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The difference between actual skills and formal qualifications: Potential for recognition of prior learning (RPL), or need for recurrent education?
Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Education and Adult Learning. Linköping University, Faculty of Educational Sciences. (Vuxenpedagogik och folkbildning)ORCID iD: 0000-0003-1194-9708
University of Jyväskylä .
2016 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Our level of skills is associated with our educational level. However, even if there is correlation between actual skills level and educational level, the skills level varies also within a group with the same educational level. Recognition of prior learning (RPL) is a tool in adult and higher education, particularly aiming at giving recognition to actual skills and competencies not reflected in formal qualifications. RPL has been questioned, described as a measure mainly promoted in policy but with a comparably low demand in practice. This paper aims at analysing the potential for RPL, through identifying differences between groups with varying literacy and numeracy skills levels, but with same or similar educational level/formal qualifications. This analysis will identify this potential for RPL in the group with higher skills level than expected, ‘overachievers’, but also the need for recurrent education among those with lower skills levels than expected, the ‘underachievers’.


The analysis employs data from the PIAAC study (the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies) in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. The skills measure was constructed as an overall index of individual’s combined literacy and numeracy. It was extracted using the PIAAC data of the four countries together. Variables such as age, gender, social background, attitudes towards learning, and reported skills use at work and at home, were used to characterize the different groups of over- and underachievers. Binary logistic analyses were performed to identify variables which are significantly related with overachievement, contrasted with the ‘normal’ achievement.  The analyses were carried out independently for each educational subgroup and for employed and unemployed as well (because unemployed people had no data on the otherwise important job-related variables).


The results show the influence of background, attitudes, and skills use, on the measured skills level as compared to formal educational level. For example, concerning cultural capital (number of books at home/parents’ educational level), it is shown that the higher the capital, the better are chances of being an overachiever (vice versa for underachieving). Further, more use of numeracy skills at home means better chances for overachieving (vice versa for underachieving). The use of numeracy skills was throughout the analyses more powerful ‘predictor’ than the use of reading, writing, or ICT skills. For the employed respondents, the results show that learning at work had a systematically negative effect on overachieving. The outcomes are further discussed in terms of if and in what groups there is potential for RPL, or need for recurrent education, in the Nordic countries.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
Skills level, Nordic countries, PIAAC, underachievement, overachievement, recognition of prior learning (RPL)
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-125985OAI: diva2:910977
44th NERA Congress, Helsinki, March 9-11, 2016
Skills development for realizing the workforce competence reserve - SkillsREAL

Projektet finansierat av Forskningsrådet, Norge.

Available from: 2016-03-10 Created: 2016-03-10 Last updated: 2016-03-21

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Andersson, Per
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Education and Adult LearningFaculty of Educational Sciences

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