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EPALE - Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe


Re-emphasise the value of non-formal and informal learning. What do you think?

by Simon BROEK

Do we actually learn more by formalising learning? There is a tendency to formalise learning. The most prominent development is the establishment of Qualifications Frameworks and Accreditation of Prior Learning systems. Both initiatives are based on the assumption that learning can be described in terms of learning outcomes.

Thinking in terms of learning outcomes is not a bad thing. As a proxy, it clarifies what people learn; it focuses the development of learning programmes; it allows recognition of prior learning against agreed standards.

The concern is that by emphasising the learning that is definable in terms of learning outcomes, we tend to forget that a lot of learning that is indefinable, leading to a narrow conception of learning.

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Liga Abizare's picture
But how to support informal education concerning education for sustainable development? 
I am working on national and international level as an environmental educator and conducting various pedagogic programs for schools for more than 15 years involving forest as a learning environment. In 2019 I will organise 14th European Forest Pedagogics Conference in Latvia and one of the main topics will be:

How can children benefit from learning in forest? What do You think?
Does it make sense to learn about wood products outside in the commercial forest or is it enough for city kids to visit a local park?
Should we encourage the integration of forest as a learning environment in national curriculum for kindergardens and primary schools?
What are the barriers for such practice in Your country?
Liga Abizare's picture
Hello! I can agree with You, particulary if we look at differences between learning environment in classroom and learing outdoors, in the forest, for example. Outdoor education is always versatile and unpredictable, it is hard to formalise the process and the outcome as well, if we are learning in the everchanging environment. And the benefits of such learning include using all your senses, learning by doing and creativity. There are many examples of such practices embracing the forest as a learning environment in European countries - check out the site
Marilyn Mehlmann's picture

Interesting discussion - thank you Simon. 

I agree that sometimes there's a need for formalization (especially, as pointed out, when safety is implicated - think of driving licences!). And, in my experience it's over-emphasized. When we truly put the learners at the centre of our work and pedagogy, it becomes clear that they are the ones best situated to describe what they still lack, and to go and get it, given the opportunity.

This in turn raises the question of how participants are attracted or recruited to courses: how they are offered the right opportunities. Is participation (truly) voluntary, or actually prescribed? How do we set about attracting the participants who will benefit most? - and so on. 

It's not easy, I know (from experience!), to work in a fully learner-centric way. But perhaps this is the answer to some of our questions - and not just those about accreditation?

Mariela Lazi's picture
I totally agree with you, even if I do not believe that this will make it impossible to recognise someone competences, fully. I just wanted to emphasise the importance and value of non-formal and informal education (that sometimes is even more valuable than the formal one, especially when one need to find a job). I also want to state the importance of "naming every single knowledge/competence" with a right universal name, to make first the individual aware so make the competence "advertisable" adequately by the owner and at the same time make it marketable and even providing the right way to bring it at the next level, by assigning and providing curricular to reach clear milestones for every single competence. I have the feeling that ( especially in the arena of skills and competences) this is often very vague and ambigue. Ambiguity leads to a subjective recognition or evaluations and thereof usually to subjective life changing decisions based on subjectivity. So my point is, are we (as society) providing the right value to all the forms of education? Furthermore, do we have the right tools on place to evaluate thoroughly the presence or not of the specific knowledge/competence as well as the actual level? Is education valued and recognised equally throughout Europe? Anyway, my main concern is in regard to equally "empowering" all the forms of education. Sometimes the name of the "competence/knowledge" awarded is even more important that the knowledge itself! Hope I would have been useful in your insights and discussions around these very important issues, that are going to shape the future of our world!
Simon BROEK's picture
Mariela, am I sensing that you are pointing to a fundamental issue with regard recognition of learning? What people know and can is always in flux, sometimes partially forgotten, sometimes people are not aware it their competences. Will this make it impossible to fully, and trustworthy recognise someones competences?
Mariela Lazi's picture
I think that all forms of learning are very valuable to the overall progress of the individual as well as the entire society. At the same time all kind of knowledge, skills or competences gained by all forms of learnings has to be "used" in practice to be effective and last for a long time. The problem, I think, is hidden with the ability to provide the learner with the right opportunities to do so. This is bringing the need for recognition, accreditation, certification and all the other things that usually are granted after completing a specific learning programme. Actually, this is happening more in the formal education arena. Based on my own experience I can dry that I have seen many students that has the formal recognition for something they did not know or they have forget and at the other side they were not even aware (have no idea at all) that they actually know or have the right skills in place for something that they have learned through "informal" ways. Therefore, I believe that we need to have better knowledge, skills or competence measurement techniques in all our learning programs, being those formal or informal. Individuals as well as teachers should be aware of what is happening with the learner's brain, to be able to measure progress and set targets and so on. At the same time we should remember that every learner's brain is unique. :) Thanks!
Tasoula Antoniou Katsiami's picture
Learning should encapsulate all forms both formal and informal contexts. It should include skills, prior knowledge, behaviours, attitudes. We need to learn, unlearn ...relearn ...while this process takes place , why not formalise and validate it too?
Simon BROEK's picture
Hi Tasoula, let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with formalisation and validation. Firstly, the validation excercise in itself is valuable (as a reflection of what one knows and can); secondly, formalisation can lead to other benefits (access to formal education, shorten learning pathways, increased job opportunities). My concern is that there is more emphasis on formalisation than on the learning itself, prioritising the formalised learning outcomes over the non-formalised learning outcomes. In addition, I have the feeling that in practice formalisation only plays a role for a limited amount of learning outcomes. It is about the balance between discussing formalisation systems and discussing establishment of effective learning environments.
Simon BROEK's picture
Hi Ian, I think your remark is spot on! Emphasis in financing adult learning might be too much on formalised education leaving non-formal and informal in a poor state in many European countries.
Ian Atkinson's picture
Hi, an interesting question. Both aspects have their place I think and it very much depends on the purpose of learning - i.e. it may be important that learning a specific skill is accredited as proof of competence (especially in safety critical roles in the workplace for example). Equally, informal learning has a clear place and value. I think you're right in terms of the need to ensure informal learning isn't crowded out by the rush to accredit everything when there may be little value in doing so. Also, financing learning is an important consideration - particularly where only accredited courses atrract funding etc. I think this may be the real issue / danger....