Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Education

Non-Formal Learning: Clarification of the Concept and Its Application in Music Learning

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Education

Non-Formal Learning: Clarification of the Concept and Its Application in Music Learning

Article excerpt

Topics and issues around informal and formal learning/education have been widely discussed by various music educators (Campbell, 1991a, 1991b; Folkestad, 2005, 2006; Green, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2008; North & Hargreaves, 2008; Sefton-Green, 2003). Yet the concept of non-formal learning, which falls outside the categories of informal and formal learning, has not been as widely discussed as the other two types of learning, especially in the music education literature. In order to bridge this gap and to provide supplementary framework to the discussion of informal and formal learning, therefore, this paper will summarize various scholars' literature in this area and then present an operational concept which is applicable to the scenario of music learning. It is hoped that the concept of non-formal learning can help explain the diverse ways of music learning.

Non-formal learning: The history

Before discussing the concept of non-formal learning, a clarification of the terms 'education' and 'learning' is needed here first. Coombs and Ahmed (1974) were the first to use the term 'non-formal education'. They had a conviction that education can no longer be confined to time-bound and place-bound school settings or quantified by years of exposure, and concluded that education could be equated with learning, "regardless of where, how or when the learning occurs" (Coombs & Ahmed, 1974, p. 8). As a result, they used the term 'education' instead of 'learning' in their discussions, in which they also referred to learning, but as something with a slightly different meaning from education. Similar situations have been found where scholars have blurred the boundary between 'education' and 'learning'. Rogers (2004) explains that the term 'non-formal learning', rather than non-formal education, is often used under the influence of the discourse of lifelong learning. According to him, "the area of discussion is exactly the same" (p. 2).

In some of the literature referred to in this section the term 'Non-formal Education' (NFE) is used, as NFE is now a well-established term which is used frequently in the literature. In light of this, I have chosen those explanations which can refer to 'learning' and are applicable in music learning scenarios. The following discussion of the concept of non-formal learning will focus on context, autonomy and intention.

Non-formal learning: The concept

Firstly, 'non-formal' learning is not a new concept. As already mentioned, the concept of non-formal education was introduced in the 1970s by Coombs and Ahmed, and it appeared in a book entitled Attacking rural poverty: How nonformal education can help (1974). Coombs and Ahmed defined non-formal education as:

any organized, systematic, educational activity carried on outside the framework of the formal system to provide selected types of learning to particular subgroups in the population, adults as well as children. (Coombs & Ahmed, 1974, p. 8)

Therefore, the learning includes both learners (recipients) and a/some transmitter(s) and their activities were held outside the formal system, which can be understood as 'school'. However, it is not clear what is meant by 'selected types of learning', or exactly who can be included in the 'particular subgroups in the population'.

In addition to the context of this type of learning, which is outside the formal system, the autonomous nature of non-formal learning has also been referred to. According to Reddy (2003), non-formal learning consists of "activities outside the formal learning setting, characterized by voluntary as opposed to mandatory participation" (p. 21). Two points are made here: non-formal learning takes place outside of a formal learning setting, and it is engaged in voluntarily. Reddy thus goes one step further in mentioning the issue of autonomy in learning.

In the field of music education, Morgan (2000) defines the concept of non-formal learning. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.