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Recognition in open education has two meanings: a) it is the process, usually carried out by an accredited institution, of issuing a certificate, diploma or title which has formal value; b) it is also the process of formally acknowledging and accepting credentials, such as a badge, a certificate, a diploma or title issued by a third-party institution. These credentials should attest that a set of learning outcomes (e.g. knowledge, know-how, skills and/or competences) achieved by an individual has been assessed by a competent body against a predefined standard. (OpenEdu Framework, 2016)

Recognition enables open education learners to make the transition from non-formal to formal education, to complete a programme of tertiary education in a more flexible way, or to get recruited/ promoted at the workplace. When submitting their credentials for recognition, learners expect to gain 'validated credits' which will help them to move ahead professionally and in their personal lives. Credentialisation also plays an important role in the recognition of open learning. It can be done in a variety of formal or informal ways, and the recognising institution can choose whether, and in which circumstances, to recognise the credentials given.


Assessment is the core element of the recognition process. It is defined as the process of appraising knowledge, know-how, skills and/or competences of an individual against predefined criteria (measurement of learning outcomes). Assessment is typically followed by certification (CEDEFOP, 2004/2014). In the case of open education, this can be formal or non-formal certification. The type of certification awarded to open learners will depend on the robustness of assessment (OpenCred, 2015). This refers to the extent to which the assessment undertaken by open learners can ensure the appropriate verification of their identities and their knowledge/skills.

Identity validation

The thorough verification of the learner’s identity for the sake of assessment and certification is considered essential by universities and is also highly valued by the learners. The most common systems used to identify distance learners, on MOOCs for example, are biometrics and proctoring. The biometrics system consists of the cross-checking of the learners’ photos with their typing pattern. The proctoring system is the monitoring of distance learners taking exams via webcams or specific software. There is also the more conventional exam on a specific site, where learners are monitored by a person. This type of exam is still considered by universities to be the most reliable due to its similarity with that of the traditional education system.

Trust and Transparency

Both trust and transparency are essential for the success of recognition practices in open education. Trust in the open learning recognition context means the reputation built by the institution providing the open education (MOOCs, OER and OCW) and the responsibility with which it engages with open educational practices. Trust has to do with relationship building, reputation management, networking, community engagement, quality control, values and mission. Transparency seems easier to achieve than trust, since it requires that the institution takes steps to increase the visibility of its open education practices, such as course design processes, syllabus and assessment procedures. Inter-institutionally, trust has to do with the relationship the institutions build with one another. The more they collaborate and share, the more they make visible their processes and procedures, their values and goals, and the more trustworthy they become.

RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning)

RPL is the process for recognising learning that took place previously in informal, formal or non-formal contexts: for example, in the workplace and through life experiences. This method of assessment [leading to the award of credits] considers whether a learner can demonstrate that they meet the assessment requirements for a unit or course through knowledge, understanding or skills they already possess, without having to undertake new learning. Once recognised through this process, prior learning can be used to gain credits or exemption for qualifications, and/or for personal and career development (Quality Assurance Agency –QAA, UK; Learners can usually achieve recognition of prior learning by:

  • Undertaking the same assessments as those following the formal course of learning and assessment that lead to the desired unit or qualification. These assessments may be undertaken without attending the teaching sessions.
  • Submitting a portfolio of evidence based on previous learning, skills and / or competence cross referenced to the learning outcomes and assessment criteria of the unit or units for which RPL is being sought.

The drawback of RPL for open education is that it is not scalable, since the portfolio needs to be assessed by a lecturer or a designated committee, who will look at it against the original syllabus of the course. This process can be lengthy and time consuming, particularly when agreement is sought. Often, the decision to award credits with RPL procedures relies entirely upon the decision of the lecturer or committee in charge of the dossier of the learner.

Fast Track Recognition

This is a procedure where a group of universities, members of a consortium or not, agree to mutually recognize the certificates of open learners who are looking for credit transfers and formal recognition. This means that, via collaboration, the institutions agree upon the quality standards and assessment procedures which satisfy their requirements for the validation and recognition of previous open learning.


Qualification in the open education context means 'formal qualification'. It is the formal outcome (certificate, diploma or title) of an assessment process which is obtained when a competent body determines that an individual has achieved learning outcomes to given standards and/or possesses the necessary competence to do a job in a specific area of work. A qualification confers official recognition of the value of learning outcomes in the labour market and in education and training. A qualification can be a legal entitlement to practice a trade (OECD).

Source: CEDEFOP, 2008/2014, based on Eurydice, 2006; European Training Foundation, 1997; OECD 2007; ILO 1998.

Qualifications in open education depend on institutions being able to create learning paths that lead to full programmes of study.

Social recognition

In the context of open education recognition, social recognition is the value given by society to badges and micro-credentials obtained on the completion of a MOOC or another type of learning via open education (such as OCW). Although social recognition is not a formal type of recognition of learning achievements, it has increasingly been accepted as proof of knowledge by employers and by universities.

Source: OpenEdu Framework (2016)