Benefits of non-formal education for adults
If we consider the basic approach of non-formal education of sharing the learning responsibility with the learners, an appropriate environment for the learning process should be created. It must be interactive, attractive and accessible but always taking into account the limitations of the learners. When dealing with adults, this aspect is even more important. If this is achieved and the educator knows and serves its role well and is prepared on the appropriate way, non-formal approaches could have a lot of potential benefits combining knowledge acquisition with learners’ personal and professional development (going even further than the impact that formal approaches could have on learners). The main benefits that can be highlighted are the following:
As mentioned on the description of the adult learners’ profiles, the lack of motivation is one of the main characteristics of those entering in adult education systems. Adult learners need to regain motivation as they could have left these training structures time ago or even have never been part of it. The flexibility of non-formal methodologies and adaptation on the profile of each learner can increase learners’ motivation to learn and self-esteem. The strong connection of non-formal learning with learners’ real life and the practical exercise of knowledge and skills provide motives to learners as they can easily and immediate see the impact of the learning process on their lives and problems faced by them. In this way learners are more involved in the learning process and commit with their full potential. According to this, the evolution of a learner is not only based on specific objectives set by an educator, but on personal goals (making easier to focus the training of a person through pathways that can motivate more him/her and fix short term objectives based on concrete interests of the learner).
One of the main aspects of non-formal education on adults is that learners acquire knowledge by experimenting and self-reflection. This makes the learning process much more effective and allows adapting its evaluation to the abilities and capacities of the adult. The learners can keep track of their progress and notice immediately the results, increasing their motivation to continue on the one hand or changing their stance towards the learning process on the other hand. As adults need to be independent and be seen as capable of managing their own stuff, self-evaluation and reflection offers them this opportunity and creates more positive stances towards the learning process.
Non formal education promotes adults active participation.
In order to acquire the deepest benefit and impact of the use of non-formal education in adults, Freire and Knowles agree on that adult learners cannot be seen as empty containers waiting to be filed by the knowledge of a teacher; they must have an active role on the knowledge acquisition. Non formal methodologies totally respect this fact increasing the quantity and quality of the learning results and the learners’ satisfaction from the process. According to Horton (1990) “Providing adult learners with opportunities to learn for themselves by making decisions will also help teach them the concepts of social equality and freedom of speech”. Taking into account this, it can be seen how non formal education is not only a tool to increase motivation to learn, but also a way to provide skills and attitudes that can also contribute to their participation on the democratic and social life of their communities.
Non formal methodologies respect adults’ background.
Non formal adult education, takes into account not only the learning needs of learners, but also their current skills, competences, previous experiences and the context on which they live in order to provide them an optimal educational approach. Taking into consideration that adults use memories, life experiences and competences that they already have to understand new ideas and tend to associate them with their personal or professional background, this characteristic of non-formal learning improves learning performance and creates the sense of respect for each learners’ background, a needed element for adults learning. This way of acquiring a new knowledge is not successfully faced by formal education that normally fails when trying to use methods with adults as these are based on learning by heart or on theoretical approaches when dealing with new subjects.
Learning to learn.
When working with adult learners, it could happen that due to their personal background they have never taken part on any educational system or training. The use of non-formal education in these cases does not only provide the educator a wide variety of techniques to be adapted to any kind of learner, but also helps to provide learners strategies to build their own learning models. Taking into account that the learner has a big responsibility on his/her learning the learners also gain skills needed to self-manage their learning and knowledge acquisition and create their own learning models. According to this, to teach an adult how to learn will potentially provide him/her more training opportunities as this will provide him/her tools to be used in any field of life and even when the educator or peers are not there.
Non formal methods can create a comfortable environment that increases learning.
Of course, the learners need to feel comfortable in order to collaborate. Creating a positive classroom atmosphere is one of the most significant advantages of non-formal methods. Creating a nice atmosphere where communication and mutual respect is the base of every action, takes effort on the part of the educator and the learners. Non-formal methods reinforce the active role of everyone equally through creative cooperation. Providing learners with a learner-centered, low-anxiety classroom environment has a great impact on their learning process. It can relax the learners and enhance a friendly atmosphere, which will increase their desire and attitude to learn and develop skills. The supportive learning environment and the continuously encouragement in a non-formal frame, creates an ambience where the learners can feel safe and comfortable to take chances.
Non formal methods allow practice in the educational environment.
Adults have many worries and obligations and they are very preoccupied with serving their different family and social roles. Time is extremely valuable for them. The opportunities they offer to practice the educational inputs during the lesson reduces the need for homework and make the whole process more appealing to adults as they are relieved from the extra burden to study between their other responsibilities.
One more advantage of non-formal learning is the fact that learners develop their ability to multi-tasking. All these various techniques which are being applied and the way the learners are interacting with them give the opportunity to come in touch and practice many tasks. Being able to change projects and at the same time learning a new language system is a very distracting and demanding work for the brain. Nowadays, it is almost mandatory to be a multi-tasker in order to find a job, to use technology and to be a part of the global community.