Very interesting post from Kevin Marks on how the "viral" model we use for thinking about spreading information on the web may not be the best way of thinking about how to reproduce ideas. As he suggests, "when you act like a disease, people develop an immune system."
In reading through his examples of alternative metaphors for reproduction (which he uses to explain different ways of spreading software), I started thinking that there were some applications to using these ideas to spread social media for learning.
r-Strategy - scatter lots of seeds--Dandelions, frogs and other plants and animals produce many seeds with the assumption that at least some of them will stick. Most die off, but enough survive to perpetuate the species. Applying this to social media for learning, this would be the equivalent of making many tools and processes available to people, hoping that at least a few of them would catch on.
The disadvantage is that this approach can be time-consuming and wasteful. Not to mention that social media thrives on other people using it, so unless you have enough uptake on the same tools/processes, things could die off rather quickly. At the same time, the "costs" of social media can be relatively low, compared to "scattering the seeds" of an LMS, for example. The 23 Things model would be an example of an r-Strategy.
k-Strategy--nurture your young--This is how mammals do it--have only a few young and then concentrate all their energies on developing those offspring. This would be the equivalent of deciding to focus on using wikis or del.icio.us and gearing all efforts in that direction. This allows you to structure a learning environment that is very focused and supportive of the particular tools and behaviors you're trying to develop. Stewart Mader is doing a nice job of creating this kind of environment with Grow Your Wiki.
Of course the down-side is that if you have the wrong tool or don't use the right "parenting" techniques, you could spend a lot of time and energy on something that won't turn out well in the end. While labor-intensive, this could also be the strategy that has the most pay-off in the end though.
Fruiting--wrap your seed in something sweet--Some plants wrap delicious fruit around their seeds so that animals will eat them and spread the seeds. In terms of social media for learning, this would suggest "wrapping" some kind of reward around your social media initiative--adding to the wiki gets you a prize or the best blog post is featured on the organizational website.
I'm of two minds about this. I recognize that a lot of people tend to respond to extrinsic rewards. At the same time, I have to say that I'm an Alfie Kohn fan who would prefer it if we could focus on using intrinsic motivation to support learning.
Rhizomatic--start from the roots--Another reproductive strategy favored by plants like strawberries and ginger, is to send out shoots or runners from the main plant. This suggests using more of a grass roots strategy for spreading learning through social media, perhaps finding the pockets where things are already happening and then nurturing those. Or taking "cuttings" from those pockets and planting them elsewhere in the organization by having someone who's already using social media successfully for learning share with other individuals or units. Britt Watwood, Bud Deihl and Jeff Nugent seem to be pursuing this idea at VCU where they are continually experimenting and sending out the shoots of their experiments through their blogs.
Another way to think of rhizomatic learning comes from David Courmier (free sign up required to access the full article):
In the rhizomatic model of learning, curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process. This community acts as the curriculum, spontaneously shaping, constructing, and reconstructing itself and the subject of its learning in the same way that the rhizome responds to changing environmental conditions:
The rhizome is an antigenealogy. It is a short-term memory, or antimemory. The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots. Unlike the graphic arts, drawing or photography, unlike tracings, the rhizome pertains to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detachable, connectible, reversible, modifiable, and has multiple entryways and exits and its own lines of flight. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 21)
With this model, a community can construct a model of education flexible enough for the way knowledge develops and changes today by producing a map of contextual knowledge. The living curriculum of an active community is a map that is always "detachable, connectible, reversible, modifiable, and has multiple entryways and exits":
This is clearly a more sophisticated way of thinking about the rhizomatic model, one that's more comprehensive and, I think, might offer a lot of promise. I have to confess, though, that I need more time to absorb the implications.
While we're on the topic of metaphors for learning, you might also want to check out Jacob Vakkayil's article (PDF via Gary Woodhill), where he reviews 8 ways to think about learning. Each has its own assumptions and limitations, but there's probably something there for everyone.
For myself, I find that using metaphors to think about concepts is one of the more powerful ways for me to both learn and to get creative. The more I think through the implications and applications of a particular analogy, the better able I am to understand the concept and think of new ways to use it. How about you?