Defining nonformal learning

ukyouthfuturelabUK Youth, one of the leading youth charities in the UK, has started what they call “a non-formal forum on non-formal learning for youth.”

Their upcoming Conference “Vision not Division – Learning for all in the 21st Century,” jointly organised amongst others with Futurelab – Innovation in Education, focuses on

“the increasingly significant contribution that non-formal learning is likely to have to play in the future provision of education and learning in the 21st Century.”

The conference brings together seminal figures from the British sphere of non-formal learning – researchers, practitioners and policy makers alike.

In preparation and anticipation of the conference, their consultation planning group looked at recent definitions of non-formal learning to identify some common ground through characteristics of non-formal learning spanning across several definitions:

  • a commitment to the ‘agency of the learner’
  • purposeful and intentional learning but most often a voluntary commitment by the learner
  • reliant on a set of values/beliefs about learning rather than an organizational setting
  • learner-centred
  • requiring a flexibility in learning styles, tending towards experiential and reflective
  • provides for accreditation of learning if required by the learner
  • takes place in a wide range of environments and settings covering a broad range of subjects and activities
  • delivers an integral aspect of Life Long Learning

They also say that, in their view,

“non-formal learning occupies the space that separates formal and informal learning and permeates both these arenas, when utilised by skilled and expert practitioners.” [Source]

The definitions considered are well-known and widely referred to – including the European Commission’s Communication “Making a European Area of Lifeling Learning a Reality (2001),” the shared Commission & Council Working Paper “Pathways towards validation and recognition of education, training & learning in the youth field (2004)” and the Salto Report “Promoting recognition of youth work across Europe (2005).”

(Sidenote of interest: the people behind the definitions in these reports are no other than Lynne Chisholm and Peter Lauritzen. Andreas)

What do you think about this common ground?

Something missing, something wrong?


33 responses to “Defining nonformal learning”

  1. Bastian Avatar

    I find the lack of clarity disturbing between learning and education. The definitions seems to be rather referring to the larger system of learning – which is education and not the process as such. I would propose a different definition here for discussion:

    Non-formal Learning is a participant centred, creative and dynamic process, focusing on the beginning of learning and developing competences collectively.


    Non-formal Education is a system for learning based on participants realities, previous experiences, competences and needs. It’s characterised by mobility, flexible time management and combinations of environments, aiming at personal development, empowerment and improving the praxis of participants but also influencing society as a whole. It’s challenging and encourages co-operation.

  2. Andreas Avatar

    There are three things I distinctly like about the approach of the consultation planning group of “Vision not Division”:

    First, they leave aside the term education. And rightly so, seeing how non-formal education is almost always defined as not being formal education – a definition which is not only simplistic and euro-centric but also not satisfactory at all.

    Second, they do not try to jump to a definition rightaway, but try to identify some common elements across currently existing definitions. This provides them with a good starting point for discussion at the conference – but it also preempts the usual reaction to a new definition attempt, which I will now demonstrate with the example so willingly provided :)

    @Bastian – Where is experiential, voluntary, intentional in your definition?!

    (And so it goes.)

    Third, they bring some consistency to the discourse, don’t they? Starting from the perspective of the learner – rather than the educator or the provider – seems a winning concept for defining an educational approach that claims to be learner-centred…

  3. Bastian Avatar

    @Andreas :-)

    I don’t consider the voluntary aspect an exclusive element of non-formal learning. At least higher education, for my part, I attended voluntarily. The ‘you have to attend at least 80% of the sessions to get your reimbursement’ clause also prevents many activities in the are of Non-Formal Education to truely participate voluntarily in everything. The experiential learning – I think that this is included by stating that the learning is based on participants previous experiences, may they have been at home or within the seminar, exchange or training course. Intentional? There we get into yet another discussion on the difference of non-formal and informal learning. I would like to differentiate between informal learning and incidental learning. I don’t think they are the same. I consider informal learning intentional, just as nonformal and formal. Informal learning is if I by myself sit down or do something to learn something – without any external learning objectives, structure or support. Incidental learning is really just learning by being alive. I think there is a difference. So, to me the intentional aspect is transversal to in-non and formal learning, so not a factor of differentiation.

    But I must say that I like the first start into the attempt to define non-formal education much more than any definition that I have so far read in COM or CoE papers regarding this topic.

