Formal, non-formal and informal learning: the case of literacy, essential skills and language learning in canada

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In this report Sarah Elaine Eaton investigates the links between formal, non-formal and informal learning and the differences between them. In particular, the report aims to link these notions of learning to literacy and essential skills, as well as the learning of second and other languages in Canada.

[From the Executive Summary]

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The philosophical underpinnings of this research are:

• There is value in learning of all kinds.

• Learning is a lifelong endeavour.

• An interdisciplinary approach is valuable.

Notions of formal, non-formal and informal learning may be briefly outlined as:

Formal learning This type of learning is intentional, organized and structured. Formal learning opportunities are usually arranged by institutions. Often this type of learning is guided by a curriculum or other type of formal program.

Non-formal learning This type of learning may or may not be intentional or arranged by an institution, but is usually organized in some way, even if it is loosely organized. There are no formal credits granted in non-formal learning situations.

Informal learning This type of learning is never organized. Rather than being guided by a rigid curriculum, it is often thought of experiential and spontaneous.

(Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development / Organisation de Coopération et de Développement Economiques (OECD), n.d.; Werquin, 2007)

Examples are given for literacy and essential skills, as well as second and other languages for each of the categories mentioned above.

Finally, the examples of systems developed value different types of learning using asset-based approaches are given. The tools developed by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada are explored for the case of literacy. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages developed by the Council of Europe is considered for second and other languages.

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First placed in the archives February 2010 with permission of the writer.

© Eaton International Consulting Inc 2010