​This glossary includes four sections:
1. Learning
2. Learning process and structures
3. Learner-related
4. Literacy and language-related

Numbers in square brackets refer to sources listed at the end of the glossary.

1. Learning

Formal learning

Learning that occurs in an organised and structured environment (e.g. in an education or training institution or on the job) and is explicitly designated as learning (in terms of objectives, time or resources). Formal learning is intentional from the learner’s point of view. It typically leads to validation and certification. [Source(s): 1, 5]

Non-formal learning

Learning which is embedded in planned activities not explicitly designated as learning (in terms of learning objectives, learning time or learning support). Non-formal learning is intentional from the learner’s point of view. [1, 5]

Informal learning
Learning resulting from everyday activities related to work, family or leisure. It is not organised or structured in terms of objectives, time or learning support. Informal learning is in most cases unintentional from the learner’s perspective [1, 5] (See also Random learning below.)

Autonomous learning

In this type of learning, the learner takes full responsibility for their own learning. In the course of their learning, the learner may take advice and seek professional guidance (including enrolling on a course of formal study led by a professional instructor), but they retain full responsibility for their learning goal and their choice of actions to achieve it. The defining quality of autonomous learning is that the learner is self-motivated, i.e. the learner perceives themselves to be pursuing a learning goal for reasons of their own (as opposed to pursuing it because someone else has told them to). This quality is not incompatible with the learner seeking encouragement and affirmation from others; nor is incompatible with instrumental motivation (i.e. deciding to acquire a skill as a means to a further end, e.g. promotion at work). It may even entail the learner undertaking tasks or pursuing sub-goals at the insistence of an instructor – but the learner does this only because they believe it will help them achieve their own primary learning goal (in other words, their motivation in undertaking tasks set by the instructor is to achieve their own larger learning goal). [8] (See also Learner autonomy, PersistenceSelf-directed learning and Self-efficacy).

Learner autonomy

Any learner who sets a learning goal for themselves and then takes personal responsibility for the actions they take to achieve the learning goal can be called an autonomous learner. Thus learner autonomy is based on the ability to identify a learning goal then decide on and take action to achieve it. Note that in pursuit of a learning goal, an individual may choose to consult experts in the relevant field and follow prescribed courses, while retaining a belief in their personal responsibility for progress towards their goal. In practice, learner autonomy is generally linked to the learner’s perceived self-efficacy, i.e. their belief in their own ability to pursue a take action successfully. Without this, the learner is unlikely to consciously pursue a learning goal. Consequently the development and maintenance of this sense of self-efficacy is key to the development and maintenance of learner autonomy. [8] (See also Autonomous learning, Persistence, Self-directed learning and Self-efficacy).

Self-directed learning

Learning by oneself without the aid of an instructor (Note: See also ‘Persistence’, of which self-directed learning may be one aspect) [1]

Competence(s), competency and competencies

'Competency' and ‘competencies’ may be defined as the behaviours (and, where appropriate, technical attributes) that individuals must have, or must acquire, to perform effectively at work – that is, the terms focus on the personal attributes or inputs of the individual.

'Competence' and ‘competences’ are broader concepts that encompass demonstrable performance outputs as well as behaviour inputs, and may relate to a system or set of minimum standards required for effective performance at work.

A ‘competency framework’ is a structure that sets out and defines each individual competency (such as problem-solving or people management) required by individuals working in an organisation or part of an organisation.

In the past, HR professionals have tended to draw a clear distinction between 'competences' and 'competencies'. The term ‘competence’ (competences) was used to describe what people need to do to perform a job and was concerned with effect and output rather than effort and input. ‘Competency’ (competencies) described the behaviour that lies behind competent performance, such as critical thinking or analytical skills, and described what people bring to the job. However, in recent years, there has been growing awareness that job performance requires a mix of behaviour, attitude and action and hence the two terms are now more often used interchangeably.

