Recognition of Prior Learning in Health Care: From a Caring Ideology and Power, to Communicative Action and Recognition

Fredrik Sandberg


During the last decades, the recognition of prior learning (RPL) has become a more frequently used method to recognize adult’s prior learning worldwide. This thesis analyzes a process of RPL in the health care sector in Sweden where health care assistants’ prior workplace learning is assessed for eligibility regarding subjects that are part of the upper-secondary health care program. Prior research on RPL is to a significant degree non-theoretical and focus is primarily on policy-level research. This thesis adds to the field by proposing a critical social theory perspective on RPL. In the thesis, the RPL process is analyzed through Jürgen Habermas’ theory of communicative action and Axel Honneth’s recognition theory. General questions posed are: What are the power issues in the RPL process? What are the implications of the tensions between the lifeworld of work and the system of education? What consequences do mutual understanding and communication have for the outcome of the RPL process? What part does recognition play for the participants?

The results disclose the power relations that emerge in the relationship between participants and teachers. The concept of a “caring ideology” is developed and problematized. Further, the importance of mutual understanding between participants and teachers in the assessment process is discussed, focusing on the consequences of a lack of mutual understanding. On a macro level, the analysis demonstrates the tension between the participants’ prior learning and the educational system’s demand for formalizing such learning. In addition, analyses of a more developmental character that intend to show the potential for critical learning, change and recognition are advanced.

The results suggest that communicative action can be used to develop RPL into processes focusing on critical learning and change. Recognition of traits and abilities also could enhance an individual’s positive relations with the self. Such recognition could develop self-confidence, and thus RPL has the potential to encourage learning and cultivate continuing self-realization through work.


This published doctoral dissertation served as the basis for four articles published in international educational journals where access is restricted. The main part of the dissertation can be accessed free of charge and is made available here in PLAIO.

Sandberg, F. (2012). Recognition of prior learning in health care: From a caring ideology and power, to communicative action and recognition (Published doctoral dissertation). Linköping University Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Linköping, Sweden. Retrieved from

Article 1

Sandberg, F. (2010). Recognising health care assistants' prior learning through a caring ideology. Vocations and Learning: Studies in Vocational and Professional Education, 3(2), 99-115.

Article 2

Sandberg, F. (2012). A Habermasian analysis of a process of recognition of prior learning for health care assistants. Adult Education Quarterly, 62(4), 351-370.

Article 3

Sandberg, F. (2013, July). A reconstructive analysis of the potential for critical learning and change in recognition of prior learning: a Habermasian analysis. British Educational Research Journal. doi:10.1002/berj.3113

Article 4

Sandberg, F., & Kubiak, C. (2013). Recognition of prior learning, self-realisation and identity within Axel Honneth’s theory of recognition. Studies in Continuing Education, 35(3), 351-365.

Our special thanks to Fredrik Sandberg for allowing us to share his doctoral thesis with our
PLAIO readers.  For more information on Sandberg and his work, please visit

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