What are real competencies?

The operative word is competence. 'Real competence' denotes that we are dealing with genuine competencies that an individual can use in specific situations. This includes formal competencies, but those are only part of real competencies.


Formal competencies are those you get a certificate for.

Real competencies include everything you can do, whether or not you have a certificate and regardless of where you learned it, be it in the formal educational system, the informal one or in any other setting.

The teaching in non-formal adult education organisations does not yield formal competencies, but it does provide the participants with real competencies.

This broad concept, which includes professional, social and individual skills, is now subject to documentation, assessment and recognition through specially developed methods.

The concept is far from unambiguous, which is partly illustrated by the fact that basically identical processes are denoted quite differently from one country to another.

The actual opportunities in each country also bear an impact on the practical usage of the term.

  • This particular path to competence development is favoured in countries with a strong tradition of volunteer work.
  • In countries with a strong tradition of adult education (AE), AE is typically considered an arena for learning and development.
  • Work life is everywhere considered a key arena for development of real competencies.

Denmark has imported the term 'real competencies' from Norwegian, primarily from the major Norwegian project 'Realkompetenseprosjektet', which is a development project concerning evaluation and measuring of real competencies.

In Sweden, real competence assessment is called validation work.

In the English-speaking parts of the world, we find terms such as 'Recognition of Prior Learning' (RPL), 'Prior Experimental Learning' (RPEL), 'Accreditation of Prior Learning' (APL) and 'Prior Experimental Learning' (APEL).

In France, they use the term 'Validation des acquis l'experience' (VAE).

In Holland, they use the term 'Erkennen van Elders Verworven Competencies' (EVC), which can be directly translated as 'recognition of acquired competencies', although current literature on the subject primarily uses the English term VPL, which stands for 'Valuation and Validation of Prior Learning'.