Examples of collective learning

 Collective learning is fundamentally a type of learning that happens ‘in the real world’. There are lots of examples from industry so we (Anoush Margaryan, Collin Milligan, Lou McGill and I) collated together some examples below.  Most of these examples are from industry. However there are examples from formal education. For example there are instances of teaching and learning in universities using real world datasets (case 3). There are also examples of blurring the boundaries between education and work through large scale, authentic tasks involving learner groups in teams with employees in the workplace (case 6). We plan to build this bank of examples by adding your examples and ideas.

[box] Case 1. Learning through crowdsourcing

InnovationJam at IBM[1] Large companies like Amazon, Boeing, IBM, P&G and Merck have been crowdsourcing ideas to foster innovation. Some ideas come through proprietary channels and networks such as licensing, outsourcing, and joint ventures, but a large part come through open and amorphous social networks. IBM first introduced InnovationJams in 2006 by inviting employees from more than 160 countries – along with clients, business partners, and even family members – to join in a massive, open brainstorming session. Over two 72-hour sessions IBM engaged over 100,000 participants in a series of moderated online discussions. Their combined insights surfaced breakthrough innovations for industry, health and the environment.

Cisco i-zone is another example of an ‘innovation jam’, where people openly share ideas that could be converted into ‘innovations’. In this example tens of thousands of people contributed to hundreds of ideas. http://elearningtech.blogspot.com/2007/12/cisco-enterprise-20.html

How does collective learning take place – These examples focus on crowdsouring ideas. Those involved in the innovation jam actively shared ideas then collaboratively developed new knowledge. The people involved in the InnovationJam learned through the knowledge sharing and knowledge creation processes. [/box]

[box]Case 2: Learning through knowledge creation and knowledge sharing

Dresdner Kleinwort (DKW[1]) is a Europe-based investment bank.  Like many companies, DKW employees use wikis to share knowledge across the broader workplace environment to get collaborative projects up and running quickly. A problem companies like DKW  face is how to encourage experts to contribute their knowledge to a knowledge ecosystem. Encouraging people to share their knowledge openly is important for collective learning. If knowledge is trapped in e-mails, or documents in private file systems,  it’s not available for the collective.  A study by Atlassian found that people who contribute their knowledge to a globally visible network became the recognised experts over time, because of their visibility and willingness to share.

How does collective learning take place –  Employees in the company have to learn how to solve problems in their day-to-day work tasks. Sometimes they have to develop new knowledge to solve a problem. The knowledge exists within the company but it can be difficult to locate. Many companies now use wikis to allow people to share their knowledge and to draw from the knowledge of other people.

See also an account of implementing wikis in a smaller company http://www.e-gineer.com/v2/blog/2007/08/our-intranet-wiki-case-study-of-wiki.htm


[box]Case 3. Using largescale datasets in formal learning

The Cambridge Crystallographic Database is one of a number of collections of largescale datasets available for learning. The International Union of Crystallography published a special issue of the Journal of Applied Crystallography (http://journals.iucr.org/j/issues/2010/05/02/issconts.html)  focusing on education and training in the field.   There are examples of using largescale datasets for formal learning across many disciplines. For example here is a paper on using the American Mineralogist Crystal Structure Database in the Classroom http://serc.carleton.edu/resources/12077.html

How does collective learning take place – Students can download datasets collected by multidisciplinary research teams from around the world, to practice analysis and interpretation of results. In doing so they tap into the collective knowledge of the scientific community.


[box]Case 4. Learning through connecting with and creating knowledge

 Many companies are focusing learning and development on enabling people to connect and allowing them to share knowledge. Large organisations have relatively mature knowledge management programs, so a significant amount of knowledge is already aggregated and available social media tools allow collaborative  generation of knowledge through interacting with peers. For example:

 Xerox[4] uses a wiki to allow employees collaboratively to build the company’s technology strategy.  Traditionally, the top management devised and broadcast the vision and high level strategy. Xerox’s chief technology officer, Sophie Vandebroek, decided to open the process up to all researchers in the R&D group. Vandebroek says: “We will share more content and knowledge across all our areas of expertise, including everything from material science to the latest document services and solutions”. Collaborative development of strategy requires sharing of ideas and expertise across subject boundaries. By developing a strategy document across different disciplinary teams, people learn about different disciplines within the context of the given task.

How does collective learning take place –  The starting point for learning is making connections – with other people and with knowledge resources located within the collective knowledge. Connecting is the starting point. Learning occurs when people try to make sense of and use the knowledge they find. As a by-produce they create new knowledge that feeds back into the ‘collective knowledge’.


