It is tempting to conflate learning and education. But it is important to distinguish these terms. Education is a deliberate activity that involves communication aimed at bringing about learning that is generally associated with institutions like schools, colleges, or universities. Learning is a broader term that encompasses not only formal education but also learning that takes place in non-formal or informal settings. In the context of lifelong learning there is an increased focus on non-formal and informal learning that represents a paradigm shift in the way people think about education and learning.
Learning activities are commonly categorized into three types (other categorizations exist):
- Formal learning usually takes place in institutions like schools, colleges or universities. It is typically designed as a full-time educational pathway for children and young people before their entry into the employment market. It is planned, structured, and intentional. Formal learning leads to qualifications recognized by educational authorities.
- Non-formal learning is also planned, structured and intentional. However, it is considered complementary to formal education and typically does not lead to formal qualifications recognized by educational authorities. It is often provided in the form of short-duration courses, workshops, or seminars. This can include workplace training and self-development.
- Informal learning is most frequently self-directed, but may also be directed by a family or social organization. It is not necessarily structured in terms of objectives or specific learning times, but it is a deliberate activity aimed at improving knowledge, skills, or competence. Informal learning can come in many different forms, such as self-study e.g. by reading books or articles, going to museums or cultural events, learning to play a musical instrument with a friend, watching documentary videos, or listening to podcasts, etc.