Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning: What Are the Differences?

December 31, 2010

Earlier this year I did some applied research on the differences between formal, non-formal and informal education in both the sciences, as well as literacy and language education.

These terms have been used by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) as well as researchers and practitioners around the globe. Here’s a simplified explanation:

Formal education – Organized, guided by a formal curriculum, leads to a formally recognized credential such as a high school completion diploma or a degree, and is often guided and recognized by government at some level. Teachers are usually trained as professionals in some way.

Non-formal learning – Organized (even if it is only loosely organized), may or may not be guided by a formal curriculum. This type of education may be led by a qualified teacher or by a leader with more experience. Though it doesn’t result in a formal degree or diploma, non-formal education is highly enriching and builds an individual’s skills and capacities. Continuing education courses are an example for adults. Girl guides and boy scouts are an example for children. It is often considered more engaging, as the learner’s interest is a driving force behind their participation.

Informal learning – No formal curriculum and no credits earned. The teacher is simply someone with more experience such as a parent, grandparent or a friend. A father teaching his child to play catch or a babysitter teaching a child their ABC’s is an example of informal education.

These may be overly simplified explanations. There are times when the lines between each type of learning get blurred, as well. It isn’t always as cut and dry as it seems, but these definitions give you a general idea of each type of learning.

If you’re interested, the two reports (one I wrote and the other I co-authored), they have been archived in 3 countries are available free of charge. There are links to the full reports here:

Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning in the Sciences

Formal, non-formal and informal learning: The case of literacy and language learning in Canada

Related posts:

Formal, non-formal and informal learning: The case of literacy and language learning in Canada

Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning: A podcast

Breathtaking Impact of Volunteers’ Contribution to Non-formal and Informal Literacy Education in Alberta


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How Not to Market Yourself with Social Media

December 22, 2010

“Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Bob,” he said, flashing his winning smile. He shook my hand firmly and authoritatively. He exuded the confidence and charm of leadership.

“I know,” I replied. (Was this a faux pas?) “We follow each other on Faceboook and Twitter. I’ve enjoyed the exchanges we’ve had.”

I was being sincere. We have exchanged numerous “@ each other” exchanges on Twitter and have posted a number of times on one another’s Facebook pages.

He grinned and said, “Oh that stuff. I don’t know much about that social media crap. I outsource that to someone in the Philippines. I just send him money every month and he does all that for me. He’s great, isn’t he?”

Yup. Sure fooled me.

I smiled back.

Now I can see outsourcing a business profile, but at least if you outsource your personal social media to someone, don’t let on that you’re not really who you say you are on line. Don’t brag that you’re not the one out there putting in the time to make connections and have interactions with real humans who might one day shake your hand. It could cost you a real, live reputation for honesty – not to mention referrals.

Outsourcing your personal social media interactions may work for presidents of countries or rock stars, but if you’re a regular business person with only a modicum of fame and fortune, be real.


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Rubrics for Grading Student Presentations

December 20, 2010

This semester I developed some rubrics for grading student presentations in class. They include criteria such as preparation and presentation skills. The rubrics are designed so that they can be used either for native speakers or language learners.

There are 4 different rubrics. I used them with my university-age students. They could also be easily used with adult learners or high school students. For younger grades, you may want to adapt them to their level.

Feel free to use them, share them or let them inspire you to create your own.

Have a quick look here:

Rubric #1

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Rubric #2

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Rubric #3

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Rubric #4

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Sometimes the links disappear from Scribd and if that has happened, you can also download them directly from my blog:

Click the link to download –> Presentation Grading Rubric 1 

Click the link to download –> Presentation Grading Rubric 2 (Updated in 2013) 

Click the link to download –> Presentation Grading Rubric 3

Click the link to download –> Presentation Grading Rubric 4 (Updated in 2013)

Update : March 19, 2013 – If you are looking for these and the links do not work, please e-mail me at saraheaton2001 (at) yahoo (dot) ca. I’ll be happy to send them to you.

Update: March 27, 2017 – This is one of the more popular posts on my blog. As of this update, it has been viewed over 11,000 times. If you are reading this and you have found this post useful, please like it and share it with others.


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Related post: Teaching Public Speaking to Literacy or ESL Students

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The shocking thing my student said

December 16, 2010

At the end of our last Spanish class for the semester, a few of the students stayed behind to chat and visit for a few minutes. They were an excellent group and had interacted well throughout the semester. Many of them thanked me for a good class, which I always appreciate.

One student, Sam, we’ll call him, said something I’ve never heard before and it shocked me in a way that few comments from a student have in 16 years of teaching.

“You’re the first instructor at university to learn my name,” he said. “I really appreciate that.”

I reeled in disbelief.

“What year are you in?” I asked.

“Third year,” he replied. “I’m on schedule to graduate next year.”

“What’s your major?” I probed further.

“Sciences. This is the only class I’ve ever had that has fewer than 100 people in it. None of the other profs learn our names. I suppose they can’t with that many students.”

I nodded in agreement. My classes have grown in size since I started teaching and with 35 students this year, it took me longer than usual to learn everyone’s name.

He went on to say, “I want to be a science teacher, but not here. I want to work in a place where I can get to know my students. This place is a factory.”

Not wanting to enter a discussion on the state of post-secondary institutions today, I simply remarked that I thought he had many qualities that would make him a good teacher.

He’s got good, solid grades and comes to class on a regular basis. He’s interested and engaged, polite and congenial. He’s got a decent work ethic and works well with other students in class. His classmates like him and he gets along with just about everyone. He’s not a super-duper genius, and nor is he a complete trouble maker. That’s part of the trouble, I suppose. Not being at the far end of either side of the scale, he gets lost in the crowd.

