Landing : Athabascau University

Formal and Non-Formal Learning: Cattle Drives vs. Watering Holes

By SuTuan Lulee 4 September 2012 @ 7:38pm Comments (2)

Schwier (2010) made an interesting metaphors for Formal, Nonformal and Informal Learning Environments! The conclusions he made was insightful:

Formal learning environment are the cattle drives of online learning environments. Learners are gathered together in herds, and they are driven by cowpokes from one spot to a predetermined location, and they have no control over where that location might be. They are driven along a path, and if they wander too far from the herd, they are chased down and brought back into line. The purpose of the drive is to deliver the group on time and where they should be, and importantly, in good health. They are assessed before and after a drive to judge whether they are fit to move to the next stage. I would suggest we drop the metaphor at this point and not extend it to what happens to the herd later; learners seldom suffer that fate.

By comparison, nonformal learning environments, when offered online, evoke images of watering holes instead of cattle drives. A watering hole acts as a nurturing place, one that animals know about, where they attend to well defined needs they share with other animals. They gather and share the resources, and because each animal might have greater or lesser thirst, they exercise personal control over how much they drink. They can also engage with other animals to a greater or lesser extent, depending on what they want to accomplish (play, competition, predation). The environment is organized, and offers something specific, but the uses of the environment can vary.




  • Terry Anderson September 4, 2012 - 7:56pm

    Thanks for this bookmark Su-Taun. As a guy who was born and raised in Calgary, I love cowboy analogies.

    These two methors could also aptly describe the twi types of MOOCs, the so called c-MOOCs in which connectivist designs help nourish and grow knowledge and the XMOOCs where predetermined and  predigested content is fed and then tested with LARGE numbers of learners.

    But to be fair, the cattle leard analogy can also be applied to much behaviourist pedgaogies and canned courses delivered in print and other forms by open universities around the world.

  • Michael Cenkner November 8, 2012 - 7:01pm

    It is great to see an extended metaphor in this landscape we live in of tweets, thanks very much for this. I am struck with the fact that many animals may not actually survive the drive, and that is thought of as OK, although society just deals with failures from the education system in the medical and prison systems.

    So I like the cattle drive, but I'm not getting according to this metaphor, what makes the watering hole fundamentally different from a simple community, e.g. a technology user group?

    I think 'education' in some way has to have evaluations. intuitively it seems true. and evaluation has always been part of every kind of education and training in traditional cultures. i am interested in whether the evaluation is fair, and even fun.