In line with the approach developed in a number of CIPD publications, including Competency frameworks in UK organisations, the term 'competency' is preferred in this factsheet except when specifically referring to the use of occupational standards (that is, an 'outcome-based' approach) in which case the term 'competence' is used. [7]


Guidance and support provided in a variety of ways to a young person or novice (i.e. someone joining a new learning community or organisation) by an experienced person (mentor) who acts as a role model, guide, tutor, coach or confidant [1]


Coaching is a development technique based on reflective discussion to enhance an individual’s skills, knowledge or work performance. 
The coach uses non-directive questioning to help the coachee to develop their own learning strategies and solutions. The coach aims to raise the coachee's awareness and build their confidence in ways that enable them to take full responsibility for their own learning and/or problem-solving.
Generally agreed characteristics of coaching include:

  • It is essentially a non-directive form of development, though this is not a hard and fast rule.
  • It focuses on improving performance and developing individuals’ skills.

  • Personal issues may be discussed but the emphasis is on performance [in the target area].

  • It provides people with feedback on both their strengths and their weaknesses.

  • It requires coaching expertise, but not subject-matter expertise related to the coachee's learning/problem-solving target (i.e. a coach can help a coachee solve a problem related to a specialist area that the coach knows nothing about, hence executive coaching). [8]

Random learning

Random learning can occur in everyday life. It is not an activity which is intentionally planned in advance and is not bound to special or specific places (e.g. classes) or to mediators (e.g. teachers). Random learning can be considered as a natural learning mechanism. Learners may often not be aware that they have learnt something. [1] (See also Informal learning above.)

2. Learning process and structures

Accredited learning

Learning which leads to a recognised qualification [1]

Adult learning

The entire range of formal, non-formal and informal learning activities which are undertaken by adults after a break since leaving initial education and training, and which results in the acquisition of new knowledge and skills. 
Note: This includes university-level or higher education undertaken after a break (other than for deferred entry) since leaving initial education and training [1]

Content-based instruction

Content-based instruction (CBI) is a language teaching method that aims to help second or foreign language learners acquire language by studying something through the target language, rather than directly studying the target language itself. Thus ‘content’ refers to the subject matter serving as a vehicle for teaching/learning of the target language. [8] (See also Task-based learning.)

Task-based learning

Task-based learning or instruction is a language teaching method that aims to help second or foreign language learners acquire language by using it to accomplish a communicative task, rather than directly studying the target language itself. Thus ‘task’ refers to the communicative task set by the teacher to prompt use of the target language. [8] (See also Content-based learning.)

Distance learning

Education and training imparted at a distance through communication media: books, radio, TV, telephone, correspondence, computer or video [1]

Open/distance education

A well-defined activity which has elements: curriculum, registration, tutoring and tests but takes place via postal correspondence or electronic media, linking instructors or students who are not together in a classroom. For this there is interaction between the teacher and the student, although it doesn’t happen immediately but with a delay. When the activity is recognised by the National Framework of Qualifications it should be classified as formal education, otherwise as non-formal.
Note: This provides detail additional to the definition of ‘Distance learning’ in section 1. [1]

Guided learning

The combination of face-to-face instruction and self-study, both undertaken under the direction of a teacher [1]

Individual learning plan

A written record of the planning process and of ongoing and exit interviews, negotiated and drafted by the learner and the teacher [1]

Learning strategies

Learning strategies are tools and techniques that learners develop as they learn. Learning strategies are an important part of developing autonomy.
Example: A learner keeps a small notebook in their pocket and records interesting new language when they hear it, then researches it later using online reference material they have been shown.
In the classroom: There are a wide range of strategies available to learners. A teacher's responsibility is to expose learners to as many as possible, give them the opportunity to experiment, and help them identify what works. [3]

