Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Chance Favors the Connected Mind"

I shared this RSA Animate video with my Writing for Business class last night. It's an over-simplified summary of Steven Johnson's amazing book Where Good Ideas Come From. Nonetheless, it makes an effective argument for pushing forward with MOOC's (without, of course, mentioning them by name).

Johnson's claim is that open spaces become the platform for the collaboration of fragmentary ideas. In his book, he explains how this is true of coral reefs, cities, and online networks. Given time and space to experiment, collaborate, and fail, new combinations will arise and thrive. It does feel as if we're nearing some kind of evolutionary moment in education. Perhaps we're already there. Strange hybrids are emerging.

Johnson's book concludes with an important observation: the vast majority of major innovations over the past four centuries are not the result of entrepreneurs going it alone. Instead, they come from collaborative public-sector experiments (mainly from universities). He refers to this space as the "fourth quadrant." Here he is writing in The New York Times:
And then there is what I call the “fourth quadrant”: the space of collaborative, nonproprietary innovation, exemplified in recent years by the Internet and the Web, two groundbreaking innovations not owned by anyone. [....]

The Internet is the ultimate example of how fourth-quadrant innovation actually supports market developments: a platform built by a loosely affiliated group of public-sector and university visionaries that has become one of the most powerful engines of wealth creation in modern times.

Why has the fourth quadrant been so innovative, despite the lack of traditional economic rewards? The answer, I believe, has to do with the increased connectivity that comes from these open environments. Ideas are free to flow from mind to mind, and to be refined and modified without complex business development deals or patent lawyers. The incentives for innovation are lower, but so are the barriers.
This sounds like Connectivism to me, and it sounds like a call for more public sector educators to jump into the water. (Unless we trust the sharks?)

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