Mentoring Moments (Formal, Informal, Non-formal)?

Have you ever wondered the difference between Mentoring and Coaching?  Go ahead, google it and you’ll find countless discussions over the two terms.  In my simplest of descriptions, Mentoring is a highly personal relationship where the conversations revolve around clarifying questions, honing in on a focused vision, exploring life circumstances, and gently guiding the mentee to their own conclusion while evaluating all opportunities.   On the other hand, Coaching centers on the content expert directing, training, and demanding excellence in a particular area of development.  The relationship is more focused on the task versus the personhood.  At the same time, good coaches know how to integrate the personal touch while still focusing on improving performance.

In both cases, what are the different environments (learning contexts) that Mentoring or Coaching can happen?  I want to EXPLORE three different learning contexts we use in the education world: 1) Formal 2) Informal and 3) Non-formal learning.

My friend, Angela, does a wonderful job of using SKETCH NOTES to visually demonstrate a concept I elaborated in my dissertation on Leadership Development.

  • If you want the interesting version, click on the MENTORING VIDEO HERE or click on the embedded video up top.
  • If you want the boring dissertation excerpt, read below.

Also, I highly recommend you subscribing my to friend’s Leadership Videos at

Oh… and don’t forget to leave me your comments (on the left side).

Forms of Instruction in LD Programs (Nguyen, 2014, pp. 37-39)

Because LD programs vary in focus and design, a clear working definition and overall purpose of LD programs must be stated.  Since the context of this study explores formalized training, some distinguishing of the three forms of instruction is in order: formal, non-formal, and informal.  This study references Etling (1993) of Penn State University where she delineates between these various forms and how best to utilize them in effective training.

Formal Education (FE) refers to the context of school and classroom learning.  Coombs (1973) defines it as, “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 specialized programs and institutions for full-time technical and profession training” (p. 11).  Traditionally, this refers to Higher Education where learning is centered on teacher and content.

Nonformal education (NFE) has been defined in Kleis’s work (1973) as “any intentional and systematic educational enterprise (usually outside of traditional schooling) in which content is adapted to the unique needs of the students (or unique situation) in order to maximize learning…” (p. 6).  NFE is more learner-centered where they have the option to choose the curriculum as opposed to the prescribed learning sequence in formal settings.  This can also include the option to leave the learning environment if the learner is no longer motivated.  In regards to student-teacher relationships, this context promotes informal bonds versus hierarchical.   Finally, NFE focuses on practical skills and knowledge, whereas the formal system is content driven (Etling, 1993, p. 7).

While FE is more structured, hierarchical relationships, and content-centered; NFE would be characterized as flexible, informal, and student-centered.  The third learning setting is even less structured than the previous two: informal education (IE).  Kleis (1973) considers this incidental learning, where impromptu learning occurs through “everyday experiences which are not planned or organized” (pp. 3-4).  Whenever these experiences are interpreted or explained by a mentor or peer, informal education takes place.

Some practical examples may help illustrate more clearly these various learning contexts.  First, FE is most commonly seen in higher education settings, such as in business schools.  Learning is structured and involves professional educators.  Usually, some official accreditation is involved.  Next, NFE is most visible in corporate trainings or outside organizations like “Toast Masters (”, where learning is voluntary and allows for flexibility of desired content/skill acquisition.  Lastly, IE is best exemplified in on-the-job-trainings where employees begin with trial-and-error through a series of job related tasks.  Peers and managers may directly or indirectly augment incorrect behaviors or encourage outstanding performance.  Through the process, employees will adapt and reorient themselves for improved performance.

While formal and nonformal education are different, they are not opposites.  Both emphasize organized and intentional learning.  Both involve structure, professional educators, and choices by learners.  Responsibility for learning is shared among educator and learners.  “The differences are more a matter of degree in each of these types of education” (Etling, 1993, p. 74).  In summary, all three types of learning environments provide ample occasions for growth.  The effective teacher would intentionally construct a plan to incorporate all contexts appropriate for the learner.


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About Kevin Nguyen

I am a Vietnamese-Texan Who doesn’t love both Pho and BBQ? And this is where I shall start… Introductions to Kevin Nguyen. Let me go ahead and introduce myself as best I can. My “Called” Name (what you go by): Legal name: Anh-Khoa Nguyen. Nickname: Kevin. Personal family name: Khoa (qua) Nationality: Vietnamese-Texan Kevin was picked up when I was trying to order pizza from Pizza Hut while in Texas. The guy asked how to spell my name. I mean, how hard is it to spell “K – H – O – A”, right? Those are not hard letters to hear over the phone. After several attempts – I couldn’t take it anymore — “Dude, my name is Kevin”. Finally, I can have my pizza. READ MORE here...

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