based on Scottish Executive, 2007; The Institute for Employment Studies, 2007.




Portfolio of five documents helping citizens to better communicate their skills and qualifications when applying for job or study in Europe. The Europass CV and the Language Passport are completed by citizens themselves; the other three documents can be issued to citizens who achieve a mobility experience in another European country (Europass Mobility) or who complete a formal programme of vocational education or training (Certificate supplement) or of higher education (Diploma supplement).




Comment: Europass promotes an adequate appreciation of learning outcomes acquired in formal, non-formal or informal settings.




Source: Cedefop.

European credit system for vocational education and training (ECVET)

Technical framework for transfer, validation and, where appropriate, accumulation of learning outcomes by individuals, to achieve a qualification. ECVET tools and methodology comprise a description of qualifications in units of learning outcomes with associated points, a transfer and accumulation process and complementary documents such as learning agreements, transcripts of records and ECVET users’ guides.




  1. This framework aims to promote:
    • mobility of people undertaking training;
    • accumulation, transfer and validation of learning outcomes (either formal, non-formal or informal) acquired in different countries;
    • implementation of lifelong learning;
    • transparency of qualifications;
    • common trust and cooperation between providers of vocational training and education in Europe.
  2. EVET is based on the description of qualifications in terms of learning outcomes (knowledge, skills and/or competencies), organised into transferable and accumulable learning units to which credit points are attached and registered in a personal transcript of learning outcomes.


Source: Cedefop; European Parliament and Council of the European Union, 2009a.

European credit transfer and accumulation system (ECTS)

A systematic way of describing a higher education programme by attaching credits to its components (modules, courses, placements, dissertation work, etc.), to:


  • Make study programmes easy to read and compare for all students, local and foreign;
  • Encourage mobility of students and validation of learning outcomes;
  • Help universities to organise and revise their study programmes.


Comment: ECTS is based on the student workload required to achieve a programme’s objectives, specified in terms of learning outcomes to be acquired. The student workload of a full-time study programme in Europe amounts in most cases to around 1500 to 1800 hours per year and in these cases one credit stands for around 25 to 30 hours. Individuals who can demonstrate similar learning outcomes acquired in other learning settings may obtain recognition and credits (waivers) from degree awarding bodies.


Source: Cedefop. 2008, based on European Commission, 2004.


European qualifications framework for lifelong learning (EQF)


Reference tool for describing and comparing qualification levels in qualifications systems developed at national, international or sectoral levels.


Comment: the EQF’s main components are a set of eight reference levels described in terms of learning outcomes (a combination of knowledge, skills and/or competences) and mechanisms and principles for voluntary cooperation. The eight levels cover the entire span of qualifications from those recognising basic knowledge, skills and competences, to those awarded at the highest level of academic, professional and vocational education and training. EQF is a translation device for qualification systems.


Source: based on European Parliament and Council of the European Union, 2008.

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Formal learning

Learning that occurs in an organised and structured environment (such as in an education or training institution or on the job) and is explicitly designated as learning (in terms of objectives, time or resources). Formal learning is intentional from the learner’s point of view. It typically leads to certification.

Source: Cedefop, 2008.

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Guidance and counselling / information, advice and guidance (IAG)

Range of activities designed to help individuals to take educational, vocational or personal decisions and to carry them out before and after they enter the labour market. 


  1. guidance and counselling may include:
    • counselling (personal or career development, educational guidance);  
    • assessment (psychological or competence/performance-realted);
    • information on learning and labour market opportunities and career management;
    • consultation with peers, relatives or educators:
    • vocational preparation (pinpointing skills/competences and experience for job-seeking);
    • referrals (to learning and career specialists);
  2. guidance and counselling can be provided at schools, training centres, job centres, the workplace, the community or in other settings.


Source: Cedefop, 2008.


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Informal learning


Learning resulting from daily activities related to work, family or leisure. It is not organised or structured in terms of objectives, time or learning support. Informal learning is in most cases unintentional from the learner’s perspective.




  1. Informal learning outcomes may be validated and certified;
  2. Informal learning is also referred to as experiential or incidental/random learning.


  Source: Cedefop, 2008.


Initial education and training


General or vocational education and training carried out in the initial education system, usually before entering working life.  




  1. Some training undertaken after entry into working life may be considered as initial training (such as retraining);
  2. Initial education and training can be carried out at any level in general or vocational education (full-time school-based or alternance training) or apprenticeship pathways.

Source: Cedefop, 2008.

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Process by which an individual assimilates information, ideas and values and thus acquires knowledge, know-how, skills and/or competences.  c

Comment: learning occurs through personal reflection, reconstruction and social interaction. It may take place in formal, non-formal or informal settings.

Source: Cedefop, 2008.

Learning outcome / learning attainments

Set of knowledge, skills and/or competences an individual has acquired and/or is able to demonstrate after completion of a learning process, either formal, non-fromal or i


Statements of what a learner knows, understands and is able to do on completion of learning process, which are defined in terms of knowledge, skills and competence.

Source: Cedefop, 2008.

Lifelong learning

All learning activity undertaken throughout life, with the aim of improving knowledge, skills/competences and/or qualifications for personal, social and/or professional reasons.

Source: Cedefop, 2003.