How sad… this student pays thousands of dollars a year in tuition for higher education and even as he approaches graduation, almost no one knows his name.


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How and why my students wrote their own final exam

December 13, 2010

In my Effective Learning course this semester, topics included managing exam stress, how to prepare for exams and strategies to during a test including such things as reading over the exam before you start writing and answering the questions you know first. Most of the assessment I did for this class was strength-based evaluation such as group projects, evaluated presentations and portfolios. We did one test at the end of the semester.

I decided to engage the students in the exam development process. We spent time in class reviewing what types of exam questions were acceptable (e.g. multiple choice, short answer, essay) and what content would be covered. The questions were based on material from the two textbooks, as well as materials from in-class presentations and discussions. All the material covered from the first day of the semester was to be included in the final exam.

Earlier in the semester students had worked with a partner to present a presentation that was a synthesis of two readings each. For the development of the test questions, students worked with the same partner and prepared questions on each reading they had done their class presentations on some weeks earlier. Students were challenged to come up with at least 5 questions per chapter and to include more than one type of question (multiple choice, short answer, etc.)

Students prepared test questions and handed them in to me.  I compiled them into one document, noting which questions related to which chapters in the text or readings from the course pack. I also noted which students had contributed which questions. The questions were distributed to all students for study purposes. The result was a 10-page study guide comprised of potential test questions that they themselves had generated.

I let them know that I would be selecting from their contributed test questions and that I would also be adding some questions of my own that would not be shared before the exam.

The process of having students develop test questions proved to be a useful learning exercise for them. They got to experience what it is like to write exam questions and the thought-process that goes into it. Knowing that this was not simply an academic exercise but that some of these questions would actually appear on the final exam added a much-needed element of authenticity. Students took the exercise seriously when they knew that it would impact their peers.

Finally, they reported being more engaged with both the material and the study process when they had the opportunity to contribute questions. Suddenly it wasn’t an exam inflicted upon them, so much as a challenge they co-developed and were ready to take on.

Related post:

Course design: 7 ways I engaged my students in the process


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Tis the season to market with care

December 10, 2010

Are you going crazy at this time of year, trying to wrap up projects and cross things off your “to do” list before you take a break for winter holidays? In our frenzy to get stuff done and manage the stress of the season, something gets lost.

We know we are all supposed to be thinking about other people this season. Any variety of charity organizations won’t let us forget that, as the plea for donations skyrockets in December. We are inundated with reminders about how we should care. And yet, sometimes it can feel a little hollow. There’s so much to do. It’s all a little overwhelming.

To make things worse, this is the time of year when school administrators least want to think about marketing and promoting their programs. Besides, marketing is a business activity. There is often an anti-commercialism undercurrent to the holidays if you work in the non-profit and educational sectors. You know marketing is a year-round activity and yet, somehow it can just seem wrong at this time of year.

Here are some suggestions to manage the stress, put the positive back in the season and do a little advocacy for your program while you are at it:

Choose how you will approach the season – If you work in an non-profit charity program and December has always been a big month to receive donations, well don’t stop doing what works, for heaven’s sake. But if you notice that your staff are exhausted and people around you seem desensitized by the increased requests for money that happen during the holidays, you may be more effective if you don’t push the sales side of things, but rather take the time to re-ignite and reinvigorate your relationships – without even a hint of a sales pitch.

Celebrate – I don’t mean celebrate for the sake of it or because it’s expected. I’m talking about making time in your schedule to applaud those who have reached a milestone – graduation from a program or completion of a course or a job well done by teachers. Make it about them. 100% about them. This is giving the gift of your generosity, your full attention and your focus. They’ll remember it.

Connect – Sincerely, genuinely connect with others. Take the time to look them in the eye. Smile. Listen. Be present. Pick up the phone and call contacts, for no other reason than to say, “You crossed my mind the other day and I realized it’s been a while since we talked. I just wanted to say hello.” If you make a round of phone calls, focus on listening and sharing, rather than telling. This is the gift of listening and sharing.

Ask questions – One of my favorite questions of the holiday season is “What are you looking forward to this month?” I’m often amazed how this question takes people aback and they have to think a minute before they answer. They’re not expecting it. The conversations that question can lead to have been positively magical at times. This is the gift of focussing on others, and gently encouraging them to pause and think about what matters to them.

These are subtle, understated ways to reduce the stress of the season, while deepening our connections with others. The cool thing about deepening our connections is that it can later have a positive impact on marketing… but you won’t find these suggestions in any marketing textbook.


Spansh, French, German and ASL: Most Popular Languages Taught in US

December 8, 2010

Dan Berrett’s article, “Getting Their Babel On” (Inside Higher Ed, Dec. 8, 2010) shares the results of a study conducted by the Modern Language Association (MLA) in terms of university students in the US studying foreign languages. Here are the highlights:

  • The rate at which students took foreign language courses in 2009 remained constant, compared to three years prior.
  • The number of enrollments in language courses grew from 1.57 million in 2006 to 1.68 million in 2009, or 6.6 percent. However, the total number of enrollments in undergraduate courses as a whole also increased. In simple terms this means that language courses account for 8.6 of every 100 course enrollments in post-secondary institutions. That number has remained the same since 2006.
  • Of every 100 undergraduate degrees earned, 1.16 of them are in foreign languages.
  • 70 % of undergrad degrees in foreign languages are earned by women.
  • The most popular languages to study (aside from English, which is not considered a “foreign” language in the US) are Spanish, French, German, and American Sign Language, in that order.
  • American universities teach a total of 232 different languages.
  • Arabic boasted the highest increases in enrollments last year, with a 46% increase over the three previous years.
  • Graduate program enrollments in languages have dropped by 6.7 percent since 2006.

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