    But where is the learning continuum? Where are the aspects of informality and formality? Where are (potential) aspects of nonformality, that could be detectable in different learning situations?

    1. OECD Project NFE/L Avatar

      Does an additional distinction between informal and incidental learning really make sense?

      “Informal learning is never organised, has no set objective in terms of learning outcomes and is never intentional from the learner’s standpoint. Often it is referred to as learning by experience or just as experience.”

      Werquin, Patrick (2007) Terms, concepts and models for analysing the value of (non-formal and informal learning) recognition programmes. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). [PDF]

  4. Andreas Karsten Avatar

    I would guess that any definition of non-formal learning could, not even in Europe, claim to be universally acceptable. Maybe it is then futile attempting to develop a normative definition?

    What if we tried much rather to develop something descriptive and explanatory – without getting lost in details – where would this take us?

    Maybe towards an explanatory statement that captures the meaning, the use, the function and the essence of non-formal learning across plenty of heterogeneous contexts?

    In any case, I don’t think that just because other forms and formats of learning and/or education can also be voluntary or experiential or intentional you could leave these defining features of nonformal learning away!

  5. Bastian Avatar

    I generally don’t like the pigeon-holing side affect of – ‘this is formal education’, ‘this is non-formal education’, etc.. Too often have I found myself in activities that claimed to be non-formal education, but relied heavily on formal learning approaches, while my biggest learning processes happened informally. I feel more friendly about the learning continuum approach that looks at specific learning situations in which learning takes place with regards to the setting, the purpose, the content and the process. Originally it was postulated that this continuum exist one-dimensionally between the extremes of formality and informality. On a free-afternoon of a TC I once spend some time with a colleague to try to describe those attributes of formality and informality – but we added also, what we believed are, attributes of nonformality. This way we ended up with a two-dimansional continuum on each of the four areas, with which we felt, we could actually describe a learning situation more concretely. I have yet to experience a seminar, exchange, training, etc. that would be full-on in the nonformality corner. They all have aspects of formality and informality. What we can see are tendencies. As people active in ‘Non-Formal Education’ we can try to create processes that are most suitable to achieve the learning purpose about a specific content, within a given setting with strong tendencies towards nonformality. At the end of the day, I think, it boils down to facilitating learning that it is sustainable and supports the development of the participants as critically thinking active citizens.

  6. Andreas Avatar

    Surely learning is, in reality, always a much messier and merrier affair than any descriptive definition could ever capture. The learning continuum—now being rediscovered by educational policy, theory and practice—certainly lends itself to absorb some of the complexity of learning.

    Through the evaluation of the Advanced Training of Trainers in Europe Lynne Chisholm has shown what she has also argued at the Launch Conference of the Lifelong Learning and Youth in Action Programmes of the EU in Tallinn in 2007 (pdf), namely that

    “… all teaching/training-learning situations are structured across multiple dimensions between formality, non-formality and informality.”

    This is all true enough, but it shouldn’t stop us to define characteristics of non-formal learning. For one, we lack institutionalised legitimacy – learning in formal institutions is the norm, and anything else is difficult to imagine for many.

    But much more essential is what emerges at the “Vision not Division Conference” as the agency of the learner.

    It may well be to the advantage of the learning process in schools to begin using nonformal methodology more strongly – but as long as the power relations in schools between teachers and students remain unchanged, this is nothing more than a methodological manoeuvre.

    And so I find myself, for once, in disagreement with Lynne when she states:

    “A transformative future lies in breaking down the institutional and cultural barriers between education and training sectors and their associated practices along the learning continuum. In other words, it implies consciously pursuing the idea of ‘positive borderlessness’ as the core feature of the architecture of lifelong learning.”

    This can only work if the breaking down includes manifested structures of power, if the agency of the learner is taken away from institutions and their representatives and lies with the learner instead – otherwise non-formal learning will simply be absorbed.

  7. Bastian Avatar

    @ OECD Project NFE/L
    I think a differentiation does make sense. Formal and Non-Formal Education both share the structure and the externally planned process of learning. Rather often, however, people learn something intentionally, but without the slightest external planning. If I buy myself a book on Human Rights Defense Mechanisms and study it at home, out of pure interest and do develop my professional competence that that is intentional, however, neither formal nor non-formal learning. It might have – if we want to use the learning continuum approach to this – very strong attributes of formality in terms of process and content, but would, however, tend more towards informality on the purpose and context dimensions.

