Non-Formal Education

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Learning takes place everywhere: In schools and universities, in the job or in the spare time or the private life. Education insititutions are specializing on certain aspects of learning. A common understanding is to divide them into three educational sectors - in structures that provide formal-, non-formal or informal education.

Pedagogical approaches that encourage learners to become civically involved emphasize the active components of learning: discovery, reflective observation, trial and error, and growing with challenges or collaboration. The ability to act as autonomous, responsible individuals, and the skill known as “civic competence” are formed in broad-reaching, heterogenous learning environments, and therefore are inherently composed of a variety of learning experiences. These experiences, in turn, need to be connected by means of a consciously designed learning process. The more these “different learning opportunities complement each other, the more efficient and sustainable the learning process becomes.” Such processes combine group interactions and experiential learning, cognitive learning, opportunities for informal learning, and reflection. [1]

Formal Education

"Learning that occurs in an organised and structured environment (e.g. in an education or training institution or on the job) and is explicitly designated as learning (in terms of objectives, time or resources). Formal learning is intentional from the learner’s point of view. It typically leads to validation and certification [2]".

What most people connect with learning or education is learning in a school or an institution of higher education.

Informal Learning

“Forms of learning that are intentional or deliberate but are not institutionalized. They are less organized and structured than either formal or non-formal education. Informal learning may include learning activities that occur in the family, in the work place, in the local community, and in daily life, on a self-directed, family-directed or socially-directed basis" [3].

Project groups are one example for a learning space where autodidactic learning takes place. In contrast to an university`s permanent or long-term curricula, a project is a temporary allocation of people who collaborate on (a few) specifically described, realistic, and measurable goals. A project even can be conducted without any institutional background. Often the people involved decide about the agenda and goals. It is even not uncommon for project teams to have learned something different from what was intended.

Non-formal Education

“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” [2].

While in informal learning the learning goal is less consciously planned out, in the moment where a facilitator, coach or mentor involves into such a project or activity, the character of the learning setting changes. In example, a coach could help a project team to identify their learning goals or to help them identifying alternatives in a challenging situation. The process then becomes intentionally shaped. All learning environments which integrate other than school activities to assist people to develop their skills and knowledge as citizens, producers, consumers or parents are merged under the term of non-formal education.

Youth Work Principles and Non-formal Learning

There are seven guiding characteristics of non-formal learning activities:

  • Voluntary, holistic and process-oriented
  • Accessible for everyone (ideally)
  • Organised process with educational goals
  • Participative and learner-centred
  • Based on experience and action and the needs of the learners
  • Provides life skills and prepares learners for their role as active citizens
  • Includes both individual learning and learning in groups


  1. DARE network: DARE on the joint report on the implementation of the Strategic framework for European cooperation in Education and Training (ET 2020) - a non- formal Education for Democratic Citizenship perspective; accessed July 28th, 2016
  2. 2.0 2.1 European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, 2008: Terminology of European education and training policy ISBN 92-896-0472-7
  3. UNESCO-UNEVOC Centre for technical and vocational education and training TVETipedia Glossary