Informal Curriculum Essay

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If you’re interested, the two reports (one I wrote and the other I co-authored), they have been archived in 3 countries are available free of charge.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

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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Here’s a link for sharing: Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning: What Are the Differences?

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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This entry was posted on Friday, December 31st, 2010 at 9:57 am and is filed under education, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Formal education is classroom-based, provided by trained teachers. Informal education happens outside the classroom, in after-school programs, community-based organizations, museums, libraries, or at home.

What are the main differences between the two?

  • In general, classrooms have the same kids and the same teachers every day. After-school programs are often drop-in, so attendance is inconsistent, as is leadership.

  • Classroom activities can last several days. After-school programs need to complete an activity each day because a different group of kids could be in attendance tomorrow.

  • You can assume that classroom-based teachers have a certain level of training in educational philosophy, effective teaching strategies, classroom management, and content. After-school providers, by contrast, vary in experience and knowledge of teaching techniques, content expertise, and group management. Typically, materials for after-school settings need to include a lot more structure.

  • Teachers need to meet educational standards and stick to a specified curriculum, which can make it difficult for them to incorporate nontraditional content. After-school programs, on the other hand, can be more flexible with their content.

Both formal and informal education settings offer different strengths to your educational outreach project. If your project fits in the classroom, it can have a very long life; teachers will use trusted resources for years. After-school programs offer a different kind of environment, where your activities don't need to be as formal and where you can reach a different audience.

While both schools and after-school programs serve students, many kids who feel disenfranchised at school blossom in after-school settings. Real learning can happen in a setting where kids feel less intimidated or more comfortable than they do in a formal classroom. The ultimate goal is that their success in an informal setting can lead to greater confidence in the formal classroom.

An additional benefit of developing materials for informal educational settings is that they may be useful to parents at home with their kids, or to adult learners who are looking to expand their knowledge, either for their own enrichment or to increase their career options.

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