    And I agree with you, Andreas, that giving up Non-Formal Education and Learning to be dissolved into too much positive borderlessness would be unhelpful for continued support to actors in the field of non-formal education – giving indeed the agency of learning to the learner.

    I still think that the approach of the learning continuum is right – but the one-dimensional approach between informality and formality is too simplistic. There are aspects and attributes that are very clearly neither fitting into either one of them, but descriptors of non-formal education. Thus a two-dimensional continuum, describing attributes of formality, informality and nonformality is, what I think, the way to go forward in defining and describing non-formal education and learning accurately.

  8. Nerijus Avatar

    I was captured by the title of the article because of the curiousity of another attempt to define what is non-formal learning. Definately, more emphasis on learner is needed but the biggest doubt I have if institutions, whatever NGOs, schools, states or European institutions are ready to give up the power they hold with educating people for ‘good’ citizens.

    The power was touched in your discussions and I do agree that the shift of attention from educator to learner is related to the power struggle in education but also in the society in more general sence. And if we talk about power in educators-learners relationship no better reference I found yet as Freire and his thinking of interdependance between the educator and learner:

    “any educational practice always implies the existence of (1) a subject or agent (the person who instructs and teaches); (2) the person who learns, but who by learning also teaches; (3) the object to be imparted and taught – the object to be re-cognized and cognized – that is, the content; and (4) the methods by which the teaching subject approaches the content he or she is mediating to the educand“ (Freire, 1992, p. 93)

    In your discussions I also liked the example of executing power in trainings when explaining participants the ‘rule’ of attending the 80% of sessions = reimbursement of travel costs. This is indeed the point when the voluntary participation is manipulated by the power of money. Or is it the last attempt to convince someone to be phisically in the room believing that education or learning may happen only in the case of people being phisically present? Sometimes I observe that thinking of people changes quickly if they are talked in ‘money language’.

    And if to contribute with the attepts of defining the different types of education/learning I came acrross the interesting paradigm introduced by Alan Rogers who proposes to consider 4 categories: formal education, non-formal education, participatory education and informal learning. For more, read his article here:

  9. Givi Avatar

    In accordance with my knowledge and experience working as a NFE multiplier, NFE can be defined as any systematic educational enterprise (usually outside of traditional schooling) in which content is adapted to the unique needs of the students (or unique situations) in order to maximize learning and minimize other elements which often occupy representatives of formal education system.

    NFE is more learner centered. NFE focuses on practical skills and knowledge while academic institutions often focus on information which may have delayed application.

  10. Sener Avatar

    What and how are the ones who are too close to themselves but also has different personalities..
    I need to raise the answers of how, in a debate of what.

    For me as a trainer and a youth worker, NFE is all about how you shape your relations. Its a matter of way we choose to make and to remake it all.

    so we assume that the relations we make has more than one side (even thr relation we make withourselves) and there appears to be positioned.
    as a quick sum; there are positions and if we try to transfer anything (knowledge, experience, ideas, etc.) from position to position there will be a power strugle.

    In NFE we are trying to put out positions at least side to side (touched sides) for a broader awareness of the possibilities of “can we live together”.

    reshape how we live…

  11. Mara Georgescu Avatar
    Mara Georgescu

    How nice to find people I know and people I know that the people I know know here!
    I was quite intrigued by a “homework” from one E-learning unit in TALE encouraging participants from TALE to leave a comment or definition of NFE on Which should be good news for the creators of nonformality, in terms of recognition from the outside world, I guess.

    I don’t mean to leave a definition of NFE here. I will make though some comments that are relevant and learning-fruitful to me. I’m happy to share this here.

    It looks more important to me in general to see what is the episteme behind NFE, who promotes NFE, who is in the “business” of it; when it is talked about; when it is used; with what political intent; what is not being said when talking or doing NFE. And so on.

    There is a lot of complexity around NFE, as we all know, some things are repeating, others are innovative (maybe 20 years ago some never dreamed of issues as NFE and e-youth work etc.).

    I liked the idea of the continuun between formal, non-formal and informal learning and I would definitely include it somewhere in any mapping of learning.

