They tell the story of how a fax machine, by itself, is pretty worthless. However it becomes increasingly more valuable as more fax machines are added to the network (Network Effect). They go on to suggest that if the fax machines “improved their performance” when new units were added to the network it would not only have “an amplifying effect on the first level of exponential performance,” but it would also bring about a second amplifying effect as the machines’ performance improves.
To illustrate their point they provide an example from the World of Warcraft:
What happens, for instance, as you add more participants to a carefully-designed environment? The online role-playing game World of Warcraft (WoW) provides an intriguing example. More than 11.5 million people around the world now play World of Warcraft. Performance in the game is measured by experience points, which are awarded to players as they successfully address progressively more difficult challenges. It takes roughly 150 hours of accumulated game play to earn the first 2 million experience points but players on average are able to earn another 8 million experience points in the next 150 hours of accumulated game play. Even though, within the game, experience points become more difficult to acquire as you advance, World of Warcraft players are improving their performance four times faster as they continue to play the game.
They postulate that this is the result of the numerous interactions between practitioners of the game and each others’ knowledge base. Through blogs, wikis, forums, and databases, they learn from and with one another at an exponentially amplified rate.
Calling this emerging trend “Collaborative Curve,” they define it as, “the more participants–and interactions between those participants–you add to a carefully designed and nurtured environment, the more the rate of performance improvement goes up.”
While this is an introduction to the trend, the behavior itself is not news to anyone who’s ever lived off the land.
Take the nomadic hunters of the ice age for example. Surely they collaborated in order to capitalize on and innovate new technologies, such as the atlatl. I imagine them, cloaked in fur, sitting around their fire, perhaps even gnawing on a deer bone, discussing methods for more effectively bringing down a mastodon using the new tool. Comparing experiences and then applying each others’ lessons surely advanced mastery and utility beyond what one could achieve alone, and at a much faster rate.
However, the emerging nature of this trend relates to the utilization of a new technology — interactive media. By ‘meeting’ at digital gathering points, the expertise of like minded enthusiasts, even across vast distances, accelerates the growth of ideas, knowledge, and ultimately innovation far beyond what was feasible with traditional trade publications, snail mail, or conference calls.
In the past, proximity has played a key role in meaningful collaboration. With the advent of Web 2.0 that obstacle has been effectively flattened, or at least lessened.
What does this mean for education? Depends on what we make of it.
If the anecdotal evidence proves true, the ramifications might lead us to two conclusions:
- Through our use of networking as professionals in the field of education (such as through the emerging on-line communities on twitter, wikis, skype, podcasts, blogs, etc) as well as efforts in our schools (through intentional practices such as PLC), we stand to exponentially improve the art and science of our pedagogical pratices.
- By learning to utilize collaborative communities to their fullest potential, we can better implement tools that enable students to take advantage of these opportunities for their own growth. The benefits of this are two-fold. One, they have access to a broad range of content, yet depth in whatever topic they focus on. Two, If we can provide more opportunities for students to learn strategies for utilizing collaborative communities, we equip them with skills that will help them not only learn and understand more, but to apply that content in new and innovative ways.
I look forward to the emergence of new research on collaborative curves, because this is a trend could be a game changer. If researchers find that collaborative networks do accelerate learning for both individuals and groups, we might all benefit — students, teachers, administrators.
What else might we garner from this trend as it relates to teaching, learning, and constructing classroom environments that lead to a relevant education?