The blogosphere has definitely made me a believer in the collective unconscious, if only because I continually find that there are so many times when different aspects of the same coin are being examined at the same time without our realizing it.
One of my favorite TED Talks is Malcolm Gladwell talking about what we can learn from spaghetti sauce. He described a food industry consultant who uncovered a key secret to what eaters like. Running huge focus groups to find customers’ truest tastes, Gladwell’s hero drew a radical conclusion, an epiphany that has defined food marketing ever since. When people were asked to describe the perfect spaghetti sauce, they typically talked about runny sauces. But when taste tests were conducted, they overwhelmingly chose “thick and chunky.” At the time, thick and chunky did not exist. This consultant found that people did not know to ask for thick and chunky…but it is what they wanted. He convinced Prego to not come out with one best spaghetti sauce but dozens…and the food industry was totally changed.
The Web 2.0 world is the “thick and chunky” side of web applications of which most faculty are oblivious.
I love this metaphor. When I wrote last week about the digital curator in learning, I still felt like some element was missing from that comparison, in part because I believe that instructional design and learning is both science and art. That's why the cooking metaphor is so appealing to me--it's more organic and creative, which I think is a big part of what grows from using social media tools to support learning processes.
If you've ever watched Top Chef, you'll know that this is a show that pits talented professional cooks against one another to produce different kinds of foods under various constraints. One challenge that I vividly recall sent the chefs to a convenience food store where they had to produce a gourmet-quality recipe using things you could find in a 7-Eleven. Several of them were able to produce something of reasonable quality, but I'd argue that the average cook wouldn't be able to do much with those kinds of ingredients. They don't lend themselves to gourmet cooking and it takes someone with some serious creativity and understanding of food to be able to produce a meal that is even remotely nutritious or tasty using Cheez-Its and beef jerky.
This, to me, epitomizes what technology-enhanced learning has been prior to the introduction of social media into the mix. We've lived with limited ingredients of dubious nutritional value and have basically been doing the best we can to produce meals day after day. Some of the most talented chefs among us may have been able to produce some great meals along the way, but as a sustainable meal plan, being confined to a convenience store for our grocery shopping hasn't been very successful.
Adding social media to the menu of ingredients is like letting chefs have access to a real grocery store where there's produce and meat and a range of condiments and spices. We still need to have an idea of what we want to make, but the availability of ingredients means that we can expand the recipes we offer and we can start cooking up a broader range of learning. And those ingredients can actually give us ideas for new recipes to make, the more we get to know them and to understand how they work together to create different learning dishes.
Like all cooks, we'll need to look at both taste and nutritional value. For some learners we may need to have "blander" versions of our learning sauce, while others will want something, thick, spicy and meaty. Some recipes will always be on the menu, while others will change and evolve. Some recipes will be appetizers and some full-course meals--some may even use a lot of "pre-cooked" ingredients, like existing learning modules, videos, etc.
It's not that we haven't always been cooking, or even that we haven't always been making spaghetti sauce (to take us back to Britt's metaphor). It's that we can now stop making runny sauces and start making a broader variety of chunky sauces. And I think that as we start to serve these to more and more people, they'll find that they can never return to what they thought was "great cooking" before. In fact, what we may find is that they begin to enjoy learning even more, as it's more customized to their preferences and includes more of the ingredients they really love.