    What comes to my mind quite often when dealing with “mapping concepts” and “sharing understandings” (about NFE, for example) is the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, HC Andersen’s story. I sometimes have the feeling there is also a lot of complacency with what is there already or should be there, and not really an effort to get further in the dichotomies around learning and also sense the “archaeology of knowledge” in this field.

    One more point to make, in the debate over formal/informal/non-formal I think that “cousin” informal is sometimes too uncritically left behind. Maybe there is a presumption that we live, thus we learn, but hasn’t it ever happen to you that actually real life was not valued enough while Derdianic issues became so relevant in NFE?

    Last, one key aspect to me in learning is quality and its vagueness when we’re talking about NFE. I call it vagueness, but I may as well change the perspective and call it complexity. This is a challenge for me, as a person, as a learner and, even more holistically, as a trainer.

  12. Pablo Avatar

    All about power!! But power is a body which get born, “evolves”, die and even can reborn again. What about non-formal education appearing as a reaction of a dying body “power”? My two cents:

    “From a long time ago, the crisis of the formal education was announced.
    While the time went by, the effectivenes of formal education to afford social crisis, especially within the two World Wars, made obvious the needed changes at education methodologies.

    At the sixties, with the social revolution to try to find out alternatives to the 19th century ideals which led us to the Wars, appears in the civil sector the concepts and methodologies to work at the area of education in skills and attitudes, which were developed beforehand at other fields like the militar and religious oriented training or the youth work.

    Since then, we can consider three types of global methodologies of education, which tried to find their own space without real integration, facing nowadays the needings of bridges to merge these methodologies at the hope of produce a better education for a better society instead of an endless struggle for power” so, certainly if formal education uses for its own sake non formal methodologies without changing power-relations and the vission formal public education was born with, the utopia is useless as Andreas commented.

  13. Andriy Donets Avatar
    Andriy Donets

    I don’t think we can and should always keep an ideal balance of power in any kind of education or learning. The power relation will always take place in any group of people. The only thing we can distinguish between given power and obtained power. In formal education system the power is given to a teacher who decides what kind of mark the learner will get. In non-formal or informal learning the power is given to learners and this is the task of a trainer/provider to balance the power and to obtain attention and interest of learners. To my mind raising the reimbursement issue for a course attendance is demonstration of weakness but not power. By mentioning this we demonstrate that we are not able to meet needs and interests of participants in a learning process we organize.

    Back to the common grounds. What I miss is a civic dimension of non-formal learning. To my mind this is distinctive feature of it – both during the process and as an outcome.

  14. Bastian Avatar

    I agree that the content dimension of non-formal education as a distinctive civic dimension. I’m not sure I understand in how far there is a civic dimension in the process, as I see it predominantly in the purpose and content of non formal education.
    I disagree, however, that in non-formal and informal education, power is given to the learners. First of all, I don’t think that in informal education there is a power dimension, as the differentiation between learner and trainer/facilitator/teacher does not fit into this. In non-formal learning settings the facilitators and trainers always control to some point how much power the participants and learners will get in certain parts of the programme. During an input, participants have no power, during reflection groups, a bit more. In a youth exchange the participants might have more power than in a seminar, however they both belong to the ‘world of non-formal education’. This is exactly why I think we should be very careful with the easy, but as such also sometimes simplistic, differentiation into only three categories (formal, non-formal and informal learning/education) and look more careful at the dimensions of content, context, purpose and process of any given learning situation.

  15. Andreas Avatar

    Aren’t we discussing a definition of nonformal youth training much more than a definition of nonformal education or learning? Because if we would, we would need to look at the cultural and political specificity of nonformal education, and we would need to get away from our solely European and European-level perspective – to include, for example, the three types of nonformal education for developing nations that Berrie Brennan has put forward in his 1997 article “Reconceptualizing non-formal education” for the International Journal of Lifelong Education.

    Is looking at the dimensions of content, context, purpose and process of a learning situation really useful outside the small circle of European-level youth trainers – or useful beyond the perspective of the educator?

    Brennan argues that NFE can be either complementary, alternative or supplementary to the formal education system, but also looks at the limitations and problems of defining something negatively, as is the case with NFE of course.

    How can we approach and construct a definition of nonformal education that holds beyond the small world of European-level youth training?

