In Formal, non-formal and informal learning: The case of literacy and language learning in Canada (2010), I examine the notions of formal, non-formal and informal learning. Non-formal learning may be defined as:
Learning which “may or may not be intentional or arranged by an institution, but is usually organized in some way, even if it is loosely organized. There are no formal credits granted in non-formal learning situations.”
Non-formal learning can go by many names including:
- nonformal or non formal learning
- continuing education, programs or courses
- community-based education, programs, or courses
- adult education (non-degree)
- continuing professional development
- non-credit education, programs or courses
- post-degree continuous learning
- post-degree course work
- professional development courses, seminars, conferences or webinars
Regardless of the name it goes by, non-formal learning may happen in a variety of contexts, such as:
- educational institutions offering non-credit programs
- voluntary and non-profit organizations
- private learning academies
- small and large businesses
- community organizations
- recreation centres
- professional associations
Non-formal learning is likely led by someone with experience and expertise. The person in the teacher or tutoring role may or may not have formal training as an educator, but he or she probably has a deep interest in – and passion for – the subject matter.
Though some consider non-formal learning to be less credible than formal learning that is sanctioned or accredited by governments, the fact is that non-formal learning accounts for a huge percentage of the learning that occurs over one’s life span.
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.