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Formal, non-formal, informal and incidental education

The distinction made is largely administrative. Formal education is linked with schools and training institutions; non-formal with community groups and other organizations; and informal covers what is left, e.g. interactions with friends, family and work colleagues. (See, for example, Coombs and Ahmed 1974).

Formal, non-formal, informal, and incidental education happens in classes, from a game, trough friends and family, and from each challenge and situation in life.

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
Richard Shaull, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

A brief History of Formal, Informal and Non-formal Education

Back in the late 1960s there was an emerging analysis of what was seen as a ‘world educational crisis’ (Coombs 1968). There was concern about unsuitable curricula; a realization that educational growth and economic growth were not necessarily in step, and that jobs did not emerge directly as a result of educational inputs. Many countries were finding it difficult (politically or economically) to pay for the expansion of formal education.

The conclusion was that formal educational systems had adapted too slowly to the socio-economic changes around them and that they were held back not only by their own conservatism, but also by the inertia of societies themselves… It was from this point of departure that planners and economists in the World Bank began to make a distinction between informal, non-formal and formal education. (Fordham 1993: 2)

Coombs speaks at the Dance Magazine annual award ceremony, April 28, 1961.

Coombs speaks at the Dance Magazine annual award ceremony, April 28, 1961 — via Wikipedia.

At around the same time there were moves in UNESCO toward lifelong education and notions of ‘the learning society’ which culminated in Learning to Be (‘The Faure Report’, UNESCO 1972). Lifelong learning was to be the ‘master concept’ that should shape educational systems (UNESCO 1972:182). What emerged was the influential tripartite categorization of learning systems. It’s best known statement comes from the work of Coombs with Prosser and Ahmed (1973):

Formal Education

That occurs in traditional education systems of organized learning which are syllabus specific, hierarchically structured, periodic, and chronologically graded’ (from the first school to higher education). Through these systems, a society’s formal education and socialization requirements are provided and academic education and vocational, technical, and professional training delivered.

Examples and Characteristics of Formal Education

  • Usually accompanied by adjacent rules and regulations
  • Hierarchical and chronologically designed structure based
  • Deterministic design of syllabus and resources
  • Planned and deliberate grading and assessment system
  • Subject-oriented and topic based
  • Validated information taught by professional and certified teachers

Advantages of Formal Education

  • Knowledge from credible sources and trained professionals
  • Structured and systematic learning process
  • Continuous Learning across classes and levels
  • Considers complementary and social elements to learning
  • Formally recognized results and skills (certificates)

Disadvantages of Formal Education

Formal Education Standardized Test

Non-formal Education

It corresponds to any organized learning initiatives that take place outside formal education systems, and what we call “formal learning environments”, and yet it still has some kind of organizational framework through identifiable learners and evident learning objectives.

It arises from the learner’s conscious decision to pursue or to master a particular activity, skill, or area of knowledge and is thus the result of intentional effort. In that sense, some non-formal learning setups can lead to increasingly formal as learners become more proficient.

Examples and Characteristics of Non-formal Education

  • Community-based course, fitness programs, and boy scouts all comes under Non-formal Education
  • Adjustable timetable and syllabus
  • Tends to be practical and vocational (learning a professional skill)
  • No age specificity
  • Fees or certificates may or may not apply

Advantages of Non-formal Education

  • Oriented to a specific result
  • Can be self-paced and respond to individual conditions and abilities
  • Flexibility (age, curriculum and time)
  • Diploma, certificates, and awards are not essential to be awarded

Disadvantages of Non-formal Education

  • It may require some previous knowledge and understanding
  • It can lead to evasion due to autonomy and lack of schedule
  • Credibility can be an issue
Differences between formal non formal and informal learning | Formal, non-formal, informal and incidental education | Coletividad

Diagram by Jaya Ramchandani (@welearnwegrow) that illustrates the differences between ‘Learning Types’.

Voluntary organizations and community groups are frequently the vehicles for non-formal education (GUNN 1987, 4; PERCY, BARNES, MACHELL, and GRADDON 1988). 

Different from Formal education, do not need to follow a formal syllabus or be governed by external accreditation and assessment. Non-formal learning typically takes place in community settings: sports clubs of various kinds for all ages, reading groups, debating societies, amateur choirs, and so on.

Informal and incidental Education

That occur throughout life, from experience that takes place outside formally structured, institutionally sponsored, classroom-based activities. It can arise as a result of daily life activities related to work, family, or leisure. So, it is involuntary and an inescapable part of daily life; for that reason, it is sometimes called experiential learning.

It is not structured (in terms of learning objectives, learning time, or learning support) and typically does not lead to certification. Informal learning may be intentional but in most cases, it is non-intentional (or “incidental“/random).

Informal learning is a broad term that includes any such learning; incidental learning is a subset that is defined as a by-product of some other activity. Informal learning can be planned or unplanned, but it usually involves some degree of conscious awareness that learning is taking place. Incidental learning, on the other hand, is largely unintentional, unexamined, and embedded in people’s closely held belief systems (Watkins and Marsick 1992, 288).

