How can we apply these 5 laws of human nature, detailed in a recent New Scientist article, to help establish and maintain a thriving collaborative community online?
For arguments sake let’s assume this community is feature rich (chat, shared calender, wiki, whiteboard, forum and so on) and is supported by online mentors/moderators. Also please note this is speculation, inspired by reading this new scientist article.
1. ParkinsonsÂ law of triviality – the amount of time an organisation spends discussing an issue is inversely proportional to its importance. Nobody talks about important issues, in case they’re wrong â€“ but they’re happy to talk about less important issues, as they carry less risk.
This law reminds me of Rogers’ Experiential learning theory and in particular his ideas around managing ‘threat to self’ for learners. As an eLearning consultant, I’ve found this to be a valuable touchstone over the years, especially in earlier times when learners viewed eLearning as pretty threatening. Anyway, this law may offer lessons in how to stimulate and maintain a community.
Start with less important issues, on which stakeholders are likely to have opinions, but issues on which they feel safe to comment. If you need to talk about a critical issue, work up to it, with peripheral issues, spiraling closer to the big one and hopefully creating a safe space along the way. Keep community members in check as you approach major issues to enhance learning, my minimising the external threat posed by learners to one another.
2. Student syndrome – Apply yourself to a task only at the last possible moment before the deadline, that people generally underestimate how long a task will be, and generally people miss deadlines because they leave things to the last minute.
This may helps usÂ in pacing the setting of tasks and the provision of resources. If your desire is to simulate a high pressure or time critical situation, then student syndrome works to your advantage.
Establish a timeline well before hand to notify students that a short deadline task is approaching, when resources will be available for the task and the deadline date, ensuring the task is assigned and the resources aavailable, only at the last minute.
This will not only help simulate the conditions of reality, but may suit the cognitive and habitual styles of the learners if they are indeed suffering from student syndrome.
3. Pareto principle -The 80/20 rule applies to many situations.
In collaborative communities, this may translate to 80% of the dicussion being generated by 20% of the learners. In recognition of this, many online communities promote these users to moderator status or some other level of recognition of their contributions. Certainly any community should recognise in some way the power and value of this 20%, they are its lifeblood.
This princple can also apply to the setting of tasks, in which the learners must determine which 20% of the task to do, to get 80% of the results desired. This is especially useful in resolving competing priorities, in which you must complete a number of tasks, but there are not the time, resources etc to do all of them.
4. Salem hypothesis – Education in the engineering disciplines forms a predisposition to creationist viewpoints.
Whilst this principle is pretty specific, there is a critical community lesson it can teach us. Know thine audience and operate (at least initially) within its worldview.Â This seems a bit static and counterintuitive when part of the educators role is to challenge and expand the learners worldview, however a community that at least initially feels safe to a learner (reducing their threat to self) may be more likely to thrive in the short term. Once established, perhaps then challenges can emerge.
5. Maes-Garreau law,Â – Any prediction about a favourable future technology falls just within the expected lifespan of the person making it.
Addmittedly I’m struggling to divine lessons learned for online communities from this law, but maybe it can help us with managing learners technology expecations of the features of the community? Not sure, I know its a stretch;)
Anyway, thanks for joining me as I examined online collaborative communities through the lense of New Scientists’ 5 laws. I would love to hear your ideas for how these laws may apply to online collaborative communities, corporate communities of practice and so on.