A radical new system to give adults credit for what they learn will be launched by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority next week.
People will be able to move house or change jobs without damaging their studies. If necessary, they could switch to other colleges or awarding bodies to finish courses.
At the heart of the QCA plan, which goes out for consultation on Monday, is a refined model of credit accumulation and transfer which allows students to learn and qualify at their own pace.
Ken Boston, chief executive of the QCA, promised a system of "inter-connected units", each described by the level of difficulty, with credits to show how much learning was needed to achieve it.
"This concept in itself is not new. What is new is its development into a framework made up of coherent combinations of units that can be accumulated and transferred easily between qualifications and between awarding bodies," he said.
"This represents an ambitious and reforming template for organising achievements and qualifications. Our proposed design for the framework for achievement will make it possible for many more employees to gain credit for in-house training programmes."
The QCA will work closely with the Learning and Skills Council and the Sector Skills Development Agency, representing employers, to agree on a system that recognises a wide range of achievements in a much more flexible and inclusive way than is possible using the current national qualifications framework.
"Last month Mike Tomlinson and the 14-19 working group set out the way forward for young people's qualifications," Mr Boston said. "They gave us an exciting blueprint for the future and next week I hope that we can do the same for other learners.
"For a long time we have been asking what kind of qualifications do we need to meet the needs of individuals, society and the economy in the 21st century? How should they be structured? Today's system of vocational qualifications is a series of mini-frameworks developed in different sectors according to different awarding body conventions over a number of years."
Too many valuable qualifications were missed out of the framework while others were duplicated, or had no obvious pathways for progression in employment or learning, he said.
"Overall, though, if we are honest, many learners find it all a confusing mess. Let's think of an aspiring plumber who wants to start their plumbing course in Aberystwyth, continue in Armagh, add marketing electives in Acton and complete the training in Aberdeen. At the moment would those of us in education offer them a fair deal?" he asked.