Knowing and Understanding More About Teaching and Learning as an Activity

Sep. 10, 2017

Dr. Habil Janos Gyori is associate professor at the Faculty of Education and Psychology in the Institute of Intercultural Psychology and Education, Eotvos Lorand University, Hungary.

Since the age of mass education began, researchers’ and experts’ main focus was almost always on the formal ways of teaching and learning, on an activity that typically happens in school. When we think, talk, do research on education, we almost constantly conceptualize something that is schooling - teaching and learning in formal education - rather - than teaching and learning in much broader senses.
I am not talking about informal teaching and learning processes, which are also well conceptualized and investigated both by educational experts and psychologists, but rather about non-formal education.

The goals, content, methods of teaching, ways of achievement measuring, and all the other aspects of non-formal education can differ widely. Also, teachers working in non-formal education can be very different from each other from many aspects, e.g., the training they got before starting any type of non-formal teaching. They can also be different if they had or still have any experience in mainstream education ("schooling").


  • Highly-educated professionals who went through official teacher education and in parallel to their formal teaching activity also do some non-formal teaching;
  • Highly-educated professionals who went through official teacher education and engaged in formal teaching activity before they started non-formal teaching, but at present are not involved in any kind of teaching activity in a formal educational context;
  • People who are still in teacher education who did not graduate but do non-formal education (e.g., university students who wish to earn money for living and studying);
  • People who never had any kind of teacher preparation (laymen) but do some forms of non-formal education, and so on.

The students in this type of education also differ from each other. They can be preschool-age children, school-age students, or adults; they can be excellently-educated people or undereducated persons, and so on.

It is important to mention that formal education is a new-comer compared to different types of non-formal education. For example, the way kings, emperors, and nobles were trained in the past (at home, by teachers without any kind of formal teaching education) is much older than formal education.
However, formal education could never abolished non-formal education, which existed all the time and, as already mentioned, exists at present as well.
Still, in environments where formal education could not exist, non-formal education found ways to function. For example, in the Nazi camps during World War II, although there was no possibility of any kind of formal education or schooling for certification, brave people, formal teachers, rabbis, laymen with teaching intentions provided many others with non-formal education, as we know from many memoires and other resources.
So, in a sense, we can conceptualize that formal education is a kind of extension of non-formal education, which can function in any social environment, rather than non-formal education being an extension of formal education, despite its conceptualization by many educators and laymen in this way.
Non-formal education is the real form of education in the sense that while societies can function without formal education (at least on a certain level), we cannot find human colonies without certain types of non-formal education, even in extremes forms of life.

Therefore we should pay much more attention to non-formal education than we did typically, i.e., without thinking that non-formal education would be better than formal education or the opposite. They are different, but based on the same roots.

To know and learn more about non-formal education is very important from the viewpoint of educational science. There are dozens of crucial issues: if we could develop well-elaborated answers to them, we could surely reach a better and more professional understanding of what teaching and learning as human acts mean, as the basis of formal education as well.


Examples of these crucial issues:

  • Many laymen are able to develop very effective teaching methods in non-formal education as teachers, despite the fact that they did not get any formal teacher education. Cognitively, professionally, socially, how are these people able to build up whole, well-elaborated, highly-structured educational methods without any formal teacher training? On the other hand, how is it that there are many people who went through formal teacher education but are unable to invent and build up any systematic methods in education? Why do we even need formal teacher education?
  • What kinds of knowledge can be constructed in non-formal education? Which types of knowledge would be impossible to teach in non-formal education, and why? How can people combine all types of knowledge they get in formal and non-formal education in their minds?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the work of teachers who experienced some type of formal teacher education during their lives and careers and the work of those who did not?
  • What are the characteristics of teachers’ selection, professional development, self-improvement processes, collaborations, quality assurance, and related issues in non-formal education?
Updated: Sep. 10, 2017