Non-formal education is not a formal education
Non-formal education is about skills, not about theory. During non-formal educational projects participants work in learning-by-doing format: they mostly learn from each other, discuss, interact in groups, share experience and knowledge. It is more important for facilitator to set the task correctly, to ensure successful communication between participants and to help them summarize their own learning experience, than to prepare a lecture with specific information on a given topic.
Non-formal education doesn't provide participants for official graduation documents. They can receive certificate of participation in non-formal educational project, but it doesn't have same value as a diploma. First of all, it means that facilitator doesn't need to evaluate participants or examine them (it is extremely difficult).
Moreover, people attend projects in the field of non-formal education on their own initiative, not because "My parents decided this instead of me" or "I'm here just because I need a diploma". It is much easier to work with motivated participants: you don't need to explain them why they are here and why they are doing this. Facilitator is supposed to support and enhance their motivation for learning. Usually in non-formal education this motivation is present from the very beginning.
I love non-formal education because it is impossible without reflection and feedback. They are the driving force of learning process, but in formal education is not enough time for this and teachers often disregard them. If people able to evaluate themselves adequately, to analyze their own actions and openly tell others about them, it significantly improves their ability to interact with other people and improve themselves. Facilitator can receive a lot of constructive criticism during group reflection, which allows him/her develop professional skills and respond to needs of the group.
Each seminar is like performance where you play a leading role
I have dreamed of being an actress since childhood, but it didn't work out. Now I realize my theatrical ambitions while working as a facilitator. I am sure that every educator should be a good actor. I have to work on facial expressions and voice, to gesture properly, to attract and hold attention, to pretend that I am cheerful and full of energy when I am tired and really want to be alone. In addition, my work requires a careful selection of costumes and makeup. Learning space is the stage which creates right atmosphere, that’s why I need to think about its appearance too.
A variety of topics
It is possible to find a non-formal educational project on various topics. For example, I participated in live history workshop, in leadership development program for young teachers, in international project about critical thinking and media literacy and many other projects on completely different topics. All of these projects are connected by similar methods, all of them let participants to reflect on their learning experience and develop their soft skills (teamwork, communication skills, etc.).
The wide range of topics creates many opportunities for facilitator: if he/she knows non-formal educational methods, he/she can facilitate projects in various fields and always have work. Also it is very interesting, isn’t it?
Each seminar is a separate project
Profession of facilitator is very suitable for those who do not like monotony in their work. I take each event I facilitate as a separate project. It is important for me to go through all its stages, from planning to writing a report. In project work I always see some logical end and the opportunity to start from a blank page next time.
Creativity and flexibility
Job of any teacher, as for me, is the most creative job in the world. But facilitator in non-formal education is not as constrained by formalities as teacher in formal education.
Facilitator is supposed to compose a program and to be able to explain why and for what purpose he/she uses certain educational method. But since facilitator is not responsible for explaining to participants very specific things (for example, neutral theory of molecular evolution), it expands the range of techniques he/she can use in work. Plus, facilitator doesn’t need to fill in journals and reports every day, facilitator doesn't have to follow instructions and recommendations of the Ministry of Education, facilitator doesn't have to work with participants or even their parents for a long period of time.
Facilitator in non-formal education also has to cover during the sessions a certain amount of information and concepts. But facilitator can build the program based on the background, level of preparation and expectations of participants. Facilitator carefully monitors group dynamics and responds to the requests of participants and their feedback. And it is this flexibility that makes the learning process more interesting and increases its effectiveness.
Facilitators can boast of the wide range of topics and creative freedom, but that requires them to develop themselves and learn all the time. When they tackle a new topic or start working with a new target audience, it requires extensive preparation. It is also important for facilitators constantly seek out new methods of working with group, read about group dynamics and psychology, learn the latest technologies, learn new languages (if he/she wants to go international) and so on.
Work of facilitator includes intensive communication with different people: with project managers and their partners, with other facilitators, etc. It allows facilitators constantly look for and build new partnerships, it creates new opportunities. At the same time, facilitator should be very responsible about any work meetings, to seek them out and to participate in them, to try to present himself/herself and his/her work in the best possible way. Especially if this facilitator is a freelancer.
First and foremost, facilitator works with participants, and usually there are people of different age, gender, religion among them. It definitely broadens horizons of each facilitator, but at the same time this sort of work calls for a lot of patience.
Non-formal education is only gaining popularity in Europe and the demand for professional facilitators will grow in the future [1, 3]. For example, regarding to the official statistics, in frame of Erasmus+ program in 2017 in youth exchanges took part around 100 000 youngsters . It is a huge target audience and just one example where professional facilitator can find a job in Europe.
This field is less researched than formal education. There are no universities which offer bachelor's or master's program in facilitation. Modern facilitators are at the beginning of this profession, so if you are interested in being its co-creator, helping others to develop themselves and developing yourself at the same time, facilitation is right for you.