A Typology for Non-Formal Learning

Similar to Rogers’ learning continuum (2004), Michael Eraut (2000) establishes a matrix to identify varying types of non-formal learning, based on the timing of the stimulus (past, current, future) and the extent to which such learning is implicit, reactive or deliberative.

A key component of the matrix is the intention of the learner’s activity. Eraut makes a distinction between

  • Implicit Learning (which has a metacognitive component)
  • Deliberative Learning (where the worker schedules time to learn)
  • and Reactive Learning (where learning is explicit but almost takes place spontaneously, in response to recent, current or imminent situations but without any time being set aside for it).

I would contend that these categories align closely with Kolb’s 4-Stage Experiential Learning Cycle. Similarly, a link can be made between the synchronous and asynchronous delivery mechanisms, and Eraut’s Timing of Stimulus category.

Table 1 Michael Eraut’s typology of non-formal learning (2000, p.129)


/Social Activity


Mode of Cognition

Time of stimulusInstant/
Reactive/ IntuitiveDeliberative/
Past episode(s)DeliberativeImplicit linkage of past memories with current experience

Pattern Recognition

Brief near-spontaneous reflection on past episodes, communications, events, experiences.Review of past actions, communications, events’ experiences. Systematic reflection.
Current experienceReactiveA selection from experience enters the memory.Incidental noting of facts, opinions, impressions, ideas. Recognition of learning opportunities.Engagement in decision making, problem solving, planned informal learning.
Future behaviorMetacognitiveUnconscious effect of previous experiences.Being prepared for emergent learning opportunities.Planned learning goals. Planned learning opportunities.




Eraut, M. (2000) Non-formal learning, implicit learning and tacit knowledge, in F. Coffield (Ed) The Necessity of Informal Learning: Policy Press. Bristol

Rogers, A. (2004) Looking again at non-formal and informal education – towards a new paradigm [Internet] Available from: http://www.infed.org/biblio/non_formal_paradigm.htm [Accessed 30th April 2010]