Image is illustrative. Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels


In a 21st century context, where it is difficult to separate young people’s digital and physical lives, there is a digital element to all of them. The Digital Transformation in the European Youth Field document calls for educators to be supported to develop an agile mindset and approach that responds to young people’s digital learning needs, as underpinned by the principles of non-formal and informal education.

The role of education in this document focuses on the development of 21st century competencies rather than digital skills, although these are undoubtedly important. Learning is multifaceted, hybrid and ubiquitous and the boundaries between them are often difficult to separate.  The way that educators engage with young people needs to acknowledge these factors.


Non-formal education

Non-formal education is structured but not always certificated, where the learner’s motivation and interests are central.  The SALTO Youth European Training Strategy II  defines the principles of non-formal learning as:

  • Learner-centeredness (i.e., a focus on the learner and their development)
  • Agreement between trainers and learners on learning objectives
  • Transparency
  • Confidentiality
  • Attention to content and methodology
  • Voluntariness
  • Participation
  • Ownership
  • Democratic values and practices


Informal education

21st– century informal education practice focuses on the day-to-day and lived experiences of the digital world which often produce unintentional, unexpected or unforeseen learning outcomes. An educator’s role within an  informal learning context encourages young people to learn through reflection with regard to experiences arising from digital engagement.

These 2 paradigms complement each other and are accomplished in dialogue with young people, a willingness to work in a young person-centred way, and ‘hybrid know-how’.


Education for a Digital Age

The Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027) identifies how the pandemic has highlighted inequalities between those with access to digital technologies, and those without. This presents challenges for educators in terms of digital pedagogy, skills and competencies, which is particularly relevant since online and hybrid learning are now becoming the norm, rather than the exception in young people’s lives.


Dr Jane Melvin
Dr Jane Melvin

Jane is currently a Principal Lecturer at the University of Brighton in the UK, and Partnership Lead for the School of Educations’s work with the Mauritius Institute of Education, as well as Assistant Programme Leader for the Undergraduate Work-based Learning Programme. Jane came into youth work through outdoor and experiential education. Her research interests now centre on the use of digital technologies as a vehicle for engaging young people in informal and experiential learning contexts, and the research for her Professional Doctorate in Education (Ed D) examined the nature of digital tools, spaces and places as mediators of youth work practice. She is also an author, contributing chapters to recent youth work and children’s workforce texts, and is a passionate campaigner for the promotion of youth work as a distinct education-based practice and professional discipline.