For anyone who has heard me rant about the power of the Internet being it's ability to connect people together on a scale previously not possible it is invigorating to see that the June 20th US edition of BusinessWeek is all about this topic. The cover story, titled "The Power of Us" is an excellent article about how the Internet can connect all of us in new and exciting ways (there are also some online exclusives like Tour the Collectives of Cyberspace which are well worth checking out).
Continuing this theme of collaboration Sam Adkins wrote an article called "Innovations in Collaboration" for the latest issue of the Chief Learning Officer magazine which is a great indepth review around the state of collaboration for learning (I have known Sam from his early days at Microsoft where he created the Microsoft Online Institute! (my first company, scholars.com, was a founding partner with Microsoft)). I'm happy to see that more and more people are starting to realize that the Internet is more than connecting people to websites, it is about connecting people to people to leverage their existing knowledge so we can learn/work better faster (for anyone following the writings of Jay Cross (blog), this kind of collaborative mentoring is an essential part of his concept of workflow learning (website)).
Of course the challenge is that for collaboration to be effective it needs to be linked back to something, like an underlying event or topic (i.e. something that provokes collaboration versus being just passive). Collaboration for the sake of collaboration just doesn't work anymore (just look at the state of the commerical social networking companies out there). Patti Anklam has it right when she talks about "object-centered sociality" in her blog posting "Linking Out and Looking for Objects". Effective mentoring (rant - collaboration to me is a guy using a nickname to go into an AOL chatroom to talk about essentially nothing; collaborative mentoring is about forming deeper long term relationships where something of value is exchanged) is more than technology, it is focused around optimizing the connections both between users and the collaboration technologies. You need things like eBay's rating system or Amazon.com's feedback forms when you start connecting tens of thousands of people together; the vast majority of whom do not know one another and thus have no context for evaluating interactions (this notion of trust and reputation). Heck, it is about making the whole process scaleable because the value of the network increases exponentially based on the number of using (basically known as the 'network effect') so you need a lot of people in order to get effective knowledge sharing occuring across all types/groups of people.
You think learning objects (i.e. *content* objects) was/is exciting? Wait until this kind of collaboration gets (better) integrated into the process of learning!
What do you think? Is the collaboration in online learning today good enough or do we need to improve it (or does it really matter?)