  16. Pablo Avatar

    That´s the point, we focus a lot in our closed, self-referenced EU youth training world.
    At least my comment tried to think about NFE as a such in the historical, social and political level; that comes first. The way we use NFE in EU youth training is just a small part of which can not be considered the whole but just a part.
    There is a need of a holistic education using different approaches and dealing more with social realities than with “public” interests (as being educated for becoming an elite or a future factory worker which seems the case of actual formal education and its itineraries).

    1. Andreas Avatar

      You are right, Pablo, your previous comment takes a much more global and universal approach; but why does the discussion always return to the unrepresentative—some might even say: narrow—context of European nonformal youth training?

  17. tomek Avatar

    From my selfunderstanding as a trainers the NFE is very much about taking over the responsibility for the learning from the “system” and giving it in the hands of the learner: It is for me a very philosophical issue where the human is reaching his real nature in the moment when he/she is feeling the learning as an central point of his identity, NFE is in my opinion very much the way for it.
    Because on the one hand, we try to create a learner centred approach, an independent social structure and and life-long approach. The paridgma-shift in the “nature of learning” from the school and university towards the self-directed learning based on the “learning to learn”-competence is an essential change for me as a learner.
    In my opinion it leads the learner towards a huge identity question: “who am i and where i want to develop?” so to Descarte’s “I think, therefore I am” could be add ” i learn, therefore i will be”.

  18. nerijus Avatar

    If looking beyond “closed European youth training” I would like to share some links which kept my curiosity and “have a look back” from outside to our non-formal education sector:

    Quest to Learn – an experiment school based on games, cooperation and new technology:

    Private business schools in Sweden:

    Struggle for homeschooling in Sweden:
    And arguments in favour of the right to homeschool:

    and the movement of unschooling:

    why all these links for the sake of the debate on the definition of non-formal education?

    To some extent it tells me that “we” in non-formal education sector (however we define it precisely) are not so “unique” in the sense of what we offer to deliver – critical thinking, learning to learn and so on. there are examples of “formal education” contributing or at least trying to do so for critical consciousness. Secondly, it is a lot about power struggles (with different intentions probably) for the education do be “free”. Which might seem scary unless uncertainty is welcomed and appreciated. But when it comes back to “our need” to define “non-formal education”.

    And I want to ask opnely why we need the definite definition of non-formal education? To understand better its essence? To be able explain it to others? To convince others? To get access to do what we believe in?

    Getting lost somewhere…

  19. Andreas Karsten Avatar

    Why do we need the definite definition of non-formal education?

    There are several answers to that question—and quite possibly asking the question (thanks Nerijus!) and finding answers will contribute to possible definitions:

    a. So far, non-formal education is mainly defined negatively, as being not formal education. It seems that for many educators in the field this is not sufficient any longer – and, historically, it’s also somewhat absurd.

    b. The strive for recognition of the field—and the competences acquired by learners in non-formal education—call for being able to explain what actually happens, what it is we do, why it is relevant.

    c. Our educational approach is rooted in fair power relations between educators and learners—in distinct difference to formal education—but without a clear definition the power leverage will always be in favour of the educator. Being learner-centred should also mean being able to clearly explain why and what we do and how – not after or during an educational experience, but before.

    Quite possibly, the last argument is the most important one; I would consider a clear definition to be an essential and overdue element of the empowerment of learners.

  20. Andriy Donets Avatar
    Andriy Donets

    Talking about civic dimension I did meant the process first and secondly the content. Probably I failed to find the best English word for this dimension. By using the word “civic” I meant the Latin etymology of the word – “related to a city, society, citizens”. In relation to NFE I think interaction with society as a whole or some smaller group of human beings during the process of learning is vital. Whereas in formal education the learner may learn in his/her own and the only person he/she needs is the one who will check the knowledge. Nowadays we often don’t even need to have a human being as our knowledge can be evaluated and graded by a computer application. A computer can also generate and send us certificate and here we are… specialists! So when I talk about NFE I mean there is always interaction of alive human beings who cares about the atmosphere of their interaction and the process of their learning, even if these human beings are in the different sides of computers.

    As for the power relations Thanks! Andreas, they should be fair. In case of educator the power/authority should be obtained in the process of interaction with the learner. In its term the power of learner is to show dissatisfaction and to change the educator. May this be often possible in the formal education?

    To my mind these have nothing to do with European non-formal youth training as society and power are universal notwithstanding the part of the world. But this is if we are talking about the features.

