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TVETipedia Glossary

Find and compare definitions of key terms in TVET


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Non-formal learning

Non-formal learning is learning that has been acquired in addition or alternatively to formal learning. In some cases, it is also structured according to educational and training arrangements, but more flexible. It usually takes place in community-based settings, the workplace and through the activities of civil society organisations. Through the recognition, validation and accreditation process, non-formal learning can also lead to qualifications and other recognitions.

UIL, UNESCO GUIDELINES for the Recognition, Validation and Accreditation of the Outcomes of Non-formal and Informal Learning, 2012

Acquisition of knowledge, know-how, information, values, skills and competences in the framework of planned activities – in terms of learning objectives, time or resources – where some form of learning support is present (e.g. student-teacher/trainer relationships).


  • Non-formal learning is intentional from the learner’s point of view; it may cover programmes to impart work skills, adult literacy and basic education for early school leavers; very common cases of non-formal learning include in-company training, through which companies update and improve the skills of their workers such as ICT skills, structured on-line learning (e.g. by making use of open educational resources), and courses organised by civil society organisations for their members, their target group or the general public;
  • outcomes of non-formal learning may be validated and may lead to certification;
  • non-formal learning is sometimes described as semi-structured learning;
This term is close to, but not synonymous with: informal learning.


Cedefop; Council of the European Union, 2012

Cedefop, Glossary. Terminology of European education and training policy, (accessed 03/2023)

Learning that takes place through a program of instruction but does not usually lead to the attainment of a formal qualification or award, for example, in-house professional development programs conducted in the workplace.

NCVER (Australia), VOCEDplus: Glossary of VET, (accessed 12/2022)

Planned learning activities, not explicitly designated as learning, towards the achievement of a qualification or part qualification; often associated with learning that results in improved workplace practice.

SAQA (South Africa), TVET Standard Glossary of Terms, 2013

Non-formal learning is the “concept on which there is the least consensus” (OECD, n.d.) and lies somewhere between formal and informal learning. Hence it makes sense to take a brief look at two broadly accepted definitions of the latter two terms. Formal learning is learning that occurs in an organised and structured environment and is explicitly designated as learning (in terms of objectives, time or resources). It is intentional from the learner’s point of view and typically leads to validation and certification (Cedefop, 2008). Typical examples are learning that takes place within the initial education and training system or workplace training arranged by the employer (Werquin & Patrick, 2010). Informal learning is learning that results from daily activities related to work, family or leisure. It is not organised or structured in terms of objectives, time or learning support. It is in most cases unintentional from the learner’s perspective (Cedefop, 2008). There is also a definition of non-formal learning by Cedefop (2014), which is "learning embedded in planning activities not explicitly designated as learning (in terms of learning objectives, learning time or learning support). Non-formal learning is intentional form the learners' point of view. Non-formal learning outcomes may be validated and may lead to certification.

European Commission, Validation of Non-formal MOOC-based Learning, 2016

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