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1. RPL and APL in the Netherlands
2. How does it work?
3. The APL-infrastructure and the quality code
4. RPL and validation of prior learning
5. Knowledge Centre APL
6. Background information

1. RPL and APL in the Netherlands

Recognition of prior learning (RPL) is the common name given to the process of the recognition of competences that an individual has gained through formal, informal or non-formal learning in various settings. Accreditation of Prior Learning refers to the process of accreditation once the gained competences have been recognized.This implies that competences acquired by learning on the job, in society or in voluntary work are in principle comparable to the competences acquired in formal education. RPL and APL are instruments to make the potential of the individual development visible and to improve the human capital management in companies. In the Netherlands, recognition of prior learning is seen in various contexts:

• To increase the employability of individuals and employees by recognizing their prior learning related to a qualification and describe these outcomes in a certificate of experience;
• To get more insight in employees' capacities to create an optimal match with occupational profiles or learning programs on the job;
• To increase the employability of individuals by recognizing and possibly accredit their prior learning to shorten the duration of continuing training/education programmes in order to attain nationally recognised qualifications.

2. How does it work?

In general, a candidate wants to prove that he or she is competent for a certain job. Therefore, an APL-procedure is focused on a sectorstandard or formal qualification. The acquired competences, gained through informal and non-formal learning, are compared with the learning outcomes of a formal qualification or sector standard.

The animation below explains how APL works in the Netherlands. It has English subtitles:

Formal qualifications and sector standards
Formal qualifications are developed by educational institutes and sector organizations in an organized setting under guidance of the Ministry of Education. (More about the Dutch Education System). Occupational profiles and input from field experts are used to determine the qualifications. These qualifications are nationally recognized.
Sector or industry standards are relating to the labour market which employers and employees regard as relevant. External legitimacy by stakeholders such as employers and trade unions within a specific industry is the key requirement for recognition of these qualifications. If these standards are acknowledged by the industry and approved by the Labour Foundation they can be used in an APL-procedure by a certified APL-provider.

The APL-process
The process starts with informing and advising individuals and organizations on the use and goals of APL. In the intake with an individual, the candidate decides whether or not to start the APL-procedure. The goals of the APL-procedure are set and arrangements are made.
In the stage of recognition the candidate has to collect the evidence that the acquired competences match the qualification. The candidate is guided by a portfolio counsellor and stores his of her evidence of learning and acquired competences in a portfolio. In the stage of validation the competences are assessed against the learning outcomes of a qualification or standard and validated by an assessor. The assessor describes the outcomes in a Certificate of Experience ('Ervaringscertificaat'). This certificate can be used for new job opportunities or accelerate formal learning programmes.

The RPL-process


3. The APL-infrastructure and the quality code

In the Dutch APL-system, every organisation can become an APL-provider, as long as they work according to the APLquality code (see the box below) and have themselves evaluated by an evaluating organisation. The quality code for APL itself aims to achieve more transparency and comparability and make APL more accessible. The evaluation is demanded every 18 months and for every domain of standards of the APL-provider (for example finance or logistics). The providers that are certified, are registered in the National Register for accredited APL-procedures within a specific domain/sector. These APL-providers are called 'registered providers' . Most of the APL-providers are organisations for vocational education or for higher professional education, and also private schools. However, there is a growing number of APL-providers with different backgrounds such as intermediate organisations, sector organisations and career management organisations. 

Quality code APL
1. The goal of APL is to define, evaluate and accredit individual competences.
2. APL primarily answers to the need of the individual. Entitlements and arrangements are clearly defined and guaranteed.
3. Procedures and instruments are reliable and based on solid standards.
4. Assessors and counsellors are competent, impartial and independent.
5. The quality of the APL-procedure is guaranteed and is being improved on and on-going basis.

4. APL and validation of prior learning

Since 2013 there is a move from using APL as an specific instrument to recognize prior learning to more different ways of validating informal and non-formal learning. The system and infrastructure of APL therefore is intensively evaluated with APL-providers. The evaluation resulted in a proposal for a new system in which there a two different paths for validating learning.

1. Sector and industry: learning and competences of individuals is recognized against sector/ industry standards or formal qualifications in order to get insight in the individual's competences. A learning program can follow the validation process but this does not have to be formal program.
2. Formal education: learning and competences of an individual are recognized against a formal qualification. The goal for the individual is to validate his or her competence in order to obtain a formal qualification.

This transition relates to the government's drive to move towards 'a participation society' in which all stakeholders have to take ownership and responsibility for their own role in lifelong learning.

The four dimensions and possible instruments to validate informal- and non-formal learning are pictured in the graph below. A description of the dimensions and instrument can be found in this presentation.

Degree of validation

5. Dutch Knowledge Centre APL

The Dutch Knowledge Centre for APL is responsible for the knowledge management and dissemination on the subject APL and RPL and validation processes in the Netherlands. It also plays an important role in the further development of APL and validating learning outcomes in the Netherlands and in all the matters concerning the quality standards for APL in the Netherlands. The centre works under guidance of the Dutch Ministry of Education.


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Background information in English

- Guidelines validating informal and nonformal learning (PDF)

Powerpoint in English RPL in the Netherlands (PDF)

- APL qualitycode Netherlands (PDF)