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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Design v. emergence

Andrew McAfee writes about Enterprise IT v. Enterprise2.0, but where I am it applies to Education and also non-profits.

He writes about the tendency to assume that collaboration technologies need to be thoroughly "set up" in advance, rather than letting the structure emerge over time. One of his examples is that users get identities before they start using the technology which assigns them certain roles, privelages and access rights and excluding them from others. The role is usually their role in the existing organisational hierarchy. For example, in a recent course I was involved in people were assigned names like "Expert", "Debutante", "Tutor"...

McAfee's point is: "How much of this structure is necessary? How much is valuable? Well, the clear success stories of Web 2.0 demonstrate that for at least some types of community and collaboration, none of it is."

His context is enterprise but it's what I see in my world of education too. Existing hierarchies are trying to use IT to maintain, reinforce and control work processes in the status quo and to broadcast their message to more people, not to indicate any mindshift about the nature of learning.

McAfee doesn't think the situation will last long because "freeform IT-based collaborations are yielding great results".

But I'm back to my ongoing question - can freefrom collaboration and learning work if people aren't ready for it? Do you have to structure learning environments so that people learn to be unstructured? Striking that balance between a structured design and emergence is a fundamental design parameter that's different for different people and for different groups. It's also a threatening one ... and a difficult one to get right.



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