Below is a definition of Formal, Informal and Non-Formal adult education. It would be very beneficial if we could start a discussion on how we can create networks or alliances between the three sectors to better serve our students. 

I work on my own ESL/EFL program using Facebook, websites, WhatsApp, and YouTube. Soon I hope to produce a program on a Public Access TV station. I would like to one day try a radio program.

If you are interested, please tell us about your work.

Paul Rogers

Definition of Formal, Informal and Non-Formal Adult Education:

Formal education: the hierarchically structured, chronologically graded ‘education system’, running from primary school through the university and including, in addition to general academic studies, a variety of specialised programmes and institutions for full-time technical and professional training.

Informal education: the truly lifelong process whereby every individual acquires attitudes, values, skills and knowledge from daily experience and the educative influences and resources in his or her environment – from family and neighbours, from work and play, from the market place, the library and the mass media.

Non-formal education: any organised educational activity outside the established formal system – whether operating separately or as an important feature of some broader activity – that is intended to serve identifiable learning clienteles and learning objectives.




Hi Paul,

My favorite recent example of a U.S.- based (and international) nonformal learning model for adults is the learning circle, a variation on the study circle, or in one of its earliest forms in the U.S., the independent "chatauquas" ("children" of the "mother chataqua in upstate New York that still exists) that were widespread in rural areas in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  In the 1920s, at the height of the Chautauqua movement in the U.S., there were hundreds of these chatauqua adult education groups across America.

Learning circles, as implemented by an organization known as peer2peer university (not a university, but very much about peer-to-peer learning) are small groups, typically 8-12 adult learners led by a facilitator. Participants are all interested in learning about the same thing through a blended learning model that consists of a free online course and a weekly 90-minute face-to-face meeting led by a trained, usually volunteer, facilitator. The learning circle typically lasts six-eight weeks. So far in the U.S., most learning circles have been organized by public libraries. For example, in Chicago about 20 branches of the Chicago Public Library participated in a pilot project in which librarians, and I think library-trained volunteers, recruited and supported branch neighborhood members, the large majority of whom had never taken an online course, and many of whom didn't know online courses existed and were free to the user. The results of the pilot are impressive: at least half completed their course, and nearly all of the participants, including those who didn't complete the course, said they wanted to learn this way again. The Chicago Public Library has continued the learning circles on their own after the end of the funded pilot project, expanding them to more branches. Other libraries, for example in Kansas City, Kansas and Providence, Rhode Island, have also begun learning circles. A new 18-month pilot project with five adult ESOL/ESL programs in New England, for which I am the internal evaluator, will be testing out learning circles for those on English language class waiting lists.

If you are interested in learning more about this learning circle model, go to the web site and select the "learning circles" button. Although the software to help organize learning circles is open source and, as a result, any organization can experiment with recruiting learning circle participants, selecting courses, and training (volunteer) facilitators, you might want to contact if you want training and assistance, or at least to let them know that you are trying out learning clrcles.

And if you do, let us know what the experience is like.

David J. Rosen


Hi, David, thanks for the good information. Yes I am familiar with some of what you mention. There was a discussion several months ago on the English language page which highlighted peer2peer.

My favorite model is the Philadelphia Literacy Alliance, which coordinates literacy programs for about 100 agencies (

It is under the auspices of the Mayor’s Office and saves all the groups time and money by conducting assessment and placement for applicants. Fund-raising is also coordinated by the Alliance.

I went to their conference in May and was absolutely “blown away”.

There is also a literacy alliance in Chicago with 90 member groups (

So I think that first we have to look at ways to build up to an Alliance. First study circles, peer2peer, etc., along with mutual publicity and fund-raising, and then an organization that includes formal and non-formal literacy programs.



One national (in every state) -- as well as international -- organization that has about a 1000 organization members, as well as individual members, that has many, many volunteer-based and library-based basic adult literacy and beginning level adult ESL/ESOL program mambers, is ProLiteracy. They have a national conference coming up at the end of September 2017 in Minneapolis.

David J. Rosen

David – Pro Literacy also is a good model to study for those interested in forming local adult literacy networks or alliances.  Below is a list of similar groups.

The major ingredient – first - is an interest and desire to better meet the needs of adult members of the community who could benefit from various classes.

From this, an ad-hoc group needs to be formed to begin the process of organizing adult literacy providers.

In other words, someone has to “get the ball rolling”.

The ad-hoc group would first need to write a Mission Statement that would state briefly the goals and objectives.

Among these would be providing funding, resources and information to member groups in order to support adult education.

Then representatives of adult education providers would have to discuss practical issues.

I know there is a need for adult educators to become organized in a way that everyone could work together to share ideas and resources.

Are there any members of the Nonformal group who are members of or have an interest in forming Adult Literacy Networks in their areas? Perhaps LINCS can serve as a catalyst for others.