Wednesday 28 January 2009

Promise, tool, bargain

I'm currently reading a book called "Here Comes Everybody" by the brilliantly named Clay Shirky. It's about the role that social networking is playing in enabling people across the world to organize themselves without the need for organisations. The final chapter describes the common denominator in all the stories told in previous chapters about how people are becoming better connected using the Internet: "a successful fusion of a plausible promise, an effective tool, and an acceptable bargain with the users." The author goes on to outline what this means in terms of social networking technology but I began to read his explanation in terms of the bargains we strike as learners in schools. What do you think of the following as a summary of successful learning?:

Creating a promise that enough people belive in is the basic requirement. The promise creates the basic desire to participate. Then come the tools. After getting the promise right (or right enough), the next hurdle is figuring out which tools will best help people approach the promise together...Then comes the bargain. Tools don't completely determine behaviour...One possible bargain is: "We expect politeness of one another." Another very different bargain is: "Anything goes." A successful bargain among users must be a good fit for both the promise and the tools used.

In terms of the above analogy (if you accept there might be one) between successful social networks and successful learning, what promises do we make to convince learners to make a commitment? "Work hard and you'll end up with a good job" perhaps, or "follow these instructions and you'll pass your exams". Mr Shirky reminds us that the message "Buy Cheesy Puffs" is a very different message to "Join us and we'll invent Cheesy Puffs together." Are there more interesting promises we could make? And do the tools we use to engage in the learning process make a difference? What, other than Cheesy Puffs, could we all invent together?

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