The following definitions are extracted from the Compass manual. This page is regularly updated.

Non-formal education

Non-formal education refers to planned, structured programmes and processes of personal and social education for young people designed to improve a range of skills and competences, outside the formal educational curriculum. Non-formal education is what happens in places such as youth organisations, sports clubs and drama and community groups where young people meet, for example, to undertake projects together, play games, discuss, go camping, or make music and drama. Non-formal education achievements are usually difficult to certify, even if their social recognition is increasing. Non-formal education should also be:

  • voluntary
  • accessible to everyone (ideally)
  • an organised process with educational objectives
  • participatory
  • learner-centred
  • about learning life skills and preparing for active citizenship
  • based on involving both individual and group learning with a collective approach
  • holistic and process-oriented
  • based on experience and action
  • organised on the basis of the needs of the participants.
Formal, non-formal and informal education are complementary and mutually reinforcing elements of a lifelong learning process.

This definition shall not be confused with:

Informal education

Informal education refers to a lifelong learning process, whereby each individual acquires attitudes, values, skills and knowledge from the educational influences and resources in his or her own environment and from daily experience. People learn from family and neighbours, in the market place, at the library, at art exhibitions, at work and through playing, reading and sports activities. The mass media are a very important medium for informal education, for instance through plays and film, music and songs, televised debates and documentaries. Learning in this way is often unplanned and unstructured.

Formal education

Formal education refers to the structured education system that runs from primary (and in some countries from nursery) school to university, and includes specialised programmes for vocational, technical and professional training. Formal education often comprises an assessment of the learners' acquired learning or competences and is based on a programme or curriculum which can be more or less closed to adaptation to individual needs and preferences. Formal education usually leads to recognition and certification.

Council of Europe relevant standards

Recommendation 1437 (2000) on non-formal education

On 24 January 2000, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted the recommendation 1437 on non-formal education.

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