What is Non-Formal Education?

There are many ways to learn, whether knowledge, skills or attitudes. We tend to distinguish between three main forms of learning:

  • Formal learning, or education, is the organised education taking place in schools and universities. It is structured and prepared by a teacher who disseminates to the pupils, all of whom are meant to reach pre-designed learning objectives.
  • Informal learning is everyday experiences you encounter, which stimulate some kind of learning outcome. This form of learning is neither structured nor planned, but can occur any day and gives us some of the most important skills and knowledges we possess. Consider, for example, how you learned how to walk, or speak in your mother tongue.
  • Non-formal learning, or education, is a kind of mix between the two above forms of learning. It takes place outside of the formal educational system, but has an explicit goal of generating learning. There is no teacher involved, but the process is typically guided by a trainer. Everyone contributes, and we consider everyone to be both “teacher” and “student” at the same time. Non-formal learning requires voluntary and active participation, and is, as such, closely linked to the participants’ own needs, wishes and interests.

Examples of non-formal learning include job training, voluntary work for an organisation, an international youth exchange, or competence development through a training course.