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What means knowledge, skills and competence?

3. What is meant by the terms “knowledge, skills and competence” and why do we use them?

There are many different possibilities for structuring and constituting the results of learning processes. Following discussions between technical experts from all countries involved in the development of the EQF it was agreed to use the distinction between knowledge, skills and competence (KSC) as basis of the framework, because it is the most established way for categorising learning outcomes.

Clearly, this categorisation was inspired by and connected to other, very similar, differentiations in learning outcomes. In France, for example, one generally distinguishes between savoir, savoir-faire and savoir-être; in the German-speaking countries, the common differentiation is between Fachkompetenz, Methodenkompetenz, Personalkompetenz and Sozialkompetenz; while in the English-speaking countries, the conventional categorisation is between “cognitive competence”, “functional competence” and “social competence”.

The EQF’s differentiation between knowledge, skills and competence can therefore be seen as a pragmatic agreement between the various, widespread approaches and does not oblige countries to do the same. National or sectoral frameworks or systems may require different approaches, taking into account specific traditions and needs (see also questions 4 and 9).

The KSC differentiation of learning outcomes helps to clearly construct descriptors and to more easily classify the levels of qualifications. Nevertheless, these three categories (KSC) should not be read in isolation from each other, but they should be collectively perceived. Thus, to grasp the characteristics of one level requires also “horizontal reading” (see question 6).

Similarities may exist between the categories (e.g. the column “competence” includes certain skills; the column “skills” also contains certain forms of knowledge) but this is in the nature of things.