The debate over the relative value of formal and informal learning has existed for a number of years. Traditionally formal learning takes place in a school or university and has a greater value placed upon it than informal learning, such as learning within the workplace. This concept of formal learning being the socio-cultural accepted norm for learning was first challenged by Scribner and Cole in 1973, who claimed most things in life are better learned through informal processes, citing language learning as an example. Moreover, anthropologists noted that complex learning still takes place within indigenous communities that had no formal educational institutions.

Examples and Characteristics of Informal Education

  • A lifelong process and a natural way
  • Free from formalities and various rules and regulations
  • No defined syllabus or curriculum
  • Independent of any set of specific spaces or people
  • Not pre-planned and has no specific timetable
  • Can occur from any source such as media, life experiences, friends, family, etc.

Advantages of Informal Education

  •  It’s our natural learning process as you can learn anywhere and at any time from your daily experience
  • It involves activities like individual and personal research on a topic of interest for themselves by utilizing books, libraries, social media, the internet, or getting assistance from informal trainers
  • Utilizes a variety of techniques
  • No specific time span
  • Less costly and time-efficient learning process
  • Learners can be picked up the requisite information from companies, blogs, courses, books, podcasts, or conversations with their friends/family members

Disadvantages of Informal Education

  • Can lead to “Paralysis by Analysis
  • It can lead to misinformation due to a lack of reliable or absent verified sources
  • An absence of professional or certified trainers can lead to inefficient learning practices and/or harmful results
  • Lack of a structured schedule may lead to a less efficient and predictable progression and positive emotions

Lifelong Learning

Learning through formal, informal, and non-formal learning opportunities throughout people’s lives to foster continuous development and improvement of knowledge and skills needed for life.

According to Fisher, King, and Tague (2001), a self-directed learner takes control and accepts the freedom to learn what they view as important for them.

Lifelong Learning is all-encompassing and integral to the vision of a knowledge-based economy and/or society.

We have a natural strong internal (conscious or unconscious) motivation to learn.

To develop self-esteem, confidence, recognition, career satisfaction, gaining skills, be able to solve the challenges they face (or meet in the future) in their lives, or on real-world/life challenges/situations and solving real-world problems, to feel ‘part of something’, or as a tool to provide for our families or communities

To learn by doing rather than by listening with opportunities to practically apply their newly gained skills.

Satisfied in participating in the learning process, self-reliant, and learn by utilizing previously gained knowledge, and skills. Rely on their own personal experiences, strengths, and knowledge to solve problems.

Colearning Space

I created the concept of the Colearning Space in 2017, and wrote here first. A system that, as I imagine, combines all these types of education in a measurable, customized, predictive, adaptive, assisted, and personalized pathways.

  • The process of self-directed learning
  • Learning resources
  • Organizing circumstance
  • Broader & Integrated Learning Communities
  • Evaluation of self-directed learning
  • Ubiquitous, customized, predictive, adaptive, assisted and personalized pathways

Where what matters is the value of knowledge itself and not where it came from.To materialize this culture of (collective) learning through a physical space. Leveraging the knowledge that spaces shape the behavior of people and the tasks performed, they then shape the behavior of (other) people in space.

Society today demands better solutions, better belief systems, better professionals, better cities, better government, better people. Education around the world should have provided that. 

Education around the world must provide that.

The fact is that there is a huge need for a much better response due to changes that have occurred over time within society.

That much discussion about Education generated better results? Where are they (where they are really needed)? We have a few great examples, but has all this enthusiastic speech about Education become… something? A tangible reality? 

We need boldness, grit, and creativity.

While the emphasis is on formal education, there are plenty of examples of successful figures to prove the value of knowledge that goes beyond the traditional curriculum. Walt Disney, José Saramago (Nobel Prize in Literature), Mark Twain, Frank Lloyd Wright, Leonardo da Vinci, Nikola Tesla, Buckminster Fuller, among others, have a common history…

Individuals who followed autonomous, self-taught paths, following an educational path different from the traditional student and professional relationships.

These people found their success based not only on the knowledge they acquired in the classroom, within the cast and rigid molds of learning, but also using what they learned in everyday situations, in conversations, observations, and errors, investing all of that in their interests and passions, using all this diverse collection of knowledge to find the necessary answers for the search and realization of their dreams and goals.

We want to create a reality and a physical space that can replicate that. Where people can obtain and ‘share knowledge’ in a personalized way, according to their own projects, interests, and journey.

We want to build a space where everyone can not only learn but also teach in a personalized way. What do you need to do to make your project real? What are your interests and what journey do you want to take?

These are the questions that guide your experience within Colearning — The Invisible Education.

Invisible Education

The set of factors responsible for defining the perspective of people who have walked through unique educational processes (independent of classes, walls, teachers, or blackboard).

Data, Information, Knowledge, Insight, Wisdom

True learning occurs when we are caught up in the situation. Bringing teaching closer to reality generates the necessary motivation and stimulates passion and emotional connection, which are fundamental factors for the teaching process to take place effectively.

We need that to create and stimulate thinking minds, not just pre-programmed robots to perform calculations and give quick answers (even though Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and all that have a great opportunity and role in this new society). After all, if each individual is unique, it is not up to teaching to be one.

We lack spaces that contribute to the birth of new great ideas. New big names that used the so-called invisible knowledge to connect information, and build applied contextual knowledge.

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