Learner training

Learner training involves helping learners find out how they learn most effectively. It means encouraging learners to take responsibility for learning and helping them to develop learning strategies and study skills. Most importantly, it asks learners to reflect on how they are learning. The aim of learner training is to produce effective, independent language learners.
Example: Learners think about what time of day they are most productive and then produce a diagram showing their peaks and troughs. Together they discuss how to plan study with this in mind.
In the classroom: Areas often discussed include ways of recording new vocabulary, different learning styles and preferences, finding opportunities to use English outside the class, reflecting on strengths and weaknesses, and study skills. [3]

Lifelong learning

All learning activity undertaken throughout life which results in improving knowledge, know-how, skills, competences and/or qualifications for personal, social or professional reasons [1]

Lifewide learning

Learning, either formal, non-formal or informal which takes place across the full range of life activities (personal, social or professional) and at any stage [1]

Non job-related education and training

Measures to develop competencies required for personal, community, domestic, social or recreational reasons. [1]

Off-the-job training

Vocational training undertaken away from the normal work situation. It is usually only part of a whole training programme, in which it is combined with on-the-job training [1]

On-the-job training

Vocational training given in the normal work situation. It may constitute the whole training or be combined with off-the-job training [1]


Continuing in learning activities in spite of difficulties (Note: See also ‘Autonomous learning’, ‘Learner autonomy’, ‘Self-directed learning’ and ‘Self-efficacy’) [1]


Improvement in attainment or self-confidence [1]


Perceived self-efficacy is defined as people's beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives. Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate themselves and behave. Such beliefs produce these diverse effects through four major processes. They include cognitive, motivational, affective and selection processes.
Affective Processes: Processes regulating emotional states and elicitation of emotional reactions.
Cognitive Processes: Thinking processes involved in the acquisition, organization and use of information.
Motivation: Activation to action. Level of motivation is reflected in choice of courses of action, and in the intensity and persistence of effort.
Perceived Self-Efficacy: People's beliefs about their capabilities to produce effects.
Self-Regulation: Exercise of influence over one's own motivation, thought processes, emotional states and patterns of behaviour. [9] (See also Autonomous learning, Learner autonomy, Persistence and Self-directed learning.

Study circle

Voluntary group of adult learners who undertake a learning programme of their choice, in some countries with financial support, in others independently financed [1]

Vocational education and training (VET)

Education and training which aims to equip people with knowledge, know-how, skills and/or competences required in particular occupations or more broadly in the labour market [1]

Work-based learning

Learning taking place through carrying out and reflecting on work tasks in a real environment [1]

3. Learner-related

Barriers to learning

Situational (day to day life), institutional (rules and procedures), dispositional (attitudes to learning) and/or financial factors which impede, dissuade from or prevent engagement in learning programmes or activities. [1]


Excluded from social rights or from social life or whose situation is precarious (Note: Does not include cognitive and/or physical impairments, for which see ‘Learning difficulties/disabilities’) [1]


Difficult to attract into formal or non-formal learning and/or not suited by educational provision (Note: ‘Outreach’ (q.v.) is intended to attract people meeting this description into learning) [1]

Learning difficulties/disabilities

Cognitive and/or physical impairments which are barriers to learning in childhood, youth and as adults (Note: Does not include social disadvantages, for which see ‘Disadvantaged’) [1]


Having qualifications at level 1 of the European qualifications framework (EQF) for lifelong learning, that is: basic general knowledge, basic skills required to carry out simple tasks, and competence to work or study under direct supervision in a structured context [1]

4. Literacy and language-related


The ability to read and write, but also oracy (speaking and listening skills), numeracy and digital skills. [1]

Functional literacy

The ability to read and write at a level of competence that enables full participation in social and economic life. [1]

Functional numeracy
The ability to use numbers and other mathematical concepts at a level of competence that enables full participation in social and economic life. [1]

Digital literacy
The ability to use information and communication technology (ICT) at a level of competence that enables full participation in social and economic life. [1] 
Comment: Digital competence is underpinned by basic skills in ICT: use of computers to retrieve, assess, store, produce, present and exchange information, and to communicate and participate in collaborative networks via the internet. (Source: CEDEFOP, 2008; European Parliament and Council of the European Union, 2006.) [6]

New Basic Skills

Skills such as information and communication technology (ICT) skills, foreign languages, social, organisational and communication skills, technological culture, entrepreneurship. [6]


Acquisition is the way we learn our first language, i.e. through being involved in real communication, and without formal teaching. As we learn, we hypothesise rules, and use these to communicate until we notice that the rule is different, or has exceptions. This leads to classic early mistakes such as 'I seed' and 'I buyed'. Language learning programmes that immerse learners in the target language aim to create the conditions for acquisition to happen in second language learning. In a communicative classroom, opportunities for natural acquisition are often provided alongside opportunities for formal learning, to make the most of both ways of learning.
Example: A learner can acquire language by living in a country where the language they want to speak is used. They do this without formal training and by being in contact with it and needing to use it.
In the classroom: Learners can be encouraged to acquire language by exposure to authentic spoken or written language and authentic communicative tasks, such as watching TV in order to summarise what they understand, rather than to analyse the language they hear in depth. [3]

Language aptitude

Language aptitude refers to the potential that a person has for learning languages. This potential is often evaluated using formal aptitude tests, which predict the degree of success the candidate will have with a new language. Aptitude tests vary but many include evaluation of ability to manage sounds, grammatical structures, infer rules, and memory.
Example: The Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT) evaluates language aptitude.
In the classroom: Language aptitude may be fixed but there are many things teachers can do in the area of learner training to improve the learner's ability. These include helping learners identify their preferences for learning; thinking about learning styles, and then looking at how these can be developed; and developing learner autonomy by teaching learners how to study effectively. [3]

Language experience

An approach to learning that uses the learner’s own words to provide the basis for language work. Typically, a teacher adopting a language-experience approach will produce a written version of a ‘spoken text’ supplied by the learner, so that there is a written text with which the learner is familiar, to be used for further work in reading and writing. [4]

Genre pedagogy
Genre refers to abstract, socially recognised ways of using language. It is based on the idea that members of a community usually have little difficulty in recognising similarities in the texts they use frequently and are able to draw on their repeated experiences with such texts to read, understand, and perhaps write them relatively easily. This is, in part, because writing is a practice based on expectations: the reader’s chances of interpreting the writer’s purpose are increased if the writer takes the trouble to anticipate what the reader might be expecting based on previous texts they have read of the same kind.
Classroom applications of genre are an outcome of communicative approaches to language teaching which emerged in the 1970s, continuing a pedagogic tradition of stressing the role language plays in helping learners achieve particular purposes in context (Hyland, 2004). They are also closely related to current conceptions of literacy which show that writing (and reading) varies with context and cannot be distilled down to a set of abstract cognitive or technical abilities (e.g. Street, 1995). There are a wide variety of practices relevant to and appropriate for particular times, places, participants, and purposes, and these practices are not something that we simply pick up and put down, but are integral to our individual identity, social relationships, and group memberships.
The introduction of genre pedagogies is also a response to the still widespread emphasis on a planning-writing-reviewing framework which focuses learners on strategies for writing rather than on the linguistic resources they need to express themselves effectively. The value of this inductive, discovery-based approach has long been questioned (e.g. Feez, 2002; Hasan, 1996) as it fails to make plain what is to be learnt and minimizes the social authority of powerful text forms. Providing students with the ‘‘freedom’’ to write may encourage fluency, but it does not liberate them from the constraints of grammar in constructing social meanings in public contexts. Genre instruction, in contrast, stresses that genres are specific to particular cultures, reminding us that our students may not share this knowledge with us and urging us to go beyond syntactic structures, vocabulary, and composing to incorporate into our teaching the ways language is used in specific contexts. It assists students to exploit the expressive potential of society’s discourse structures instead of merely being manipulated by them. Genre pedagogies promise very real benefits for learners as they pull together language, content, and contexts, while offering teachers a means of presenting students with explicit and systematic explanations of the ways writing works to communicate (e.g. Christie & Martin, 1997). To summarise the main advantages, we can say that genre pedagogy is (Hyland, 2004, pp. 10–16):
Explicit: Makes clear what is to be learnt to facilitate the acquisition of writing skills
Systematic: Provides a coherent framework for focusing on both language and contexts
Needs-based: Ensures that course objectives and content are derived from students’ needs
Supportive: Gives teachers a central role in scaffolding students’ learning and creativity
Empowering: Provides access to the patterns and possibilities of variation in valued texts
Critical: Provides the resources for students to understand and challenge valued discourses
Consciousness-raising: Increases teachers’ awareness of texts to confidently advise students on writing [10]
Christie, F., & Martin, J. R. (Eds.). (1997). Genre in institutions: Social processes in the workplace and school. New York: Continuum.
Feez, S. (2002). Heritage and innovation in second language education. In A. M. Johns (Ed.), Genre in the classroom (pp. 47–68). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Hasan, R. (1996). Literacy, everyday talk and society. In R. Hasan & G. Williams (Eds.), Literacy in society (pp. 377– 424). London: Longman.
Hyland, K. (2004). Genre and second language writing. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Street, B. V. (1995). Social literacies: Critical approaches to literacy in development, ethnography and education. New York: Longman.


Awareness-raising activities aim to make learners more aware of language and/or their literacy needs and so improve their understanding, but do not involve learners in using the language themselves. As such, awareness-raising activities are often the first stage of learning new language.
Example: A pre-intermediate level group have just finished a reading comprehension using an authentic text and the teacher goes back and highlights the phrasal verbs in the text, explaining what they are and their meaning, but not asking the learners to use them in any way.
In the classroom: Awareness-raising is a useful technique in mixed-ability classes, as learners will be able to respond to the new information in different ways and process it according to their level of competence. [3]


When learners "notice" new language, they pay special attention to its form, use and meaning. Noticing is regarded as an important part of the process of learning new language, especially in acquisition-driven accounts of language learning, when learners at some point in their acquisition, notice their errors in production. Noticing will only occur when the learner is ready to take on the new language.
Example: A learner might make an error in the use of a preposition, but "notice" its correct use by another learner, or in an authentic text. This might allow them to begin to use it correctly.
In the classroom: In task-based work, part of the teacher's role will be to create the conditions under which learners can notice aspects of language use that are important for developing their interlanguage. This might be achieved by recording and listening to models of the task, or the learners’ production on the task. Learners talking informally in the classroom will also be helping each other notice new language and understand how well they are using it via the feedback they are getting. [3]


[1] Brooks, G., and Burton, M., (2010), Study on European Terminology in Adult Learning for a common language and common understanding and monitoring of the sector: report and glossaries. London: National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy, Institute of Education, University of London.

[2] CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) (2014), Factsheet: Coaching and mentoring. London: CIPD

[3] British Council, BBC. Teaching knowledge database. [accessed 23 Oct 2014]

[4] DfES (Department of Education and Skills) (2001), Adult ESOL Core Curriculum. Annesley: DfES

[5] Cedefop (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) (2011), Glossary/Glossar /

Glossaire, Quality in education and training. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union

[6] Cedefop (2014), Terminology of European education and training policy (Second edition) a selection of 130 key terms. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union

[7] CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) (2014), Factsheet: Competence and competency frameworks. London: CIPD

[8] ALL-SR project team

[9] Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.),Encyclopedia of human behaviour (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.](1998), Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press). [Available at:]

[10] Hyland, K. (2007) Genre pedagogy: Language, literacy and L2 writing instruction. In Journal of Second Language Writing 16 (2007) 148–164. [Available at]