Benefits of non-formal and informal learning in your professional life

We are all recognizing the formal ways of learning – structured, taught by teachers and proffesors at schools, universities or courses. Those educational institutions are giving us theoretical and practical knowledge about particular topics and are developing our ‘hard competences’ (e.g. learning data and administrative skills). However, there are also different ways of learning that are important and let us enchance competences that we don’t gain being in the formally structured educational institutions. Those are non-formal and informal learning and in this article we will try to explain what they are and how they can improve your proffesional career.

Let’s start from definitions. The glossary of the European Knowledge Centre for Youth Policy describes non-formal learning as follows: “Non-formal learning is purposive but voluntary learning that takes place in a diverse range of environments and situations for which teaching/training and learning is not necessarily their sole or main activity”. Non-formal learning is a very powerful tool used by many non-governmental organisations. The difference between non-formal and formal learning is that participation in non-formal educational activities is 100% voluntary. A good example on non-formal learning can be a language exchange, where 2 or more people agree to exchange their knowledge in a non-formal way and each side is improving their language competences.

Informal learning can be described as learning resulting from daily activities related to work, family or leisure. It is not organised or structured in terms of objectives, time or learning support. Informal learning is in most cases unintentional from the learner’s perspective.

Both informal and non-formal ways of learning are very important in our proffesional lifes as they can help us to develop competences and skills that are sometimes essential in our future workplaces. It can be about social/interpersonal competences, cultural and language skills, leadership, public speaking and many more.

European Union describes non-formal learning as something that can be done without any age limit – meaning that one can learn non-formally during the whole life (‘lifelong learning’). The learning methods are very diverse and include: interaction, dialogue, mediation; activity-based methods: experience, practice, experimentation; socially-focussed methods: partnership, teamwork, networking; self-directed methods: creativity, discovery, responsibility.

The European Union defines as well eight key competences for lifelong learning and provides a general definition of competence in the context of “Education and Training 2010”. It has the following dimensions: independence and responsibility; competence for learning (on one’s own); social (communicative) competence; and work-related (professional) competence. The 8 key competences that one can gain participating in non-formal learning activities are:

  • Language competence in one’s mother tongue
  • Language competence in a foreign language
  • Mathematical / basic scientific-technical competence
  • Computer competence
  • Learning to learn
  • Interpersonal, intercultural, social and civic competence
  • Entrepreneurial competence
  • Cultural competence

European Union has done a lot of work to try to classify and standarise the non-formal learning, especially among youth. Youthpass  is a tool to document and recognise learning outcomes from youth work and solidarity activities. It is available for projects funded by Erasmus+: Youth in Action and European Solidarity Corps Programmes. It is a part of the European Commission’s strategy to foster the recognition of non-formal learning, putting policy into practice and practice into policy. Find out more about Youthpass here:

If you want to be a worthwhile candidate and increase your value on the job market, non-formal education is a very good way to increase the 8 competences mentioned above. Participating in trainings, youth exchanges, voluntary activities is a perfect way to help others, meet people, make friends, travel but also it is a learning proces. We encourage you to try and participate in on of our programmes – for sure you will find something close to your interests. Check out our website and let us hear from you.