A few weeks ago I shared some analysis and observations about (mostly business) bloggers’ reactions to David Freedman’s Inc. magazine article “The Idiocy of Crowds.” Freedman takes the provocative position that, “Collaboration is the hottest buzzword in business today. Too bad it doesn’t work.”
At the time I wrote about it, Technorati had recorded 50 references to the article. The count now stands at 91, or 92 once this post is pinged. The latest wave of discussion focuses on education and group/collaborative learning, and is well worth attention.
For starters, Clive Shepard explores the implications of Freedman’s thesis.
If David’s right, we’re wasting our time building collaborative experiences into formal learning interventions and informal learning strategies – we’re just slowing things down and making it easier for the less able to ride on the back of their more productive colleagues.
Clive goes on, however, to identify a number of benefits of collaborative learning, including that other learners can:
- boost your confidence by witnessing and validating your learning;
- provide a degree of peer pressure ;
- provide alternative (and sometimes better) perspectives on the subject matter;
- share valuable experiences;
- point to relevant resources;
- lend their support if you’re experiencing problems.
Looking over this list, it is apparent that these benefits can be true in almost any teamwork or collaboration setting, not only in group learning.
Freedman’s article, and Clive’s post, spurred Seb Schmoller to explain how collaboration assists his learning efforts.
Usually my understanding (i.e. what I learn) develops if i) I have to express myself about the issue – verbally or in writing; ii) what I say or write about the issue is challenged by others.
I take away from this that collaborative learning can extend and advance the individual’s efforts beyond what would be possible alone.
Stephen Downes notices the “traction” of the Freedman article, and offers that “it would have been nice had the author taken the time to comprehend the theory he is criticizing.” Downes argues that although Freedman’s critiques of groups may be spot on…
…that is not the structure Surowiecki describes, nor is it how social networks are characterized per Watts and others, a distinction I have tried to make clear (with indifferent success) in Groups and Networks.
Finally, Cool Cat Teacher Vicki Davis explains that listening to the [online] crowd provides value that Freedman may be missing.
Although one cannot rely solely on the crowd to determine what is important (after all the first post has to come from somewhere doesn’t it), it serves as an effective road map or pulse of the leaders in fields. It is an effective tool and to ignore what blogs say is to ignore research itself…
Is collaboration simply a buzzword, or do organizations and individuals realize benefits that would not be possible from working (or learning) alone? Thought leaders in the learning community clearly recognize the benefits of collaborative learning, while also acknowledging some potential pitfalls.