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Non-formal learning

Learning which is embedded in planned activities not explicitly designated as learning (in terms of learning objectives, learning time or learning support), but which contain an important learning element. Non-formal learning is intentional from the learner’s point of view. It typically does not lead to certification.

Source: Cedefop, 2003.

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Prior learning

The knowledge, know-how and/or competences acquired through previously unrecognised training or experience.

Source: Cedefop, 2003.

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  1. An official record (certificate, diploma) of achievement which recognises successful completion of education or training, or satisfactory performance in a test or examination;
  2. and/orthe requirements for an individual to enter, or progress within an occupation.


Source: Cedefop, 2003.


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Recognition (of competences)


All learning activity undertaken through life, which results in improving knowledge, know-how, skills, competences and/or qualifications for personal, social and/or professional reasons.


Source: Cedefop, 2008.



Training enabling individuals to acquire new skills giving access either to a new occupation or to new professional activities.

Cedefop: Cedefop, 2008.

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Ability to apply knowledge and use know-how to compete tasks and solve problems.




Source: Cedefop; European Parliament and Council of the European Union, 2008.


Skill mismatch


Situation of imbalance in which the level or type of skills available does nto correspond to labour market needs.




  • skills mismatch can be a surplus or a lack of knowledge, abilities and competences;
  • experts distinguish between vertical mismatch (the level of education/skills matches job requirements, but the type of education/skills is inappropriate for the current job).
  • skill mismatch can be analysed at different levels (individual, enterprise, sectoral, economy);


Source: Cedefop.


Skill needs


Demand for particular types of knowledge and skills on the labour market (total demand within a country or region, economic sector, etc.).



  • skills needs analysis (also referred to as identification of skills needs) aims at identifying skills gaps and shortages, anticipating skills needs, and assessing the capacity of qualification systems (education and training provision, funding schemes, etc.) to meet the needs of the economy;
  • anticipation of skills needs is the process of identifying skills the economy will require in a short, medium or longer term;
  • skills forecasting estimates the skill demand (jobs) and/or skill supply (labour force) that will be available on a short, medium or long term.

Source: Cedefop, 2010


 Skill obsolescence


Situation in which knowledge and skills of individuals are out of date or out of use.


Comment: this term is also used in the literature to describe situations where physical or mental abilities and skills deteriorate due to atrophy or wear and tear.




Source: Cedefop; De Grip, A.; van Loo, J. (2007).


Skill shortage


Situation where skills supply (type of abilities and number of people available on the labour market) is not sufficient to meet labour market demand.


Comment: a skill shortage applies to all levels of qualifications; it may result from factors such as:

  • insufficient education and training supply;
  • geographical imbalance in supply;
  • developments impacting the structure of the economy;
  • lack of attractiveness of specific occupations (difficult working conditions, low remuneration, insufficient social recognition).

Source: Cedefop, 2010


Skills audit


Analysis of knowledge, skills and competences of individuals, including their aptitudes and motivations to define a career project and/or plan professional reorientation or a training project.


Comment: a skills audit aims to help individuals:

  • analyse their career backgrounds;
  • self-assess their position in the labour environment;
  • prepare themselves for validation of non-formal or informal learning outcomes;
  • plan career pathways.

Source: Cedefop, 2008, based on Code du travail français, 2003.

Social dialogue

Process of exchange between social partners to promote consultation, and collective bargaining.


  1. social dialogue can be bipartite (involving representatives of workers and employers) or tripartite (also involving public authorities and/or representatives of civil society, NGOs, etc.);
  2. social dialogue can take place at various levels (company, sectoral / cross-sectoral and local / regional / national / transnational);
  3. at international level, social dialogue can be bilateral, trilateral or multilateral, according to the number of countries involved.

Source: Cedefop, 2004.

Social inclusion

Integration of individuals - or groups of individuals - into society, as citizens or as members of various public social networks. Social inclusion is fundamentally rooted in economic or labour market inclusion.

Source: Cedefop, 2004.

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Transparency of qualification

Degree of visibility and legibility of qualifications, their content and value on the (sectoral, regional, national or international) labour market and in education and training systems.

Source: Cedefop, 2008.

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Validation of learning outcomes

Confirmation by a competent body that learning outcomes (knowledge, skills and/or competences) acquired by an individual in a formal, non-formal or informal setting have been assessed against predefined criteria and are compliant with the requirements of a validation standard. Validation typically leads to certification.


Process of confirmation by an authorised body that an individual has acquired learning outcomes measured against a relevant standard. Validation consists of four distinct phases:

  • identification through dialogue of particular experiences of an individual;
  • documentation to make visible the individual’s experiences;
  • formal assessment of these experiences; and
  • certification of the results of the assessment which may lead to a partial or full qualification.

Source: Cedefop, 2008; Council of the European Uion, 2012.

Valuing learning

Process of promoting participation in and outcomes of (formal or non-formal) learning, to raise awareness of its intrinsic worth and to reward learning.

Source: Cedefop, 2001 in European Commission, 2001.

Vocational education and training (VET)

Education and training which aims to equip people with knowledge, know-how, skills and/or competences required in particular occupation or more broadly on the labour market.

Source: adapted from European Training Foundation, 1997.

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