Formal and Informal Education: Explaining the Difference

Learning can happen anywhere: through a casual conversation, mobile apps, traditional classrooms, online platforms, or simply an observation – the possibilities are endless. Different learning styles work for different organizations depending on the learning content and audience. So when it comes to creating an L&D program, it is important to pay attention to the little details that make a learning experience memorable.

Understanding the nuances of different learning approaches can significantly impact the effectiveness of the learning intervention. In this blog, we will compare formal and informal education, and highlight the benefits each approach brings to the table. Let’s get started!

Formal and Informal Education Explained

Formal learning refers to the structured and organized educational experiences that typically take place within an institutional setting. We’ve all experienced formal learning in some shape or form. This type of learning follows a predefined curriculum, often guided by established institutions like schools, colleges, universities, or training programs. Apart from a defined curriculum, formal learning also requires a pre-defined medium of instruction (i.e. in-person or online) and is tested and accredited by a subject matter expert.

On the other hand, informal learning is much more spontaneous and flexible, acquired well outside the traditional classroom setting. It is often self-directed and driven by personal interests or needs. Informal learning can also occur in social settings. The learning is not structured and does not yield any formal credentials. Oftentimes, people learn informally through everyday experiences and observations.

Formal Learning Methods

Face-to-Face Learning

The traditional classroom setting is perhaps the best-used and most familiar example of formal instruction. It involves direct interaction between instructors and learners in a physical setting and has been a longstanding approach to formal education. The instruction is specifically timed and structured, allows for immediate teacher feedback and intervention, and promotes in-person social interaction between the learners.

Online Courses

Online learning modules are another way of delivering formal education. Due to technological advancements and the current eLearning trends, digital platforms have become one of the fastest-growing methods of instruction in the last few years. While there is some flexibility in terms of location and schedule, online courses are considered a formal learning approach, especially if they are associated with an accredited institution. 

Training Workshops

Training workshops are formal learning sessions that focus on specific skills, knowledge, or competencies. These workshops are often conducted in a condensed timeframe and are designed to be interactive and practical. These workshops mostly aim to teach learners a specific skill set and have measurable outcomes that trainees must achieve. The training is facilitated by subject matter experts and can be delivered in person or online.

Formal and Informal Education: Explaining the Difference

Informal Learning Methods

Learning From Others

Social learning involves observation, communication, and collaboration with others around us. Learning from peers is often done spontaneously and delivers the most practical outcomes that learners can immediately practice. Within formal learning methods, many instances of social learning can be found: whether it is peer learning, mentorship, or purely observational. 

Hands-On Learning

Hands-on learning, also known as experiential learning, involves acquiring knowledge and skills through direct engagement with real-world tasks, projects, or activities. This form of informal learning emphasizes the practical application of learned concepts. The skills developed as a result are often abstract and difficult to quantify. Learning new skills via projects and activities or by trial and error is often experiential. These skills are best retained by active and continued participation. 

Independent Learning

When individuals take responsibility for their learning without direct oversight or structured guidance, they are learning independently. Independent learning is a self-directed approach where learners choose what, when, and how they learn. The learning is completely flexible, and the individuals have complete autonomy. Independent learners often need to reflect on their learning progress and adjust strategies accordingly. 

Create a Seamless Learning Environment with Edly?

Get in touch with us and learn how we can help you achieve your goals and objectives.

How to Leverage Informal and Formal Education Together

Formal and informal education doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, by recognizing the complementary aspects between the two, both forms of learning can be incorporated together to connect theoretical understanding with practical application.

It all starts with recognizing areas where formal education might lack real-world application and where informal learning might benefit from structured knowledge. Another important factor is recognizing individual learners’ needs and providing them with the flexibility to personalize the type of learning they best respond to.

Having done that, subject matter experts can then figure out ways to create a hybrid learning style that has the best of both, formal and informal education. For example, adding a project-based learning module in the classroom provides a break from structured learning and lets students learn from experience. Similarly, on-the-job learning is done best when trainees are assigned mentors who can provide practical insights on top of a formal training module.


We’ve all experienced both formal and informal education in some form or another. Based on our experiences, we can all agree that each approach is effective based on the circumstances in which it is delivered. All organizations, whether higher education institutions or corporate workplaces, can benefit from a careful blend of either approach. The success lies in recognizing which objectives are best delivered formally vs informally.

If you need help creating and delivering the perfect online learning experience, Edly’s instructional design services can help you deliver the best learning solution tailored to your audience. Get in touch with us today to know more about our services or try our platform for free!

CTA-Free-Trial-Create a successful learning platform from one powerful solution!

Great online learning experiences start here

Get in touch to see what Edly can do for you