The European guidelines identify the educational process in any activity undertaken by people, in the various stages of life, in order to improve their knowledge, skills and competences, from a personal, civic, social and occupational point of view, in a formal, non-formal or informal way. Therefore, forms of education can be distinguished according to the level of organisation and structure, conditions in which learning takes place, functionality and applicability of knowledge, skills and attitudes and level of certification of learning outcomes.
Formal learning refers to what takes place in the education and training system of a country. It is official, structured, organised by public organisations or recognised private institutions and results with formal certification and formal level of qualification which is recognised by relevant national educational authorities. Formal education is usually organised as full – time education and is organised as a continuous process with defined stages. Formal education encompasses primary, lower and upper secondary education, higher and university education that culminate in the achievement of a degree or a professional qualification or diploma or a recognised certification as well as adult education programmes.
Non-formal learning is characterised by a deliberate choice of the person, which takes place outside of the systems mentioned above, in any organisation pursuing educational and training purposes, even volunteering, the national civil service, private social service and in enterprises. Thus, non – formal education is any type of structured and organised learning which is institutionalised, intentional and planned by an educational provider, but which does not lead to formal level of qualification recognised by the relevant national education authorities. People of all age groups can participate in non – formal education which can be offered through courses, workshops, seminars.
Informal learning, lastly, is also developed whether or not there is a deliberate choice and is realised in the performance, by any person, of activities in everyday situations and interactions that take place in them, within the context of work, family and leisure, i.e. it is without external support and is not institutionalised. In the educational process, therefore, the soft dimensions come into play such as teaching styles and management of interactions that enable, especially those who do not have access to the resources that allow them to be active and able participants, to make use of knowledge to achieve their personal ambitions. Furthermore, this also attenuates or reinforces motivations, expectations, intentions, self-representations and practices of inclusion and exclusion, discrimination and social hierarchisation.