What Is Formal Learning?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Institutions of higher learning are a classic example of formal learning.
Institutions of higher learning are a classic example of formal learning.

Formal learning is the practice of organized, structured education with a defined objective. This includes institutional education for children and college students along with lectures, workshops, seminars, and similar learning formats. It differs from informal and exploratory learning styles where there is no clear goal. Many people participate in a mixture of both throughout their lives. The objective may be a degree, certification, or competency, depending on the program.

Institutions of higher learning are a classic example of formal learning, and some of them date back centuries. In colleges and universities, students can pursue a variety of structured courses of study that terminate with degrees. These can include professional qualifications like law or medical degrees, along with degrees that qualify people for practice in specific industries. In this case, students need to complete a series of requirements to satisfy the structure set by the organization in order to achieve the end goal.

More short term education is also a type of formal learning. Students learning to drive, for example, take a course that meets hours requirements and familiarizes them with topics related to driving and safety. Likewise, workshops can train people to perform specific tasks or prepare them for work in particular occupations. A basic life support course, for instance, provides information for medical professionals who might need to treat a person in an emergency.

It is possible for formal learning to be self-directed. An individual learner can identify a goal, like being able to knit a sweater or preparing for admission to a challenging degree program. This goal can be used to establish a curriculum to follow, using materials the learner finds or identifies with the help of a mentor. Self-taught learning courses are also available, including entire packages of the materials people need along with recommended schedules. Students can study at their own pace to develop skills or areas of knowledge while benefiting from structure to help them stay on task.

In programs with a leader, some certification or experience may be required. Teachers, for example, need to have certifications to work, while college and university instructors may need advanced degrees. Formal learning relies on the skills of people with experience and educational training who can accurately convey lesson topics to students. Workshops and seminars may be led by people with industry experience, like a skilled pathologist who teaches forensic technicians about the basics of collecting and preserving biological evidence at crime scenes.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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    • Institutions of higher learning are a classic example of formal learning.
      Institutions of higher learning are a classic example of formal learning.