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Published: 19/06/2013 13:14

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european youth portal

Learning for life

A training course on the subject of "non-formal learning" took place in La Fouly in the Swiss canton of Valais at the beginning of June.

Course participants came from 14 different countries and were all actively involved in youth organizations.

But what is non-formal learning, and why is such an emphasis being placed on it? What are its distinguishing characteristics? A visit to the project soon clarified what non-formal learning is all about.

In contrast to formal learning, non-formal learning takes place outside the school system. Many experts in the field are now convinced that education should not just be restricted to schools, but should take place elsewhere too. We learn new things every day, be it at school, in the family or even in youth organizations. Youth organizations are currently attaching great importance to this non-formal learning.


Life-long learning through non-formal training too

Learning outside school is by no means pointless – in fact, it's very practical. Non-formal learning imparts social skills such as communication and cooperation. People can learn how to behave democratically.

Non-formal training does not focus on the same type of issues as formal training. In many contexts, it is important to convey standards and values to young people. For example, one of the three course trainers explains that he arrived at a school one day where a Roma child was being repeatedly teased. He used non-formal learning to help integrate the Roma child into the school and make the class aware of the issue. This example shows how non-formal training can give people an opportunity to learn and integrate themselves into a group. Non-formal learning is not merely a new type of learning; it's much more than that.


Practical activity is the crucial difference

What particularly distinguishes non-formal learning from formal learning is the fact that practical activity plays a major role. It's not a matter of learning pages full of theories off by heart and committing them to memory, but the aim is to learn with the aid of practical exercises or even games. It is clear that people often find this practical way of learning much easier. Monica Chanza Paya, a teacher from Spain, expresses her opinion during the interview: "I think that non-formal learning has many advantages. One of the most important advantages of non-formal training is that it is very motivating for students because it is a very simple and practical way of learning. And I believe that motivation is the key to successful learning."

The other participants are also aware of the significance of non-formal training and even believe it will become more prevalent in the future. But most of them concede that non-formal learning will never replace formal learning. It will always act as a complement to it. But it's not a matter of replacing formal learning, as Zakayo Wandolo, a Belgian participant, so eloquently explains: "It's not a question of deciding whether to use non-formal or formal learning. It's all about discovering how best to use both sorts of learning. We need both types of learning and we've just got to find a way of combining them."


Participants from 14 different countries

The participants are aged between 21 and 68, and come from 14 different countries. What they have in common is that they are all actively involved in youth work and are committed to youth organizations. They have travelled to Switzerland in order to broaden their skills and knowledge regarding non-formal learning. As their knowledge grows, so does their ability to become good, experienced leaders of youth organizations.


Trainer's conclusion is positive

After a week of training, the conclusion is positive. "It was an intense week, the participants analysed their behaviour and improved their capacity in the field of non-formal training. I'm fairly confident that some of them will be using non-formal learning in the future," says trainer Jo Claeys. He is completely satisfied and, when asked whether the project might be repeated in the future, smiles and replies "Yes".