Young women enjoying a class and being helped by the teacher

Formal and Informal learning

Find out more about how you will learn on an ESOL course.

Overview of ways of learning

Many organisations offer ESOL classes for adults, but what are the differences between them? Please read on to find out what type of organisation is right for you.

Formal ESOL providers, such as the local authority (council) adult education service or further education colleges, usually offer courses at most or all ESOL levels. They offer exam courses, but you may also be able to join non-exam ESOL courses and courses in different subjects.

There will be regular classes or sessions over a period of weeks or months. If you want to take an ESOL exam or join a course with a formal provider, you will need to study regularly and commit to a structured programme of learning.

Formal providers may be large organisations with different centres or campuses throughout the city. You will usually join a face-to-face or onsite course at a centre near your home. Providers may also offer courses that are completely online, so all your lessons will be using video calls and internet-based learning. Other courses can be blended, these are a mix of online and onsite learning.

Other types of organisations also provide ESOL courses. These include private training companies, community organisations and charities.

Private training organisations may offer both exam and non-exam ESOL courses. They often also have courses designed to develop your employability skills and help you find a job.

Many community organisations and charities in the city offer different kinds of support, including ESOL classes. These could include structured exam courses but are often informal classes or events. These aim to help you develop your confidence without the pressure of preparing for an exam. You may be able to try a new activity or learn a skill, make new friends, get to know your local area and improve your English skills at the same time.

You can join informal drop-in sessions, conversation clubs or cafés, which means you do not have to attend every session. Informal learning can be helpful if you cannot commit to a whole term or year of classes.

The courses you can join through the ESOL Hub are for people who are 19 years old, or older before 1 September in the current academic year. If you are 16-18 years-old, you may be able to join an ESOL course at a further education college.

Many ESOL courses are free to people who are on low incomes and/or receiving benefits from the Jobcentre Plus. You will need to show proof of your ID and any benefits to enrol on a course. Please check with the education provider if you can study ESOL without paying a course fee.

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