    Another question is maybe it is time to change the present term non-formal for something else? The term appeared at times of education system crisis and was a response on new social/civil demands. In this regard transformation of pagan beliefs to something known as religion is also the results of non-formal learning. When the set, formal structures could not meet social/civil demands it had lead to non-formal, alternative, different, other than formal and widely accepted doctrine. The process repeated and formal religious structures were reformed. Maybe when present non-formal learning will be fully recognised it will not be non-formal anymore. May be non-formal should not be perceived negatively but as a means for alternative, creativity, innovation and change.

    So Non-formal education is any organised educational activity which challenges existing formal systems and leading to finding alternatives, innovations and change.

    1. Andreas Avatar

      Another question is maybe it is time to change the present term non-formal for something else?

      Totally. And why not? The kind of education you describe here

      “Non-formal education is any organised educational activity which challenges existing formal systems and leading to finding alternatives, innovations and change.”

      I would call that empowerment education, for example.

      1. Mara Avatar

        Is all that is not formal and not informal non-formal?
        I have the feeling (but a feeling is not that scientific when it comes down to definitions) that my answer would be NO.
        @Andreas: well, a “definite definition” :))
        I think there should be no fear once you’re engaging in defining something that there may be something else having those features. In several posts it looks like is NFE has a feature that also FE has, then that feature seems less connected to NFE. Which I think looks a bit like an error of logic.
        I do think nowadays when we define concepts we more and more often find a continuum, at least in education. And also, you may know this, but the whole science of terminology deals nowadays with a fairly different approach than, say, 50 years ago, so it is not so important to find the last and final fundamental truth about concepts but to find those most relevant from a sociolinguistical perspective. I guess this is also the reason why the people who wrote here refer to the European connotations of NFE.
        @Musa: I still think 8-year olds deserve all the respect adult do. And I also think that what often happens is that when you don’t know how to transparently share power with learners, there may be a tendecy to deny they can manage power.

  21. Andreas Avatar

    Just found this in Siurala, Lasse (2006) Non-formal learning as an educational approach. It’s a chapter in Dorin Festeu and Barbara Humberstone (eds.) Non-formal education through outdoor activities guide. European Institute of Outdoor Education and Experiental Learning, Buckinghamshire, UK. Can be downloaded.

    “Non-formal learning is a learner-centred and practice based learning process which emphasises intrinsic motivation, the usefulness of knowledge and critical thinking (rather than objective knowledge and memorizing) and aims at identity growth, social change and integration into society. Learning is voluntary, involves conscious educational aims and may be credited. It is often linked to terms like ‘experiental learning’, ‘empowerment’, ‘social pedagogy’, ‘participation’, ‘active citizenship’ and ‘social inclusion’. Non-formal learning may take place in public sector activities like social work, youth work, sports and cultural work, in working life and in civil society activities like in nongovernmental organisations, or in partnership with a variety of actors as is often the case in community work and social projects.”

  22. suncana Avatar

    i’m not going to give the answers but it seems we are trying to fin a way to make diffenrences between FE and NFE so…..
    While reading this posts i like the fact that non-formal education is not considered just as the one that is different from Formal or informal edu.

    Maybe I’m the wrong example cause I’m a social worker and I’m just finishing the postgraduate study about supervision in social work but this debate made me think how this education is different from the ones that I’m involved within NFE.
    And I must say there is not that much difference:
    – it s voluntary ( I have chosen to sigh in, I could choose to come or not on the „classes“, or to see which ones I will attend)
    – it was done by using non-formal methodology
    – we were completely active (to the fact that I wished to get some lecture to whom I could just listen)
    – it id respect different kind of learning styles 8we even had a special subject on it)
    – there was a balance between knowledge and development of skills
    – we discussed ethical values (thou in context of supervision and relations to people involved in it)
    – we had people who lead workshops from all over Europe (thou participants were only from Croatia)
    – was process oriented (maybe because supervision is process oriented too)
    – was learner centered (we made our individual learning plans…..)
    – did involve individuals and groups
    – was based on our experiences and needs
    – has supportative learning environment
    and then we have these:
    – Grades- we had exams at the end but not exams like in primary school. Some professors just gave us all excellent just because we were there and we were active, some made a task to read something to write about it and then to discuss about it with him/her. There was actually only one exam that checked our knowledge. And this way of learning was very hard for some people.
    – I’ve got an feeling they the grades are there just because FE has to have them but no one was taking them seriously. at least I didn’t
    – Power relation- maybe it about me aging. But I did not feel that so much power is in professors’ hands. Maybe I did not gave them that much. Now when I think about it some of mine colleagues did see them as more important, powerful, smarter……well to be honest I can not say that the all power relations were like in training but some were. And the thing with power is that you have as much power as much people give to you.
    – and that leaves the topics. we did not tackle issues like peace, tolerance, social justice, intercultural learning, gender equality. but I’m not sure that topics could be the main criteria for distinguishing FE and NFE

