The contribution of non-formal learning in higher education to student teachers’ professional competence

Yee Fan Sylvia TANG, Kit Yi Angel WONG, Dongyu Dora LI, May Hung May CHENG

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Aim: This paper reports a mixed methods study on the contribution of various aspects of professional learning in initial teacher education (ITE) to student teachers’ perceived professional competence in a Five-year Bachelor of Education Programme in Hong Kong. Special attention is paid to student teachers’ non-formal learning in higher education. Content: The mixed methods study was conducted in the context of university-based ITE programme in Hong Kong. A total of 282 student teachers participated in the quantitative survey, 18 of whom were interviewed. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses revealed four aspects for professional learning in ITE, and three factors for professional competence. The four aspects of professional learning in ITE are, in order of subjective importance to student teachers, Learning in ITE Fieldwork, Pedagogy-related Learning Experience, Previous Experience in School and Work, and Undergraduate Learning Experience: Formal Learning and Non-formal Learning (hereafter, Undergraduate Learning Experience). The results of multiple regression analyses indicated that student teachers’ Undergraduate Learning Experience is a significant predictor of all the three factors of professional competence, namely Competence in Classroom Teaching, Pedagogical and Educational Knowledge, and Competence to Work in Schools: Working with Others and Understanding School-wide Matters. Among various aspects (formal and non-formal learning) of undergraduate learning experience, this paper pays special attention to non-formal learning. The qualitative findings show that student teachers’ repertoire of teacher knowledge expanded in non-formal learning opportunities afforded by service learning, co-curricular activities and student exchange programmes. They constructed pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), general pedagogical knowledge (GPK) and knowledge of context, mainly through their own hands-on experiences, professional dialogue with practitioners and observations of others’ practice in authentic educational settings. They acknowledged the contribution of such knowledge to their professional competence. The findings shed light on the impact on ITE practices. On the structural front, it is worthwhile to explore creating opportunities for student teachers’ participation in non-formal learning. On the pedagogical side, ITE needs to work out ways to support student teachers to bring together the knowledge gained in non-formal learning with knowledge encountered in other aspects of professional learning in ITE, including learning in ITE coursework and fieldwork. Thinking deeply about teacher education: This paper facilitates thinking deeply about teacher education by providing empirical evidence on: 1. learning in higher education as a significant predictor of student teachers’ professional competence; 2. the contribution of non-formal learning to student teachers’ professional competence, which is an under-researched area in the field of teacher education. The country/ies to which the presentation relates: In the field of teacher education, there is a commonly identified tendency that student teachers place a higher value on learning in the school-based components of ITE as compared to their learning in higher education. This paper presents a study in the Asian context in which university-based ITE prevails. The findings of the study suggest an alternative narrative to the rather simplistic picture of learning at higher education being relatively unimportant in ITE. Besides, the findings contribute to the understanding of the value of non-formal learning in higher education.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - May 2017
EventThe 8th Teacher Education Advancement Network (TEAN) Conference 2017 - Aston Conference Centre, Birmingham, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 May 201712 May 2017


ConferenceThe 8th Teacher Education Advancement Network (TEAN) Conference 2017
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


Tang, S. Y. F., Wong, A. K. Y., Li, D. D. Y., & Cheng, M. M. H. (2017, May). The contribution of non-formal learning in higher education to student teachers’ professional competence. Paper presented at the 8th TEAN Annual Conference: Thinking deeply about teacher education, Conference Aston, Birmingham.


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