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What’s the deal with non-formal learning?


written byCoaliția pentru Voluntariat

What’s up with non-formal learning?



No matter how much you enjoyed learning in school, researchers - and not only the British ones - are talking for centuries about life long learning. Whether we want it or not. Anywhere and anytime.


They also figured out that learning takes place in three different settings: formal, non formal and informal.

To better navigate them, here are the similarities and the differences:

  • formal learning - takes place in school, high school or university, in other words, in a formal environment, most of the time, an institutionalized one. The content is predefined, mostly mandatory and it has a series of clearly defined learning objectives.The content is predefined and mostly mandatory, and has a number of clear learning objectives. The time in which you go through a certain subject is also set by the institution. Assessment is based on tests or exams, which you take or fail.
  • non formal learning - it happens in planned learning experiences, such as courses, camps, youth exchanges, but outside the classic educational system. The learning content is also set with clear learning objectives, but participation in these experiences is entirely up to you. Most of the time, you are the one who evaluates how much you have learned in this type of experience.
  • informal learning - it happens... anytime, anywhere, whether we want it or not. Each life experience can help us to draw some useful conclusions for the future and to develop new abilities, knowledge and attitudes. What we learn, the content is not structured or planned by somebody. Whether we are talking about a trip, watching a movie, going out with friends, we are continuously exposed to the “risk” of learning a new thing.


Because you know a lot about formal learning, let's say something about the other two!

Non-formal learning is based on several main principles:

  • you choose if you participate or not. Facilitatorul, sau cel care conduce activitatea de învățare, gândește tot procesul astfel încât să-și motiveze participanții. Their role is to motivate you to come out of your comfort zone just enough for you to develop. It only depends on you, if you enter the game.
  • the participants are active. Once you decided, you will be encouraged to voice your opinion, to ask questions and also to support the others during the process. Sometimes, the facilitator gets you involved in the planning of the learning activity, because, in the end, it needs to be relevant for you.
  • the group and the context are learning resources. We are no longer relying on what the teacher knows or what he writes in the textbook. We use everything we have at hand! From the space where the activity takes place to the people who participate. Therefore, the facilitator will ensure that it stimulates collaboration, dialogue and supportive relationships in the group.
  • focus on the participants. On you. Your learning needs and your motivation must be at the heart of the activity. The facilitator is flexible and ready to adapt the content and methods to the group.
  • experiential learning. I said above that we don't rely so much on books anymore. Instead, in non-formal learning, we rely on our own experiences. The facilitator prepares various games and activities for the whole group and then guides a small discussion, through which the group reaches conclusions. This way, you get to develop new abilities, and attitudes and gain new knowledge.
  • holistic approach. In other words, the activities will not be just for the brain and the memory. By participating, you will encounter methods that will appeal to both the physical and emotional dimensions. Because a man is not just what he has in mind.
  • democratic values and human rights. This is what you’ll find at the core of the whole process. They guide the facilitator and are present in the group dynamics.


If this sounds good, you should know there are a lot of NGOs trebuie să știi că sunt o mulțime de ONG-uri care organizează astfel de cursuri sau activități, în țară dar și în străinătate. On the other hand, oportunități de acest fel sunt deseori promovate chiar prin școli sau universități.


Informal learning. Even if I was saying above it takes place whether you plan it or not, this does not mean you have no control over the things you learn informally. You can easily choose the context which offers you exactly what you need because the things you learn depend directly on the type of experiences you are trying! Through volunteering, for example, you can learn a lot of things that can help you, including in your professional life. See here what we are talking about.

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