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  • IMPROV e English Team

Basic principles of non-formal education

Non formal education has its own structure, substance and characteristics that should be respected during the planning, implementation and evaluation of an educational program. In this chapter the main principles on which non formal learning is based are presented in order to offer a clear picture about its character and facilitate the educators’ work. Although much more principles could be referred only the most important ones where chosen and are related to the educational roles, the process, the assessment, the contents and themes, the curriculum and the decision making.





Learner centricity: In non-formal education the learner is in the center of the learning process. Learners’ perspective must be heard and respected and bottom up approaches must be followed. The objectives, the planned methodology the anticipated learning process as well as eventual assessment and evaluation procedures are explicit as well as known and agreed by the learners. The learning process should respond to the individual needs and interests of the learners and this is especially important for heterogeneous groups with different backgrounds, experiences, knowledge etc. Methods and objectives are geared to the particular participants as much as possible and adapted to their needs and interests. In this matter, modifications in the sense of setting new priorities can not only ensue in planning but in the course of learning as well. The curriculum must be designed around learners’ problems and what the members of a group want to learn must be identified and respected. The initial session is very often about “what the learners want from the educational program”. Learners must be supported to discover their learning goals, plan how to achieve them, monitor and assess if their objectives are being achieved.

❖ Learning by doing: In non-formal education the focus is on concrete doing and not learning theory. Learning, most of the times, comes from what the learners do and not from what the educator does or says. This form of learning –experiential learning takes place in problem solving situations where the learner draws on his/her own experience and prior knowledge and is a method of instruction through which learners interact with their environment by exploring and manipulating objects, wrestling with questions and controversies or performing experiments. Learning by doing encourages active engagement, promotes motivation, autonomy, responsibility, independence, and develops creativity and problem solving skills. The learning process should offer the opportunity to the learners, especially the adult ones, to see how the educational inputs are related to practical application and their everyday life and experiential learning is the best way to achieve this goal. Encountering new and unknown situations is a basic element of non-formal education and can create new and practical learning opportunities.

❖ Learning as partners, solidary: Non formal education relies on active methods of cooperation and on group dynamic processes. Educators and learners are partners in a learning process in which they take different roles and responsibilities. Together they identify learning needs and objectives, they agree on the approach and methodology which normally is proposed by the educator, they are responsible for creating adequate conditions for productive learning and the learners are responsible for making best use of them and for investing their full learning potential. An environment of collaboration is basic element of non – formal education and peer learning should be promoted as much as possible. A positive, trusting and caring relationship should be built not only between the learners and the educator but also between the peers. This implies symmetrical learning relations characterized by cooperation, respect, trust, appreciation, equity and parity among educators and learners. Educators and learners appreciate each other’s qualities, expertise, and competences. Learners learn both from each other as well as with each other.

❖Process oriented learning: Process-oriented instruction is defined as instruction aimed at teaching thinking strategies and domain-specific knowledge in coherence. In non-formal education the focus is on the process. It is through the process that the learning is derived, so the whole process should be carefully chosen and adapted to the initially agreed educational aims. Processes should be modified and adapted according to the feedback during the activity. The curricula are really flexible and in that way the acquisition and collection of experiences may be equally relevant for the acquisition of skills. A meaningful engagement such as posing and answering realistic questions and problems is necessary for deeper learning.

❖ Participatory learning system: In non-formal education the learners must be active cells of the process. They are involved in the educational activities as subjects and learning is actively created by the learners for themselves-it is not the passive absorption of someone else’s learning. Their active participation is a prerequisite for the success of any educational activity in which they should be involved mentally, emotionally and physically. There is balanced co- existence and interaction between cognitive, affective and practical dimensions of learning. Passive listening is outside the context of the non-formal education and the whole process should be interactive, allowing space to the learners for active participation and contribution. Leaners should actively participate in all the aspects of the activity, including decision making. In this context shared responsibility and self-determination are both objectives as well as being important pedagogical methods.

