Understanding and coping with knowledge Gaps
Collaborative learning on the Internet
It is only a short step to transfer the collaborative learning environment of the college classroom to the Internet. In a virtual world where communication is by email the classroom environment can be simulated as a list serve. As the teacher in a collaborative learning environment is not distinguishable from the students, there is no need for any controlling authority. In fact, any of the students can become a teacher and any teacher can become a student.
This is exactly the environment that is created in Internet e-mail discussion forums and special interest groups. These have formed spontaneously as self-organising groups that function specifically for the purpose of the subscribers to collaborate in learning. There is no controlling organisation. There is no pressure for everyone to have the same knowledge or express the same opinions. Each person in the group is responsible for building their own cognitive models and extracting their own knowledge from each other.
It is highly significant that the teaching strategies advocated by experienced educators have come up with exactly the kind of learning environment that has evolved naturally on the Internet. But, thanks to their analysis (and to Dr. Ted Panitz's in particular) we can view these list serve learning environments in an edifying perspective.
It also solves the problem for the New York student, Dora Chapman; she can choose her subjects on the grounds of getting a fundamental education in foundation knowledge and then supplement or extend that knowledge in specific areas of niche speciality in the list serves. These have now taken on a role that complements the functions of colleges and universities.
Not only do list serves and educational establishments have complementary roles, they are now becoming interdependent. This is evidenced by the increasing number of teachers and university lecturers who are participating in the collaborative learning environments of the e-mail discussion forums. For them, it is increasingly becoming the most effective way to extend their own knowledge and keep up with the trends and changes in their own particular spheres of speciality knowledge.