25 July, 2022

Learning Lab: the Chemistry behind Quality Non-Formal Education

Training course in Bulgaria

What is the formula behind quality non-formal education? Is it possible in a digital environment? 28 people from 9 different countries gathered to find this out from 7th till 14th July 2022 in the village of Emen, Bulgaria. The Learning Lab(oratory) Training Course was part of the project „Learning Lab(oratory): quality non-formal education in the digital world”, co-funded by the European Union (learn more). It was a 7-day journey, led by our trainers Goska (SCI Poland) and Natalie (CVS-Bulgaria), that provoked us to share, discuss, discover and figure out the answer to these questions ourselves.

So what is the key for quality non-formal education?

Is it the trainers? Of course, they are one of the most important elements in the formula, as Nat and Goska showed us very well. With their help we explored the role of the facilitator and what they need to have in mind: types of learning, group dynamics, comfort zones, facilitation techniques, digital tools, how to be inclusive and much more. Yet, how we learned was just as important as what we learned. The training course itself gave us a very good example of what quality non-formal education looks like – a learning experience, facilitated by a variety of methods, leading you from solitary reflection to discussion in pairs/groups, then plenary and back to groups again; involving art, music, games and humor. Most importantly – giving space for participants to share their experience and learn from the experience of others. So in the end we all came home not just with what Goska and Nat had to teach us, but with the common knowledge and expertise of the entire group.   

What about the location of the training course? You may think this is of little importance, but is it? Think again! In our case, we were lucky to be in a magical place surrounded by nature – waking up in the morning by birdsong and going to bed at night by the twinkle of fireflies. I can maybe best describe our eco hotel “Imenieto” as a park with different houses, where we slept, worked and had fun. There were cats and kittens, a dog, a swimming pool, sauna and table tennis. A beautiful hiking trail only 15 minutes away took you through a canyon and down to a waterfall with a lake (swimming inside it and standing beneath the waterfall was definitely a highlight for some). The place without doubt played its role in facilitating bonds, positive emotions and friendships. And talking about friendships…

The group of participants? Now we’re talking! When you have learning through experience and sharing, you can never overstate the importance of the group. In our case we saw what a diverse group, rich in experience and motivated to learn and share could achieve. We had people from 9 countries (Bulgaria, Noth Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Poland, Austria, Germany, Belgium & Portugal) with cultural roots from 3 continents. Each person had their unique story, talent, dreams, sense of humour and contributed to a truly enriching experience. We learned just as much outside the training room, as inside. We made new friends and gained new perspectives. Some of us learned to swim, others – to dance kizomba, poi, Belgijka, recognize wild herbs and so much more. If you ask a random person from the training course, what made it so special, they will tell you – the group of people, with whom they shared this experience. 

So what is the answer? You have to find it out yourself, but certainly if you gather a bit of all the above elements, you may hope to create quality non-formal education. A magical experience that brings people together and inspires them to explore their limits and bring more beauty and peace into this world.

If you’re passionate about this topic, don’t forget to check out the project’s website and join us in Poland for the second PRO training course (27.10-3.11.2022,), where you can explore this topic more in depth. Or if you are willing to learn and develop more, check what other educational activities the partners of SCI are offering 🙂

Article by Hinka Stanimirova

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