Training of trainers – NFL and interactive methods in Youth work – ACHIEVE

Lesson 2 – Principles of Non-formal learning – text

text lesson

Quality in non-formal education and training in the field of European youth work

(Helmut Fennes and Hendrik Otten)

The learning continuum:

Formal learning

Learning typically provided by an education or training institution, structured (in terms of learning objectives, learning time or learning support) and leading to certification.

Formal learning is intentional from the learner’s perspective.

Non-formal learning

Learning that is not provided by an education or training institution and typically does not lead to certification. It is, however, structured (in terms of learning objectives, learning time or learning support).

Non-formal learning is intentional from the learner’s perspective.

Informal learning

Learning resulting from daily life activities related to work, family or leisure. It is not structured (in terms of learning objectives, learning time or learning support) and typically does not lead to certification.

Informal learning may be intentional but in most cases it is non-intentional (or ‘incidental’/random).

Source: Glossary, Lifelong Learning Communication (European Commission: 2001), drawing on the Lifelong Learning Memorandum (European Commission: 2000)

Features of non-formal learning in the youth sector:

Common elements in existing definitions of non-formal learning

  • purposive learning;
  • diverse contexts;
  • different and lighter organisation of provision and delivery;
  • alternative/complementary teaching and learning styles;
  • less developed recognition of outcomes and quality;

Essential features of non-formal learning

  • balanced co-existence and interaction between cognitive, affective and practical dimensions of learning;
  • linking individual and social learning, partnership-oriented solidarity and symmetrical teaching/learning relations;
  • participatory and learner-centred;
  • holistic and process-oriented;
  • close to real life concerns, experiential and oriented to learning by doing, using intercultural exchanges and encounters as learning devices;
  • voluntary and (ideally) open-access;
  • aims above all to convey and practice the values and skills of democratic life;

Non-formal teaching/training and learning methods

  • communication-based methods: interaction, dialogue, mediation;
  • activity-based methods: experience, practice, experimentation;
  • socially-focussed methods: partnership, teamwork, networking;
  • self-directed methods: creativity, discovery, responsibility;

Source: Council of Europe Symposium on Non-Formal Education: Report (2001)

Principles for training in the youth field

  • Learner-centeredness
  • Transparency
  • Agreement between trainers and learners on learning objectives, content and methodology
  • Confidentiality
  • Voluntarism of learners
  • Participation of learners
  • Ownership of the learning is with the learners
  • Democratic values and practices

Principles for training in the youth field

Learner-orientation and learner-/person-centeredness are primary principles of training in the youth field. This principle is closely linked to the feature mentioned above that non-formal learning should be close to real life concerns: 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 timeframes need to be organised in order to allow maximum accessibility for and participation of the target groups. All in all: people only learn what they want to learn – and the better if it is adequate to their dispositions, capacities and possibilities.

Learner-centeredness also implies that the learners/trainees are the primary clients of the trainers. This principle can be difficult to comply with: Trainers can be confronted with a discrepancy between the interests of their institutional clients (contractors/sponsors) and the interests of the trainees. E.g., the institutional client might be interested in large numbers of participants and a quick achievement of objectives set by the Institutional client (which reflects a “top-down-approach”), while the trainee clients might have different objectives and mostly be interested in personal and competence development as well as in a change of structures, systems, power-relations etc. (which reflects a “bottom-up-approach”). Subsequently, the different interests in this “training triangle” need to be negotiated.

This requires a special competence of the trainers. In case the interests of the institutional client and the trainees are conflicting and no agreement can be negotiated this could result in a “mission impossible”. Subsequently, a trainer would have to consider not accepting a respective training contract for such a setting.

Linked to learner-centeredness are transparency and confidentiality: transparency implies primarily that the objectives of a training/learning activity, 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 from the beginning as it is the case for many simulations which build on the dimensions of the unknown or unexpected: it just needs to be made explicit that this is the case and that learners can opt for not participating in this unit (see voluntarismbelow).

Confidentiality implies that what ever happens in a training/learning activity (including the evaluation) is confidential and is not communicated to anyone who is not directly part of the respective process. In particular, it implies that institutional clients (e.g. employers of trainees) are not informed about what trainees have said or done in a learning activity without the consent of those concerned or except this has been agreed on beforehand (see transparency). The latter could also be the case for a written assessment or for practice and other training elements which are accessible to a larger public than the group of trainees.

Voluntary participation applies for all types of non-formal education and learning, therefore also for non-formal training activities. Nevertheless, training providers and trainers obviously can set conditions for a given training activity, e.g. that full participation in a specific unit is a condition to take part in another unit. Of course, in view of the principle of transparency this needs to be explicit from the beginning and also the consequences if this condition is not met.

