This Cedefop conference addresses the ongoing shift to learning outcomes across European education and training systems. National systems are currently redefining standards and curricula, and reorienting teaching and assessment practices. In parallel, more and more countries are setting up systems for the validation of non-formal and informal learning. In light of recent developments, learning outcomes are more important than learning duration and location. Moreover, European initiatives such as the European qualifications framework (EQF) or the European credit system for vocational education and training (ECVET), which aim to increase transparency and comparability of qualifications, are also based on learning outcomes.
To many, this shift is an opportunity to create education and training systems better able to support lifelong learning and promote a learning culture closer to the needs of the individual. Others, however, view this approach as problematic: they criticise it as overly bureaucratic, favouring standardisation over diversity and individual choice.
The aim of the conference is to:
• take stock of European learning outcome developments during the past decade;
• discuss how the shift to learning outcomes affects policies and practices in education and training.
The conference looks in detail at recent developments and discusses benefits and problems/challenges arising from the current shift to learning outcomes. The three themes addressed are:
(a) learning outcomes as a prerequisite for flexible (lifelong) learning
The learning outcomes approach is considered crucial for creating flexible learning pathways allowing learners to progress according to their needs, based on already acquired skills and competences. Learning outcomes are expected not only to increase permeability of education and training systems but also to ease transfer from education to work, and vice versa. A combination of tools at national and European levels – such as qualifications frameworks, credit transfer arrangements and recognition arrangements – have been put in place to accomplish this. Discussions will focus on learning outcomes’ contribution to increased transparency and permeability and their benefits for individual learners and employers;
(b) governance through learning outcomes
The shift to learning outcomes is considered a form of governance by many stakeholders. Introducing qualifications frameworks (at European, national and sectoral levels) and rewriting standards and curricula can be seen as examples of this, explicitly expressing society’s and the labour market’s expectations of teachers and learners. The conference will discuss opportunities and dangers associated with this governance approach: does it enable decentralisation and institutional autonomy? Can it be seen as a form of centralisation limiting the scope of local and institutional choice? Does this approach reflect the needs of the labour market for relevant, high-quality skills and competences?
(c) learning outcomes and teaching and training
Learning outcomes – as statements of expectations – are intended to orient and guide teachers and trainers responsible for or involved in the learning process. The extent to which this is actually the case is open for discussion, and the conference will present a range of examples showing possibilities as well as pitfalls in this area. An important aspect to be addressed is whether learning outcomes can be (easily) assessed. A clear reference for assessment is crucial for a positive impact of the learning outcomes approach on teaching and training.
The conference is aimed at the wide range of stakeholders currently involved in the shift to learning outcomes. By providing an updated picture of developments in this field, it will support a common understanding of how to promote implementation, avoiding the dangers associated with this shift. The conference provides an opportunity for policy-makers, practitioners and researchers to exchange experiences in a field where all groups are or should be actively involved. More specifically, it will discuss the following challenges:
• applying the learning outcomes approach in a way that promotes future developments of European tools in the area of education and training and their implementation at national level;
• defining learning outcomes in a way that leaves room for individual and institutional interpretation and initiative while at the same time presenting clear directions and expectations.
The conference will feed into Cedefop’s new research project ‘the shift to learning outcomes’ launched in July 2013. This project, which is a follow-up to the 2006-08 Cedefop project on the same topic, will provide a review and analysis of developments in the EU/EEA countries and the subsystems of education and training.