The recognition of prior learning (RPL) is of great interest within the European Vocational Education and Training sector. If applied effectively, supported by appropriate technology, it has the potential to reveal what the learners already know and understand, to inform and improve the teaching and learning process.

The Optimal project aimed to develop, pilot and evaluate processes to support the recognition and accreditation of prior learning (RPL/APL) for classroom and work-based learning, in mid Norway and Scotland, respectively. The learners involved were all experienced fish farm aquaculture operatives employed by salmon farming companies and working towards the completion of a recognised National Qualification (NQ).

The concept underpinning the Optimal project originated in Norway and was based on their experience with using Response Technology (RT) to provide learners access to multiple choice questions via their mobile phone, leading to the ‘recognition of their prior learning’. Based on the results, the group’s strengths and weaknesses were used to determine where teaching inputs and learning activities were focussed during the next class.

The mission was to develop improved RPL and APL processes and resources to support classroom and work-based learning by mature learners with previous aquaculture experience who were employed in industry. The RPL concept and RT was demonstrated to the Scottish partners and piloted with work-based learners, helping to inform the ‘Individual Learning Plans’ that are the foundation of the apprenticeship system.

More specifically, the Optimal project:

  1. Develop multiple choice question banks that could be shared and used to support RPL for classroom and work-based learning and APL for work-based learning.
  2. Develop and pilot the use of RPL to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of group learning in a classroom environment, including peer learning
  3. To devise processes for the accreditation of prior learning (APL) based on multiple-choice questioning endorsed by the Scottish Qualifications Awarding Authority
  4. To pilot learning resources that supported independent study by work-based learners and targeted the specific gaps in knowledge and understanding revealed by RPL
  5. Develop teachers in their use of the Response Technology and RPL in a classroom and work-based learning situations
  6. To pilot RPL and APL with classroom and work-based learners and to gather feedback to inform project evaluation and the development of improved RPL/APL specifications

Number and profile of participating organisations:
There were four core partners and one Associated partner involved in the development and delivery of the Optimal resources and pilots.

  1. The Blue Competence Centre - coordinator, developer of methodologies and multimedi
  2. The Guri Kunna (GK) VET School - a leading provider of NQs in Aquaculture for young students and unqualified mature learners from industry
  3. Pisces Learning Innovations Ltd - A Scottish education consultancy specialising in the development of qualifications and learning resources for the water and land-based industries
  4. Inverness College - A provider of Aquaculture Modern Apprenticeship for the Scottish industry on the mainland
  5. Teachers Union of Ireland – Social partner representing teachers in Ireland and responsible for their terms, conditions and personal development

Description of main activities undertaken:

  1. Demonstration of Response Technology (RT) to Optimal partners, leading to review and selection of RT systems
  2. The provision of specialised RT training and ongoing support for teachers in Norway and Scotland
  3. Development and application of RT to RPL to classroom-based learning in Norway, to develop, pilot and evaluate th4e impact of RPL on the teaching effectiveness and NQ results of learners
  4. The development of multiple choice for use by the classroom and work-based learners and learning materials to support the work-based learners individualised learning plans
  5. Piloting or RPL and APL with learners, leading to evaluation of results and the formulation of improved RT specifications and associated pedagogy

Results and impact:

  1. A marked improvement of the GK mature learners quanitative and qualitative results in their Aquacuture NQ theory examination, whereby all learners entered passed
  2. Guri Kunna learners gave positive feedback on the application of multiple-choice questions within RPL the classroom pedagogy and peer learning in particular
  3. The work-based learners gave positive feedback that the use of multiple choice, RT and discrete learning episodes improved their overall learning experience

Longer-term benefits:

  1. The Optimal results were used to inform the development an improved future specification for RPL/APL technology and pedagogy within classroom and work-based VET delivery systems
  2. The learning resources and pedagogy are being adopted within Scotland and Iceland


More about the abckground:
The Optimal partner countries have set ambitious fish farming production growth targets, increasing the demand from fish production and supply companies for job-seekers with proven expertise and competence. The current generation of farm operatives must develop the skills to operate increasingly sophisticated fish farming equipment and ICT systems, according to specifications, as a matter of urgency. 

The lack of job applicants with evidence of the competence and skills potential employers are looking for is a shared concern.  Many do have relevant knowledge and skills, which have been gained during fish farm employment informally or within a technically related sector, that go unrecognized, compounding the problem. Sophisticated systems for the recognition of prior learning (RPL) are needed, so as learners with some experience can ‘fast track’ the completion of fish farming qualifications that employers respect and trust. 

The partner countries VET providers and employers will work in partnership to develop and pilot learning technologies and methods that can improve the delivery of VET to work based learners through the application of RPL methods and technologies. All learners involved in the pilots will have gained some relevant and/or transferable knowledge and skills, informally, during their employment, but will also have significant knowledge and skills gaps to address. Such gaps in knowledge and skills result in heterogeneous Vocational Education and Training (VET) classes, which are a serious challenge many VET teachers are faced with when they try to optimize learning outcome for work based learners in distance learning solutions consisting of a combination of e-learning and face to face training.

The introduction of RPL will leads to individualized learning, allowing teachers and instructors to focus on the most challenging topics and concepts with individuals or groups of learners. The RPL tools and methods can be applied to synchronous distance learning, overcoming the geographic barriers that often prohibit them from travelling to join conventional face to face classes and training sessions. 

The ultimate goal of Optimal is to develop RPL methodologies that enable an individual’s informal competences and skills to become recognized and accepted, within fish farming qualifications and built on through individualized learning.  

This will be achieved by:

  • Evaluating alternative RPL processes and technology being applied within innovative VET delivery systems within the partner countries, identifying best practice for sharing.
  • Piloting new, cost effective and user friendly RPL methods and ICT tools that can determine and document evidence of a learners’ existing knowledge and skills, for acceptance as formal competences within respected fish farming qualifications. 
  • Evaluating the learners’ experiences of the RPL process and the subsequent delivery of their individualized learning plan, to inform the development of improved RPL systems.
  • Developing new specifications for improved RPL methodologies and tools, informed by learner and employer feedback during the piloting and evaluation phase. 

Methods and technology supporting ICT, RPL and individualized learning will be developed and improved, fully involving VET providers, industry and learners within the process, addressing industry’s skill needs priorities for key occupations, such as the cage farming operative.

More VET teachers will be enabled to apply improved and proven RPL methods and technology to the delivery of their VET courses, to make them more flexible. Consequently, VET will become driven by individual learning plans and supported by flexible and accessible learning resources, including e-learning. 

A considerable reduction of face to face teaching is anticipated, improving the accessibility of VET qualification based courses by work based learners, gaining time efficiencies and reducing costs without reducing quality in comparison to conventional face to face delivery. 

By focusing on individual knowledge and skill gaps, the quality and effectiveness of learning support and VET provision as a whole will be raised. It is expected that access to workplace training in fish farming industry is increased, while training costs are reduced without reducing the quality of the training.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use, which may be made of the information contained therein.