Learning in communities
– networked collaborative learning
Here I want to comment on two things that I definitely see as advantages of networked collaborative learning if used wisely. Both have to do with research.
I have seen many scholars form relatively static groups with potentially many people inside the group but little interaction between those and other people. This kind of configuration has its advantages of course. People inside the group learn to know each other well and trust each other; they learn how each person works and can develop good ways to collaborate; and they can become very productive.
There are, however, also disadvantages to very tightly-knit collaborative networks. A major one is that it can be difficult to introduce any new ideas to such groups. Even if people continuously develop their joint research, development can be slowed down by the fact that each new idea has to be introduced if not to all then at least many members of the group and be accepted by them. It can take a long time before an idea gets accepted by enough members of the group to be actually developed.
The first advantage of networked collaborative learning that I therefore want to mention here is that it potentially breaks us free from too tight groupings by allowing us to learn from people outside the group and even publish outside the group. Moreover, it is likely that if we are involved in various loosely constructed groups we hear sooner about new developments. We thus become more versatile and up-to-date.
The second advantage is that we may not be equally jealous of a person whom we only encounter a few times in a loose network than of a close colleague who seems to succeed better than we. A tightly-knit group feels more like home than an extensive network, but it also involves the problems that come with close relationships. If you meet someone regularly and that person begins to irritate you in one way or another, you may be able to disguise it and continue to collaborate, but it can still significantly affect how much you want to share with them. If you regularly share small pieces of information with many people, it is a completely different configuration and creates less friction between two particular individuals.