The power of the collective: competitive advantage through learning solutions

Littlejohn, Allison (2010). The power of the collective: competitive advantage through learning solutions. In: ICL2010 International Conference on Interactive Computer Aided Learning, 15-17 Sep 2010, Hasselt, Belgium.


In the current economy, where the only certainty is uncertainty, a major source of competitive advantage for an organisation is knowledge. Successful companies are those that can rapidly create new knowledge, contribute it to the knowledge pool of the organisation, and locate, collect, consume and connect relevant knowledge to solve complex problems. This mandates a faster and more effective cycle of knowledge creation and action based on new knowledge with employees responding to emerging needs by taking responsibility for their own learning and development.

All of us learn as an inseparable part of the Many - the range of distinct groups, networks, communities or collectives that are part of our lives (Dron and Anderson, 2007). The Many is progressively more connected through pervasive social systems, unleashing opportunities for open access to human and non-human entities (people, knowledge, materials) that can act as resources for learning. Increasingly these resources are openly available, contributing to changes within the Many that open up conceptualisations of learning.

Although learning has been viewed as either primarily individual, minimally influenced by others, or predominantly collaborative, more recent conceptualisations view learning as a process of creating networks that connect people, organisations and resources (Siemens, 2006). Social networks enable learners to connect with and tap into groups, networks, communities or collectives to consume, filter and create new knowledge. Collectives include the open formation of tag clouds, recommendations or navigation in social systems based on prior use, evaluation or other stigmergic indicators (Dron and Anderson, 2007). These collectives enable access to the unpredictable, and yield spontaneous and serendipitous learning and knowledge sharing (Sunstein, 2001). In this new concept of learning individuals can learns by both drawing on and at the same time contributing to the collective knowledge (Paavola et al, 2004, Littlejohn, Milligan & Margaryan, 2009). Learning could be enhanced through mechanisms that allow individuals to create and share knowledge by connecting with each other and the broader collective.

Taking a broad perspective on learning, I hope to discuss with you the power of the collective. Based on recent research at Glasgow Caledonian University and beyond, I examine issues affecting organisations' abilities to connect knowledge for collective learning, outline a mechanism to enhance self-regulated learning in the workplace and provide a scenario illustrating how it might work in practice.

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