    so, yes NFE is developing but FE is developing too. They are seeing things that have good influence on learning process and they are using it.

    so it seems that the distinguishing between formal and non-formal education will be even harder to see in the future.

  23. Musa Akgul Avatar
    Musa Akgul

    I totally agree mainly with last words of Suncana, that the NFE is very important and the FE is very important, too. When it comes to such discussion it became a huge dilemma to me…
    For me there is this power issue in both and the power of the power issue differs in both but maybe it is a need for teachers to have more power in FE than the learners and it depends so much on age and environment. Primary school would be a simple example, what would happen if the power was given to the students who are 8 years old? I do not know, I am not competent enough to answer this question…
    How would be the learning and the quality of education if the NFE was used at universities and if the power had given to the learners other then the professors? Again I am not sure but it sounds really logical when I am taking the age and the life experience of that students (who are at university), but as I said still not sure…

  24. Andriy Donets Avatar
    Andriy Donets

    Recently I met an interesting article in Journal of Extension ( giving me some thoughts about the difference between NFE and FE.
    NFE most often is a conflict-laden process of learning as all the people involved have their interest at stake trying to apply what they already know and can do to influence the outcome (learning based on the personal experience), whereas in formal learning system the learners are supposed to accept what a teacher presents, ask a few questions and then struggle to apply these knowledge in a real world.

    1. suncana Avatar

      I liked the article a lot. And I could agree that one of the core essences for distinguishing FE and NFE could be the process like it is described in the article. (The process in which a teacher gives and explains all relevant facts ≠ a process in which a facilitator crates the space where learners can exchange toughs and explore the issue and possible solutions)
      But then there is a question of content. Is there a minimum of knowledge/experience/skill that you should have to be able to participate in this so called problem-solving education? It’s like Musa said, he did not know how kids would react on that. Are there some topics that you can learn thru open process but there are things that are better learned through other process? Or it can be combined?

  25. Bruce Avatar

    I don’t think we can and should always keep an ideal balance of power in any kind of education or learning. The power relation will always take place in any group of people. The only thing we can distinguish between given power and obtained power. In formal education system the power is given to a teacher who decides what kind of mark the learner will get. In non-formal or informal learning the power is given to learners and this is the task of a trainer/provider to balance the power and to obtain attention and interest of learners. To my mind raising the reimbursement issue for a course attendance is demonstration of weakness but not power. By mentioning this we demonstrate that we are not able to meet needs and interests of participants in a learning process we organize.

    Back to the common grounds. What I miss is a civic dimension of non-formal learning. To my mind this is distinctive feature of it – both during the process and as an outcome.

  26. A new piece at Infed Avatar

    In a new piece at the encyclopaedia of informal education, Reinhard Zürcher conceptualizes teaching-learning processes by means of a continuum that covers the whole range from informal to formal processes. Instead of the usual descriptive interpretation, he uses an analytical perspective that relates the terms informal and formal teaching and learning to the notion of form. ‘Formalization’, interpreted as generalization of the characteristics of the teaching-learning process, is identified to be the general variable of the continuum. Similarly, informality is interpreted as individualization. The spectrum of possible actors in teaching is extended and the teaching process is intertwined with the learning process. To finish Reinhard Zürcher splits the continuum of the teaching-learning process into its constituting criteria and, by abandoning the term non-formal learning, unifies the process.

  27. Andreas Karsten Avatar


    Definition of non-formal learning: “Learning which is embedded in planned activities not explicitly designated as learning (in terms of learning objectives, learning time or learning support). Non-formal learning is intentional from the learner’s point of view.”

    Source: Cedefop (2008): Terminology of European education and training policy. A selection of 100 key terms. Page 133.