Informal and non-formal education

Exploring the experiences, practice and theories of informal education and non-formal education.

Introducing informal education and non-formal education

What is informal education? So what is informal education? Here Tony Jeffs and Mark K Smith cut a path through some of the confusion around the area. They focus on informal education as a spontaneous process of helping people to learn. Informal education they suggest, works through conversation, and the exploration and enlargement of experience. It’s purpose is to cultivate communities, associations and relationships that make for human flourishing.

What is non-formal education? Within policy debates a common differentiation has been made between different forms of provision. Informal, non-formal, and formal programmes have been viewed as very different. Here we explore this categorization and some of the forms of work that exist under the non-formal label in southern countries.


Walking informal education. Walking in central London we can find many places associated with key figures and moments in the making of informal education. Explore them through a virtual (or real) walk. We see: sites of early street work; pioneering clubs for girls; one of the first working men’s clubs; early examples of schools, settlements and colleges; and examples of early popular education – libraries, coffee houses, and bookshops. We learn about some of the key figures – Maud Stanley and girls work; Baden Powell and Scouting; Albert Mansfield and adult education; Lily Montagu and Jewish youth work; and George Williams and the YMCA. Also available for kindle and mobile (epub).

Looking again at non-formal and informal education – towards a new paradigm. Alan Rogers explores the confused usage of the terms non-formal and informal education and suggests a way forward.

Featured thinkers

Josephine Macalister Brew: One of the most ‘able, wise and sympathetic educationalists of her generation’, Josephine Macalister Brew made a profound contribution to the development of thinking about, and practice of, youth work and informal education.

Malcolm Knowles: A champion of andragogy, self-direction in learning and informal adult education, Malcolm S. Knowles was a very influential figure in the adult education field. Here we review his life and achievements, and assess his contribution.

Eduard Lindeman: Perhaps best known today for his work in adult education, Eduard C. Lindeman (1885 – 1953) also wrote one of the first books on community development, was an early explorer of groupwork and worked to extend popular education. In this piece we explore his life and classic work The Meaning of Adult Education.

Click for a full listing of articles


Acknowledgement: Picture: Stepping Stones Nigeria Child Empowerment Foundation – photogaphed for the STARS Foundation.Sourced from Flickr and reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence.