not a mystery but an opportunity

non formal

Our article discusses some of the challenges related to university-level youth worker education, especially the conflicting nature of the values related to youth work and non-formal learning in an environment of formal education. We present a case study, concluding our reflections on our co-teaching practices that have been ongoing since 2016. We introduce the practice of co-teaching as a possible way to improve the quality of youth worker education, as well as to soften the hierarchical nature of the formal settings. With examples from our teaching practice as well as using relevant literature, we show how co-teaching can promote collaboration and teamwork among educators, leading to a more integrated and holistic approach to youth worker education. Our experiences in co-teaching is interpreted based on the notion of professional identity, as the universities and directly the educators play a key role in the formation of it. 


Anyone who has read about the history of science probably knows that many great discoveries happened by chance. Anyone who is involved in science themselves may have also experienced that the great eureka moments often turn out to be something that others had already figured out before, what seemed like a world-changing discovery. This is our story with the practice of co-teaching, which we started to use in connection with an innovative Erasmus+ project. Our positive experiences led us to look into what others think about it, and we thought it might be worthwhile to compare the literature on the topic with our own experiences and to fit it specifically into the framework of non-formal learning. In the following, we will present the possibilities of co-teaching in the university education of youth workers, in a formal education program that has a central content element of non-formal learning.


The issue of training youth work in formal settings could be the subject of a separate article (of course, there are already larger academic works on the subject, see e.g. Seal 2019). In short, there are advantages in terms of both the consolidation of quality standards, the recognition of the profession and better planning of career paths if a profession based on essentially non-formal activities is also trained in formal settings (see e.g. Taru et al. 2020)

Besides this, on a personal level, a degree-level youth work qualification can enhance one’s confidence and practice as a youth worker, lead to career progression, and result in secure employment or promotion (Tallon et al. 2022).

Youth work related further education offers in Hungary have been available since the early 2000s. The latest development was in 2017 when a newly introduced undergraduate program (community coordination BA) started, where youth work is among the three specializations students can choose. The specificity of this program is that the first three semesters are for all students of the program and the second half of the program is divided between specializations. The authors of the post(s) are both working in this program at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary.


In an earlier study (Gulyás & Déri, 2022) we examined in more detail the relationship between formal and non-formal learning. While formal learning is generally based on summative assessment (evaluating the student’s learning through for instance exam) and the superior role of the instructor, non-formal learning is based on voluntary participation, a learner-centred approach, a prominent role of self-evaluation and formative (if any) assessment. A particularly important feature of non-formal learning is that it typically takes place in a group and the group itself is an important element in the learning process (see e.g. Kloosterman & Taylor 2012), and in this context there is no traditional hierarchy between the facilitator and the learners.

Youth work is often described as a value-driven social practice (cf. CoE Recommendation on youth work) in which  partnerships is a crucial value but has a challenging nature in formal settings. This brings us to the most important contradiction between formal and non-formal learning and the self-contradiction inherent in the teaching of youth work in universities. In the case of formal (in our case: university) education, the instructor has to assess the students, so a complete absence of hierarchy is not possible. Moreover, the Hungarian educational system, with its focus on summative assessment and the typically high teacher-student hierarchy, often directs  university students to keep a greater distance from their teachers and to be less motivated to share their experiences and opinions. We should mention that this picture is way more complex and it depends on several factors (eg. academic development practices in the intsitutions, personal beliefs and values on teaching) so the context should be carefully explored.

Additionally, students in our program simultaneously experience both the non-hierarchical approach from us, and the more traditional teacher-student relation from some other colleagues. In our experience students adapt to these variety of approaches with difficulties, thus we constantly seek to create a safe and supportive learning environment.  And we found that co-teaching has a lot to offer for our aim.


The existing literature on co-teaching (understood as two or more education being present in class at the same time) in higher education usually underlines its effectivity to enhance student learning and provide students with more individualized attention and varied teaching approaches. There are different strategies of co-teaching (see Bacharach et al. 2008). The one we use and advocate for in the following can be labelled as team teaching or interactive approach to co-teaching (Minett-Smith & Davies 2019). Looking at its definition already explains the opportunities it has in youth worker education:

“Well planned, team taught lessons, exhibit an invisible flow of instruction with no prescribed division of authority. Using a team teaching strategy, both teachers are actively involved in the lesson. From a student’s perspective, there is no clearly defined leader – as both teachers share the instruction, are free to interject information, and available to assist students and answer questions.”
(Bacharach et al. 2008, p. 11.)

According to the literature on team teaching, this approach is beneficial for both parties. . Its role in preventing staff burnout is mainly reasoned by the shared workload (Minett-Smith & Davies 2019), while exercising creativity and trying out new methods can provide means for professional development (see e.g. Perry & Stewart 2005). What we experience from our practice is that these two domains are interconnected: being in an intellectually vibrant and friendly environment contributes to our professional well-being too. Learners in a team-teaching setting can benefit from more effective and needs centred formative assessment: according to Baeten and Simons (2014), team teaching can provide students with more support, feedback, and guidance. The authors also note that learners can become more motivated and satisfied. 

In our view, these connections are definitely worth further exploring. The characteristics and possible benefits of co-teaching and team teaching can very much be connected to methods, practices and values of non-formal learning. Its role in deconstructing traditional hierarchies, creating saf(er) spaces for knowledge co-construction and motivating learners to participate can provide solid and useful grounds for narrowing the gap between formal and non-formal learning can be very well utilized in youth worker education. We often witness that by using non-formal learning techniques in our (team) teaching practice helps students to develop their reflective competence (cf. Schön, 1983). Becoming a reflective practicioner during the training helps them in pursuing professional pathways after they gradutate. It would be interesting to see how the methods and technies we used in our teaching (and assessment) help students to grow professionally (cf. Gormally et al, 2021)

In a next article we intend to dive deeper into the concrete practices and methods that we use in our teaching practice. Firstly we will share about our observations on how students form their professional identities. We also provide some of our recommendations on using humour in the classroom to create an engaging and positive learning environment.



Seal, M. (Eds.) (2019). Teaching youth work in higher education. Tensions, connections, continuities and contradictions. University of Tartu, Tartu.

Gormally, S., Coburn, A., & Beggan, E. (2021). Idealistic Assertions or Realistic Possibilities in Community and Youth Work Education. Education Sciences, 11(9), 561. MDPI AG. Retrieved from

Perry, B., and T. Stewart (2005). Insights Into Effective Partnership in Interdisciplinary Team Teaching. An International Journal of Educational Partnership and Applied Linguistics 33 (4): 563–573.

Baeten M., & Simons M. (2014). Student teachers’ team teaching: Models, effects, and conditions for implementation.Teaching and Teacher Education 41 92-110.

Schön, D.A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. Basic Books, New York.

Eisen, M.-J., & Tisdell, E. J. (2000). Editors’ notes. In M.-J. Eisen & E. J. Tisdell (Eds.), Team teaching and learning in adult education (Vol. 87, pp. 1–3). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Harris, C., & Harvey, A. (2000). Team teaching in adult higher education classrooms: Toward collaborative knowledge construction. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, (87), 25-32. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Minett-Smith, C., & Davis, C. L. (2019). Widening the discourse on team-teaching in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education

Gulyás, B., & Déri, A. (2022). Locating the position of non-formal learning: theory and practice. Gyermeknevelés Tudományos Folyóirat, 10(2–3), 47–62.

Tallon, R., Hay, A. & Smith, L. (2022). Evaluating a Degree Qualification in Youth Work: A Qualitative Aotearoa New Zealand Study. JAYS 5, 151–165.

Kloosterman, P. & Taylor, M. E. (2012). Handbook for facilitators – learning to learn in practice. Firidas

Taru, M., Krzaklewska, E., & Basarab, T. (Eds.). (2020). Youth worker education in Europe. Policies, structures, practices. Council of Europe and European Commission. Retrieved from

Council of Europe ((2017) CM/ Rec2017/4  Recommendation on  youth work – retrieved from

ANDRAS DERI is a sociologist, assistant lecturer at the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), Faculty of Education and Psychology, involved in the education and training of youth workers at ELTE since 2011. He is one of the Hungarian editors of the EU Youth Wiki and a former Among Others partner of the Hungarian NA. His research interests include the sociology of youth and generations, youth participation, digital cultures and non-formal learning.

BARNABAS GULYAS is a social worker, community and civil development expert and assistant lecturer at the Eötvös Loránd University, Faculty of Education and Psychology where he is responsible for the youth work specialization of community coordination BA program. His research interests include organization and quality of youth work, organizational and informal learning in youth work and his doctoral research is about investigating professional identity development of youth workers in Hungary. He is one of the coordinators of the Education and Training of Youth Workers Strategic National Agency Cooperation project. 

While formal learning is generally based on summative assessment (evaluating the student’s learning through for instance exam) and the superior role of the instructor, non-formal learning is based on voluntary participation, a learner-centered approach, a prominent role of self-evaluation and formative (if any) assessment.

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