[box]Case 5: Learning through working on a similar goal

In 2007 Pfizer agreed to give to Sermo – the  largest online physician network in the US –  preferential access to their knowledge networks to redefine the way doctors and healthcare industry work together to improve patient care. Sermo is a Web-based community where physicians share observations from daily practice, discuss emerging trends and provide new insights into medications, devices and treatments.” http://network-strategy.blogspot.com/2007/10/pfizer-sermo-social-networking-link.html

How does collective learning take place – By working on a similar goal, people with expertise in different domans collaboratively build  knowledge using a social media tools. The knowledge artefacts they build act as a ‘social object’ that binds groups of people as they learn how to solve a problem. Learning takes place in the interactions around the social artefacts.


[box]Case 6:  Learning in the workplace

Collective learning can be a way of bridging the gap between formal education and industry. A number of innovation- oriented Small to Medium Enterprises have been set up by universities – for example the Know-Centre, an SME spin-off from the Technical University of Graz in Austria. The Know-Centre works carries our research and development through industry-academia partnership with a range of companies to help them improve their productivity and innovation through knowledge orientated solutions. Students of Computer Science from the Technical University of Graz are seconded to the Know Centre to experience working life and to learn on the job. The students work as employees, linking with employees in the KC and in other compies, and with researchers working on EU funded projects. The students develp and grow networks within which they sources, use/reuse knowledge from the collective as well as ontributing knowledge back.

How does collective learning take place – Students learn through sharing and  co-creating knowledge with industry clients and other employees (or seconded students) within the Know Centre.


[box]Case 7:  Collective knowledge in the classroom

Digital Libraries for Global Distributed Innovative Design, Education and Teamwork DIDET was led by the University of Strathclyde in the UK, Stanford University in the US and Olin College (2003-2008) to enhance learning opportunities by enabling students to participate in global team-based design engineering projects that give them experience of working within multi-cultural contexts and enable them to develop global design team working skills. The project highlighted the relationship between knowledge and information structures, the importance of integrating information literacy support, and the need for different systems within the learning environment to support formal and informal storage of resources.

How does collective learning take place –Design Engineering students source, share, use, reuse and create knowledge fragments to build ideas for their design assgnments http://www.didet.ac.uk/


[box] Case 8: Collective knowledge in  design education

Computing and Creative Technologies at Glasgow Caledonian University in the UK hosts a
range of programmes designed to prepare graduates for work in the Creative Industries.  The most popular design course is Graphic Design for Digital Media (formerly Applied Graphics Technology).

Creativity and collaborative projects are both identified as central to design work, however
we had anecdotal evidence which suggested that students were co-operating and
not working collectively on group projects. Adopting an authentic learning
approach, we worked closely with an Industry partner (Frame) to re-design a
final year module and encourage collective learning.

How does collective learning take place –Design students source, share, use, reuse and
create creative ideas with the help of an Industry partner, through social
media and project management tools to build knowledge for their design assignments.
Learn more at: http://designstudentsandsocialmedia.blogspot.com/view/magazine

Case study contributed by Morag Turnbull


[box]Case 9: Collective knowledge in Computer Science Education

Michael Brooks teaches Computer Science and ITGS.  Wikis and Social Bookmarking Groups allow students to gather knowledge from the collective and formalise and rationalise it in a form that allows them to condense the knowledge into a more appropriate lump.

How does collective learning take place – The collective learning takes place here as students start by initially making connections with collective knowledge. This is then organised through predetermined tagging systems and placing knowledge in the appropriate areas of the syllabus on the WIKI. This in turn feeds knowledge back into the collective See Michael’s blog at http://www.emjbe.net/blog/?p=37



Case 10: Three categories of collective learning

Category  1: Learning from Co-workers When working on a day to day task, one  learns more efficient, better, and different ways of performing that task. The  way one does that is by observing and talking with their coworkers when at work.  These lessons then become part of our daily routine of performing those tasks.  We take the best practices and embed them into our daily routine, while leaving  out the less efficient practices.

Category 2: Learning from  Researching When we are researching for certain things, we often come across
other people’s research, and use that research as part of our work (referencing  it of course). This example is best illustrated by writing and publishing a  paper. When someone is researching, they use other individuals’ ideas and either  improve upon them or to use them to back up our own ideas.

Category 3: Improving on an invention No one can invent the wheel anymore, one has to put  together various inventions to create a brand new one. When entrepreneurs think  of an idea, they utilize other people’s inventions or ideas to either support or  incorporate them within their own idea.

Contributed by Vladimir Kukharenko  http://change11-umair.blogspot.com/2011/10/change11-collective-learning-examples.html





[1] Adapted from Wikinomics, Tapscott and Williams (2008), p. 258.

[2] Ibid, pp.253-254

[3] Ibid, p.3

[4] Ibid, p. 254

[5] Ibid, pp. 251-253.






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