❖ Close to real- life concerns: Non formal educational activities should be as close as possible to the learners’ real life concerns. The whole process should help the learners to clearly understand how the learning will benefit them both personally socially and professionally. Themes, contents and learning objectives need to be based on what the learners need and are interested in. Methodologies, methods and learning sites need to be adequate for the learners and locations as well as timeframes need to be organized in order to allow maximum accessibility for and participation of the target groups. All in all people only learn what they want to learn. The focus of the learning is the improvement of learners’ own lives and that of their families and communities. Learning programs, therefore, should be organized around ‘‘life application” categories and sequenced according to learners readiness to learn.

❖Democratic decision making: In non-formal education all the decisions should be made democratically with the participation of all the involved parties. The learners participate in shaping the learning activity during the process, including changes in objectives, contents and methodologies. Placing the ownership of the learning process and outcomes with the learners ensures the motivation of the learners and the sustainability of the learning outcomes. The educational approach and process needs to be compatible and coherent with democratic values and learners are active co-designers of their own development and learning processes.

❖Self- assessment: One of the main aspects of non-formal education is that learners acquire knowledge by experimenting and self-reflection. Assessing the work of learners should be made in a fair and equitable manner. Learners should be actively involved and share responsibility in the assessment process and offer their feedback regularly. Learners’ feedback is used as a tool for learning and progression. Self-assessment is promoted and supported by using different ways such as developing learners’ self- reflection skills and providing space for self-assessment. Learners should be strongly encouraged to practice and regularly reflect on their learning and the needed tools and knowledge for this process should be provided to them. The evaluation or measure of success is not based in a competitive system and a more friendly approach is offered for those learners with low self-esteem, problems to manage failure and reduce their frustration during the monitoring of the learning process.

❖ Reciprocity: The traditional educational roles frequently change in non- formal education. The educator is not the authority that knows everything and transfers this knowledge to the learners. Educators also learn on the one hand from the respective expertise and competences of the learners, on the other hand as learners in the experiential learning process of the training activity itself.

❖Variety of learning techniques: In non- formal education a variety of educational techniques is used in order to satisfy the needs and characteristics of all the learners and achieve learners’ motivation. Non formal education is interactive, activity based and experiential, linking individual learning and learning in groups. Diverse learning styles - visual, auditory and kinesthetic- are addressed by the use of a contiguous variety of learning approaches. Moreover, equal mentally, emotionally and physically involvement of the learners should be promoted by the methods chosen. Laughter and enjoyment are number one prerequisites for a successful non formal learning as much as a relaxing and stimulating environment.

❖Learners as a resource: Learners in non-formal education share knowledge and skills and they are respected and valued for their contribution. Learners are seen as a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning. Learning is built on previous knowledge and experience which are shared with other learner. Designing learning structures which promote such sharing is a basic element of non-formal education and educators should spend some time to get to know more about the experiences of their learners and seek to help them to link new ideas to such prior experiences. Learners are taught ways to bring to their current situation past knowledge, opinions and experiences. Learners’ past experiences should be always respected and incorporated in the learning process.

❖Flexible curriculum: Non formal education is not based on a curriculum that should be strictly followed. The curriculum, when there is any, is very flexible and it is being adapted to the needs and interests of the specific learners each time, before the educational activity and during the activity. Educators and learners should co-decide on the progress and the different aspects of the learning process. It is important to create flexible courses adapted to the profile of each participant that could also include exercises focused on promoting the self- esteem of the learners.

❖Learning to learn: non formal education helps the learners develop strategies to build their own learning models. The whole process should provide learners with skills needed to self-manage those environments provided by the educator and also build their own learning spaces. Skills for self-organizing the learning should be promoted. Learners are encouraged to identify their dominant and no dominant learning styles and contexts that are easier and more difficult for them and to work with their development.

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