This Directory contains definitions and explanations of the main features of the World Reference Levels (WRLs).  It defines “Qualification” and “Credential” as they are used in the WRLs; explains the main structures of the WRLs (Elements of Capability, Element Outcome Statements, Stages of Progression and Indicators of Progression), and describes the outcomes of the WRL Digital Tool – The WRL Profile and the WRL Report.

qualification | credential | element of capability | element outcome statement | stage of progression | indicator of progression | wrl profile | wrl report

Key Terms

Qualification / full qualification

In the WRLs, the term “full qualification” is used to describe a qualification which has formal or social recognition as a guarantee of capability or competence* in some academic or occupational field or role.

* In the WRLs, the term “capability” is used to refer to the ability to perform or achieve any defined action or outcome. The term “competence” is used here to refer to a capability which has been at least partly achieved and demonstrated through practice in an academic, social or occupational role.


The term “credential” is used in the WRLs to denote any kind of formal, quality-assured recognition of achievement which is less than a full qualification – eg a part-qualification, an award based on skills, knowledge and/or know-how which is additional to a full qualification, or a free-standing award for the achievement of some generic or specialised outcomes which do not relate to any particular full qualification.

* Both qualifications and credentials may be described as “awards”.

Element of Capability

The WRLs use 11 elements of capability, which are derived from the factors used to define levels and indicate progression in framework level descriptors and other related structures such as competence frameworks, “Knowledge and skills frameworks” for specific occupations, Job evaluation frameworks, and occupational information/career guidance frameworks.  In the frameworks, the factors are found under broad labels such as knowledge, skills, application, practice, role, context, responsibility, autonomy, leadership, social skills and life skills.  The WRL Elements are organised in three interlinked clusters of outcomes and requirements:

  • Accountabilities: the nature and scope of the academic, social or occupational activities which an individual can carry out, take responsibility for, collaborate on, monitor and improve performance in.
  • Capacities: the kind and complexity of intellectual and practical capabilities (deployable skills and knowledge) which an individual needs to carry out activities successfully
  • Contingencies: the kind of academic or occupational context in which individuals can carry out activities and in which they can identify and/or investigate and/or deal with technical, social, ethical or environmental problems and issues.

Element Outcome Statement

The WRL Elements are presented in outcome statements which describe what an individual can do, or is required to do (including demonstrating knowledge and understanding) relative to a standard.  The standard is presented in descriptions of actions, objects or objectives, qualities, contexts or conditions, and scope of performance.

Stage of Progression

The WRLs are structured in four broad levels which can be related to common understandings of academic, social and occupational progression.  Stages of progression within each of these levels have also been built into the structure, with lower and higher stages of development at each level.  These are the 8 WRL Stages (from lowest to highest – A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2, D1 and D2).

Indicator of Progression

The WRL Element Outcome Statements create lines of progression using clearly identifiable indicators of progression.  These are terms which mark changes of technical difficulty or scope for control by the individual which are common to a number of WRL Elements.  Examples of such hierarchies include simple-straightforward-complex, basic-standard-specialised, carry out-supervise-manage-oversee and adaptmodify-reconfigure.  These contributing to the process of identifying a level of progression, but are not normally the sole means of characterising the stages.  These key indicators are defined and related to cognate terms in this Directory.

WRL Profile

The WRL Tool (either as a web-based application or a paper-based instrument) is designed to create a graphical profile for each qualification, credential or other set of outcomes eg job specifications and programme entry requirements).  The profile illustrates which of the elements of capability is relevant to the qualification, credential, etc, and the stage of progression which is achieved or required in each of these.  It records some information about the user and about the qualification, credential or other set of outcomes which has been profiled.  It also includes evidence provided by the user to support the profile.

WRL Report

The WRL Report is created to accompany profiles of qualifications, credentials or other set of assessed outcomes.  It adds summary information in a standard format on assessment and awarding:

  • Who awards and/or accredits the qualification/credential
  • The design/structure of the qualification/credential
  • How it is assessed
  • How it is quality assured