Participation of the learners has two sides to it: on one hand it implies an obligation of the learners to actively participate and engage themselves in the learning activities and processes initiated and facilitated by the trainers. On the other hand it implies that the learners can participate in shaping a training/learning activity during the process, including changes in objectives, contents and methodologies. This can, of course, create delicate situations if it leads to conflicts with the interests and commitments of trainers or institutional clients and stakeholders (such as sponsors).

If no agreement can be negotiated it can result in the termination of a training activity. Nevertheless, this principle contributes to placing the ownership of the learning process and outcomes with the learners – an essential principle ensuring the motivation of learners and the sustainability of learning outcomes.

All these principles are linked to democratic values and practices which are at the same time a core content of youth work and training in a European context: obviously, democracy can only be conveyed and learned in a democratic way – the pedagogic approach and process needs to be compatible and coherent with the content. This is one of the major challenges in training and teaching in general – and this also applies to non-formal education and training in the youth field.

Relationship between trainers and learners

  • Equity and parity – partners with different roles, responsibilities and competences
  • Respectful, appreciative, valuing
  • Trustful
  • Co-operative
  • Reciprocity – trainers are also learners; trainees are also experts in their fields

Relationship between trainers and learners

Trainers 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 a pedagogic approach and methodology which normally is proposed by the trainers, they are responsible for creating an adequate framework and conditions for productive learning processes, and the learners are responsible for making best use of them and for investing their full learning potential. This implies symmetrical training/learning relations characterised by cooperation, respect, trust, appreciation, equity and parity between trainers and learners. Trainers and learners recognise, respect and appreciate each others’ qualities, expertise and competences in the respective fields – the trainers’ pedagogic and educational competences, the learners’ competences in their respective working field and context.

There is also a dimension of reciprocity where trainers are also learners, on 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. The latter implies the reflection, evaluation and analysis of training activities and processes including feedback from the learners and peers.

Pedagogic approach and methodology

  • oriented towards competence development
  • diversity of methods combining cognitive, affective and practical dimensions of learning
  • holistic and process-oriented
  • linking individual learning and learning in groups
  • experiential learning
  • regarding ambiguity or crisis as a learning opportunity
  • using intercultural encounters as learning devices
  • self-directed, socially-focussed, interactive and activity-based methods

Pedagogic approach and methodology

Since a major objective of training in the youth field is the development of competences combining knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary for youth work, the pedagogic approach implies a mix of cognitive, affective and practical dimensions of learning resulting in a diversity of methods. Due to the multidimensional character of the necessary competences – see the respective chapters of this document – this approach is necessarily holistic and process-oriented.

It links individual learning and self-directed learning – which is linked to the principle of learner-centeredness and which should be supported by the development of learning competence – with learning in groups and with peers based on social interaction and socially-focused methods – learning from and with each other – including working and learning in teams, partnerships and networks. The latter equally applies for the trainers, who in European-level youth worker training normally work in teams and develop their competences in this context and through their practice.

The personal, inter-personal, social and intercultural dimension of the competences to be acquired requires an experiential learning approach: learning by doing, where the practical experience is reflected and analyzed, and where what has thus been learned is applied in future practice.

Experiential learning includes encountering new and unknown situations, sometimes resulting in ambiguity, tension or even crisis which at the same time can create new learning opportunities. This applies, in particular, to intercultural encounters which play an important role in youth work and training in a European context and frequently are used as learning devices.

This pedagogic approach results in a methodology which includes self-directed, socially-focussed, interactive and activity based methods.

Quality standards:

Quality standards for non-formal education and training

  • The activity is underpinned by the core principles and practices of non-formal education.
  • The activity meets identified needs in the community.
  • The activity is consciously conceptualised and framed to meet identified and appropriate objectives as well as to allow for unexpected outcomes.
  • The activity is well designed, planned and carried out, in both educational and organisational terms.
  • The activity is adequately resourced.
  • The activity demonstrably uses its resources effectively and efficiently.
  • The activity is monitored and evaluated.
  • The activity acknowledges and makes visible its outcomes and results.

Quality standards for European-level non-formal education and training in the youth field

  • The activity integrates principles and practices of intercultural learning.
  • The activity contributes to European-level policy aims and objectives in the youth field.


Adapted from – Helmut Fennes and Hendrik Otten (2008): Quality in non-formal education and training in the field of European youth work


The training program “Training of Trainers” is an educational product that is currently missing in the partner countries – Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania. Due to the early stage of development of the youth sector and youth work in these countries the educational materials aimed at non-formal learning are still limited and insufficient. The lack of adequate educational framework for training of youth workers in the field of formal education leads to inefficient use of the capacity of professionals.

This course fills a gap in the youth sector, namely the need of methodologies for the preparation of trainers, who are able to train youth workers. This course will set the basis for the preparation of teams of trainers of youth workers. The course will serve the goal of development of youth work in the participating countries and other interested parties. A large number of youth workers can be trained according to the methodology at national and international level to use and promote non-formal learning as a tool to enhance the realization of young people in the labor market and increase their social cohesion.

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