Types of learning


By identifying these key creative thinking skills, which can then be appropriately practiced as they naturally emerge throughout schooling from early years to upper school, and beyond, the ACTS project offers something to the education sector that can be a reference point for integrated and student-centred practice.

Different types of learning

The ACTS qualification definitions for formal, non-formal and informal learning have been based upon the definitions adopted by the European Commission in their document Making a European Area of Lifelong Learning a Reality: communication from the Commission (Brussels: European Commission, 2001, pp.32-33).

ACTS defines these as follows:

Formal Learning
  • Is provided by an education or training institution, always organised and structured, and has learning objectives, learning time and learning support.
  • From the student’s perspective it is always intentional
  • It leads to validation and certification
Non-Formal Learning
  • Is not organised and structured by an education or training institution, but may occur within that context or elsewhere
  • Typically it does not lead to certification, but may do so retrospectively.
  • Is structured, in terms of learning objectives, learning time or learning support.
  • Non-formal learning is intentional from the student’s perspective
Informal Learning
  • Results from everyday life activities related to work, family or leisure.
  • It is not organised or structured in respect of learning objectives, time or support
  • There is not an intentional learning objective from the student’s perspective
  • Typically it does not lead to certification, although outcomes from informal learning may do so retrospectively

Formal summative-based, exam-driven learning will not be sufficient to develop all thinking skills and will leave it to a lottery of life for students. The conscientious may miss out by driving themselves to meet exam expectations above all else, while those who question the basis of their learning may become disruptive as a means of self-preservation. Others may withdraw into themselves in confusion and with reduced aspirations or self-esteem. In all, something creative often withers. Many of the Creative Thinking Skills outlined by ACTS are effectively developed in non-formal or informal settings that have the potential to enhance and enliven all learning.

The ACTS project underlines that accepting and working with different thinking and learning styles helps students engage again with education and achieve their potential in a way that makes their learning visible and able to be evaluated – whatever their learning or thinking style. Facilitating creative thinking and maximising potential in all students through an integrated approach to curriculum development and implementation is possible through combining the highly-focused, analytic thinking and memory training involved in formal education with the softer focus, non-verbal experience of interconnections and context that is often found in non-formal and informal learning.

By integrating formal, non-formal and informal learning opportunities within a broad curriculum, free of unduly premature specialisation, students can be assessed within the context of a broader range of learning styles and make visible the key creative thinking skills that are of increasing importance in Higher Education and the workplace.

The ACTS project underlines that accepting and working with different thinking and learning styles helps students engage again with education and achieve their potential in a way that makes their learning visible and able to be evaluated – whatever their learning or thinking style.