The Wisdom of Crowds
If you’ve read Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds you’ll know that he didn’t mean groups of people working collaboratively. He extols the virtues of INDEPENDENCE, diversity and decentralisation in crowds. It’s the fact that they DON’T collaborate that makes them powerful and wise.
Learning 2.0 and Web 2.0 not collaborative
As for the Learning 2.0 idea, that collaborative user-generated learning and content works, we need to examine its parent; Web 2.0 content. Most people search for something they want as an individual or 'lurk' free-riding on the veiws of others. Blogs are written, by and large, by individuals, as are YouTube entries and most other forms of useful content. Even Wikipedia is written by separate individuals, not collaborative groups. It’s the independent contributions and sheer scale and searchability of the content that makes it work i.e. decentralisation and diversity.
Collaborative learning is slow learning
Person as portal
When the learning folks want online collaboration, they often mean centralised, moderated, teacher-like control, the opposite of almost everything Web 2.0 has to offer. In e-learning most online collaborative environments are either empty, dead or populated by comet tails of schoolboy humour. There are rare exceptions but given the amount of time and effort that has gone into these environments the returns have been meagre. Barry Wellman, the social network theorist, explains this well. The web offers networks, not communities. It's loose, exponential in growth and most people in networks don't know who most of the others are.
I’ve never really bought the idea that I’ll learn from a group of learners who know as little about the subject as me. I don’t force my twin son to learn French from his equally poor French-speaking brother, and am now convinced that much of what passes for groupwork in primary and secondary school classrooms is just chaos. Classrooms are not all the better for learning because they have 30 plus pupils crammed in there. If that were true we’d be increasing class sizes. And in training I’ve witnessed unbelievable amounts of wasted time and effort in breakout groups and supposed collaborative efforts. Much of the time is wasted just agreeing on who will do what and hanging around.
Ultimately, I feel that deep learning is very personal. It’s one brain focusing and giving full attention to a learning experience. Collaborative learning is often like putting your right hand over your head to scratch your left ear. It just takes too long. Sociology has infected learning theory to such a degree that we no longer pay attention to the simple fact that it’s about single brains acquiring, storing and recalling knowledge and skills. The person is the portal for learning.