In-/Non-Formal Learning


Formal Learning
Informal Learning
Nonformal Learning


Types of settings and intentions associated with human learning

Principal Metaphors

The categories of Formal Learning, Non-Formal Learning, and Informal Learning represent a typology of formats or sites of learning. This typology can be applied across virtually all metaphors and theories of learning.




The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines three forms of learning:
  • Formal Learning usually involves certified teachers, accredited curricula, and institutional settings.
  • Non-Formal Learning (sometimes called Incidental Learning) refers to structured learning situations in which one or more of the elements mentioned in the previous sentence is absent.
  •  Informal Learning involves none of those elements, is not oriented by or structured around explicit learning outcomes, and, from the point of view of the learner, is never intentional.


The cluster of Formal Learning, Non-Formal Learning, and Informal Learning is a device for making distinctions – and so its value and utility depends on one’s needs and applications. The fact that is was authored by a political-economic interest (the OECD) should give pause. That said, there are discourses rooted in education that cover very similar ground. For instance:
  • Public Pedagogy (Public Sphere Pedagogy) – Most broadly understood, Public Pedagogy aligns with Informal Learning and Nonformal Learning in a shared focus on sites and types of learning that occur beyond the scope of schools. Some versions place a strong emphasis on civic engagement and/or focusing content on/through public issues. Still others are more explicitly aligned with Activist Discourses, aiming at conscientization and activism.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning

The distinctions among Formal Learning, Non-Formal Learning, and Informal Learning do not constitute a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

No specific perspectives on or theories of teaching are associated with Formal Learning, Non-Formal Learning, or Informal Learning.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Formal Learning, Non-Formal Learning, and Informal Learning constitute a typology, not a scientific theory.


  • Public Pedagogy (Public Sphere Pedagogy)

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “In-/Non-Formal Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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